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Charlene Huang Olson ’88

May 8, 2020

Charlene Huang Olson ’88 is practically an artist when it comes to bringing people together, which makes sense for a former management consultant who once worked as her company’s Chief People Officer. “People often tell me how they notice that I really love connecting people, and I think that's true,” said Olson, one of the Princeton Club of Chicago’s most engaged members. “The Princeton alumni community is perfect for that kind of thing: connecting people who I think would enjoy each other's company, or just enjoy learning from one another.”   

At Princeton, Olson’s undergraduate days were wall-to-wall activity, studying engineering, working multiple jobs on- and off-campus, playing on the JV volleyball team, managing the powerlifting team, and teaching Chinese dance. She enjoyed every moment, but it was difficult to appreciate fully at the time. “Because of my busy schedule, I'm not sure I was able to experience as much as Princeton had to offer,” Olson said. “I'm one of those people whose love for Princeton really grew after I graduated.”

When she and her husband, Chris, moved to Chicago in 1995, they discovered a welcoming Princeton alumni community that invited her not only to participate, but to lead. Since then, she has served in virtually every capacity, including as Chicago Club president, co-chair of the Orange & Black Committee and chair of the Princeton in Chicago Schools scholarship committee, whose members award college scholarships and serve as mentors to high school students — many who are the first in their families to attend college. But more importantly, she became one of the club’s top ambassadors. “When I go to alumni events and I see new people that seem really excited to be here, I reach out and say, ‘How would you like to get more involved?’”

If the newcomer is receptive, Olson is quick to present informed options based on her years of dedication, such as joining the Alumni Schools Committee, the Asian American Alumni Association, Annual Giving, book-awards groups, the Princeton Prize in Race Relations committee, and Princeton Internships in Civic Service. She even chaired the Triangle Club committee that helps arrange the student group’s musical-comedy tour in Chicago. “I wasn't even a member of Triangle,” she said. “I just really love Triangle, and they needed somebody to help organize the show. So I did.”

Olson also has contributed as her class reunion chair, class president, and as a member of the Alumni Council’s Executive Committee — service that led to being named a recipient of the Award for Service to Princeton in 2013. Beyond her University activities, she’s currently president of the Women's Board of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago, a senior trustee of the Latin School of Chicago, and a member of the Board of Directors at the Chicago Children's Museum.

Princeton is where her heart is. “Princeton has this intangible magic that people somehow feel, especially when they hit campus,” she said. “What’s really beautiful about it is it doesn't matter what year you graduate. We have traditions that transcend all of our alumni classes, so it's like the Tiger spirit runs through everyone and just gives you a feeling of immediate bonding with one another.”

Olson shares her love of Princeton with daughter Camden ’19 and son Connor ’21. When Camden enrolled, Olson was thrilled to hear joy in Camden’s voice in their first phone conversation during orientation week. “It really struck me and I remember saying, ‘Wow, you sound really happy. Do you know why?’” Olson said. “And Camden paused as she couldn't quite articulate it. So I asked her: I said, ‘Did you find your people?’ And she said, ‘Yes, I think I did.’”