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Lucia Solano’s Desire to Help Lander’s First-Year Students Led To Prestigious National Award

Lucia SolanoWhen Lucia Solano learned that she was the recipient of the 2024 Jordan Smith Undergraduate Fellowship, it’s understandable that the Lander University student would call her family in North Augusta to share the exciting news of the national award.

A first-generation, Costa Rican American college student, Solano was one of only five students in the United States to be awarded the prestigious fellowship.

The award is given by the National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition at the University of South Carolina and the DIA Higher Education Collaborators. It honors undergraduate students for their work on behalf of first-year students and the impact their efforts make on the students and cultures of their institutions.

The award also underscores Solano’s commitment to serve other students – a desire fueled by her own uncertainty about college life during her freshman year. “I was not as involved since I was just trying to navigate this new chapter in my life,” said Solano, a rising junior. “At the time, I did not have someone to really turn to, ask for advice or help since my own mother had never experienced college in the United States.”

Later in her freshman year, Solano realized that “I wanted to be that person for new students.”

She turned to Michael Graham, Lander’s LINK program director. Through LINK 101 (Leadership, Involvement, Networking and Knowledge), students are grouped by their majors to prepare and assist them for success in the short- and long-term.

“We started having discussions, and I saw that he understood what I wanted to accomplish,” she said.

Solano became involved in the Peer Leader Program at Lander. Students are nominated as Peer Leaders (PLs) by their LINK instructor or another PL for being a high-achieving student during their first semester at Lander.

“These students are important to both the vision and mission of retaining our students while ensuring that they are having a great experience at Lander,” said Dr. Amanda Darden, Lander’s vice president for Student Experience and Quality Assurance.

“Lucia was a strong student during her first year, and she has continued the momentum through her second year at Lander,” Darden said. “From the beginning of her time working within the Student Success Center, she has been passionate with helping students find ways in which to be involved inside and outside the classroom.”

Solano joined Lander’s Presidential Ambassador team, whose members give tours to prospective students, welcome guests to campus and work in the Office of Admissions. “I wanted to make a difference and show students why I loved Lander and how they would also have the opportunity to grow and succeed at this institution,” said Solano.

As a Presidential Ambassador, she has led Spanish-speaking tours for students and their families. “This was something that has meant the world to me. Looking back, I would have loved having this option so my grandmother, who doesn't speak English, could have come with me to tour the school I was interested in.”

In the First-Year Experience program, Solano is the student coordinator for the PL Team. “Within the classroom, the PL team is there to help students understand the application of the information discussed each week and be an outlet of support for students who may not feel comfortable approaching their instructor with questions,” she said.

Outside the classroom, the PL team helps students get involved with campus life. “My role allows me to work hand-in-hand with the other team members and help them identify additional ways to provide socio-emotional support to our first-year students,” Solano said.

An international studies major seeking a minor in public health, Solano plans to pursue a master’s degree in political science or business administration. She plans to have a career “where I can make a difference through improving the quality of life for others who come from immigrant and underrepresented backgrounds.”

As high school graduates prepare for college, Solano understands the challenges they may face. “They can feel overwhelmed with the new environment and being away from home,” she said. “They may not know how to get involved on campus, or they can struggle with finding their group of people. My advice is to always try something new. It can be scary, but you will never feel involved or meet new people if you don't take the chance and leave your dorm room.”