May 6, 2016, Blue Bell, Pa.—A passionate advocate for people who are underprivileged, especially in support of women and their pursuit of education, Lavinia Soliman, of Souderton, was named a 2016 Newman Civic Fellow, an award that honors inspiring college student leaders who have demonstrated an investment in finding solutions for challenges facing communities throughout the country.
“This award means that the world still cares about service and dedication to those in need. This award is proof that, globally, empathy is winning over apathy,” the 21-year old Liberal Studies major at Montgomery County Community College said in an e-mail interview.
Soliman, who will graduate later this month, is well-equipped to fight the battle against apathy. On campus, her drive to serve has led her to assume leadership roles in the Student Government Association, MCCC’s chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), the Environmental Sustainability Club, and the Anthropology and Archaeology Club. She has participated in a number of service projects, including excavations at The Speaker’s House, volunteering at the Whitpain Community Festival, and participating in the MLK Day of Service.
Soliman is also a representative on the Student Board for the Pennsylvania State Board of Education, “to represent marginalized students and give them a voice,” she said, speaking for college and K-12 students living below the poverty line. She participated in and now interns with the MCCC’s Legislator in Residence program, which helps to build connections between at-risk female students and female mentors in positions of public service.
“The Female Legislator Shadowing Program is meant to create a relationship between college women and women in various government positions in our state capital,” Soliman said. “I've participated in the program, and I've helped encouraged continued investment in the program working with Peggy Lee-Clark and Jodi Empol-Schwartz.” Empol-Schwartz is professor of Political Science at the College. Lee-Clark is Montgomery County Community College’s executive director of governmental relations and special projects.
“The discussion was very informational and empowering,” said Soliman about the Legislator in Residence program. “They offered great advice about taking risks, pursuing your passion, and working hard, which applies to all careers. It’s good to see other community college graduates in successful careers, too. I am so grateful for this opportunity.”
Soliman is also a regional ambassador for the Girl Rising Movement, which advocates for educational equality or young girls.
“I am humbled to be considered for an award that honors dedication to public service, especially because the students being nominated are the sets of helping hands that are going to change the world,” Soliman said. “My own dedication stems from my passions for universal education, poverty alleviation, and gender equality. At my school, I’ve committed myself to these causes and have tried to make a positive impact. Although we have raised funds, encouraged service, and have been advocates, there’s more to be done!”
Soliman graduated from North Penn High School in 2013 and traveled in Europe for a year before beginning her studies at MCCC in August 2014. “I didn’t choose Montgomery County Community College. The College chose me!” she said. “I did have both scholarships and grants that helped me with tuition, which is the reason I was able to come to school in the first place. I was unsure of the College at first, but coming here was great and provided me with opportunities.”
It was a “transformative saving grace” that allowed her to arrive at an institute of higher education, driven by empathy for people who are still in need of that grace.
“To me, nothing is more important than hearing about the suffering of others and taking action to help them,” she said. “I pursue my education in the hope that I can become not only someone who listens, but more importantly someone who advocates, helps, and brings impactful change.”
Soliman continued, “at one point in my life, I was in need and looked to the kindness of others as a transformative saving grace. That is the power of empathy in action. For these reasons, I have become an active member on my campus and in my community. Off campus, I work with young women in poverty or trauma. Through economic independence, social support, empowerment, and education, they are able to break out of cyclical poverty. These small victories make me believe that change is possible.”
Soliman believes that “nothing is especially remarkable about me. I work hard and I give as much as I can give, that's it. I think being human and just being is already remarkable enough.”
“Everyone has had difficult times in their lives, and it can be really terrible. Some of us are lucky to have people who love and care for us unconditionally and want to do whatever they can to help us up when we're down. I was lucky, and I'll always be eternally grateful to the friends that I consider family,” she said.
The soon-to-be graduate plans to transfer to Bryn Mawr College to study Peace, Conflict and Social Justice.
Through service, research and advocacy, Newman Civic Fellows—like Soliman—are making the most of their college experiences to better understand themselves, the root causes of social issues, and effective mechanisms for creating lasting change. These students represent the next generation of public problem solvers and civic leaders. They serve as national examples of the role that higher education can—and does—play in building a better world. The Newman Civic Fellows Awards are made possible through the generous support of the KPMG Foundation and Newman’s Own Foundation. Newman Civic Fellows are recommended by college and university presidents to acknowledge motivation and ability in public leadership. Newman Civic Fellows awards are made in memory of Frank Newman, who dedicated his life to creating systemic change through education reform.
- Neree Aron-Sando
Montgomery County Commuinty College student Lavinia Soliman is a national 2016 Newman Civic Fellow. Photo by Sandi Yanisko