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March 2, 2022

For Olivia Gerstner ’23, interests in cancer research and crochet converge when she picks up her needle.


Crochet has been having a moment.

Popular in the ’70s, the one-needle knitting technique reemerged as a soothing and productive lockdown activity during the COVID-19 pandemic before hitting the runways of luxury brands. It even made a splash at the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics, when cameras showed British athlete Tom Daley crocheting between dives to stay calm. The trending craft caught the eye of Olivia Gerstner ’23, who was inspired to learn how to crochet last summer by watching videos on YouTube. When she returned to St. Paul’s School this fall, she was pleasantly surprised by the number of compliments she received about a top she’d made.

“People wanted to know where it was from,” Gerstner says. “I told them I’d teach them to make it. Crochet is relatively easy once you learn how to do it — you just follow patterns and can make your own version of something super expensive.”

Gerstner joined forces with formmates and housemates Paige Oken and Whitney Shaw to launch the Crochet and Sewing Club, advised by faculty member Eblin Molina. It was a simple process, Gerstner says, to turn their idea of a club into reality, and now it has its first mission: In a Chapel announcement, the trio put out the call for volunteers to join them in creating hats for cancer patients, to be distributed by the nonprofit Crochet for Cancer.

“We teach people how to crochet in our meetings, and the hats are relatively simple projects,” says Gerstner. “They only take a couple hours each and it’s a good way to get the community involved in doing some good work. I’ve ordered some yarn – which for this project has to be washable and can’t be wool – so if anybody needs yarn, I can give them some.”


Cancer is on Gerstner’s mind a lot these days, and not just when she’s crocheting her share of the 30-hat goal. She’s learning about it in her molecular biology class and is fascinated by the labs — she notes that both labs and crochet patterns require following close instructions — and she has a summer cancer research internship waiting for her at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. She hopes to pursue biomedical research in college and beyond, but in the meantime, she’s started a nonprofit called The Growing STEM. Devoted to raising funds to provide NYC-based STEM students with resources to help them reach their potential, the nonprofit has begun its work by sponsoring a biology research scholarship for the Terra NYC STEM Fair.

“St. Paul’s has a really great STEM program, and that’s what I’m most passionate about,” says Gerstner, who’s a member of the Coding Club and the Robotics Team. “But I also play field hockey and tennis and have been on the Service Learning Team, and I really like to draw. And now, the Crochet and Sewing Club. SPS is a great place that gives students a way to express their creativity in many ways.”