Spotlight on Staff: Yasmin Soltero

Yasmin Soltero, M.S., College Success Team Leader

Meet Yasmin Soltero. Her connection to Project GRAD Los Angeles runs the full spectrum -- from high school Scholar to college graduate to Team Leader. For four years, Yasmin was the San Fernando High School Site Lead, working everyday at her high school alma mater and helping students from the same community she grew up in. In April, she was promoted to College Success Team Leader, where she will play a larger leadership role in Project GRAD’s program design while managing a team of four College Readiness Advisors.

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PG: Share a bit about the circumstances that brought you to Project GRAD.
YS: In high school, I heard about Project GRAD from friends who had been involved since middle school, so I became a Scholar. The Summer Institutes were especially huge for me. The exposure to college campuses and college-level courses were life changing. I was first-gen, the eldest child, and a daughter so there wasn’t a lot of discussion in my family about me going to college. But Project GRAD was perfect for answering all of my questions and curiosities, and helping me navigate the college path. I attended CSUN, finishing in three years. It was while I was at CSUN that I began working at Project GRAD as an Intern, which then turned into a full-time job as a College Advisor in 2007. And in 2011, I completed my Masters in Counseling.

PG: What are the most rewarding aspects of your job?
YS: I have to play the hard mama (laughs). I give that “tough love” but then get teary when they run into the Project GRAD office with their college acceptance letters in hand, or even accomplish something they didn’t think they could do because of our high expectations. Our office is seen as a refuge; students know we’re always here for them. Now, other students, not just Project GRAD Scholars, will come in for college advising. They know the Project GRAD team is a resource for all. We’re available longer hours, both early morning and after-school, and we give individual supports. And the kids will actually come back and visit us a year or two later! So I know we’re doing something right. I take enormous pride in all of their success.

PG: Where do you see Project GRAD Los Angeles in ten years?
YS: In ten years, I want our college graduation rate to be 100%. I’d also like to see former Scholars on our Board and in positions of executive leadership.

PG: Describe some of the challenges of the work.
YS: For me, a sense of passion is key. Passion is what helps me power through the challenges. Having a grasp on the culture, I understand the challenges our students face. I grew up in this community too. People don’t realize that this job has a creative side. Every class of Scholars is different. What works for one cohort of Scholars may not work for the next year. For example, sometimes we deliver information broadly and our kids just “get it.” The next year, we may need to be very detail-oriented with students. Scholars may not know each other well in the 9th grade, so it’s important to build cohesion and have the students bond with each other.  Part of my job is being attuned to where students are at and designing activities that take those things into account.

Access to resources is also incredibly important because of the economic challenges our students deal with, including those who are undocumented. The culture shock about going away to college can be huge. Based on my personal experience, we do one-on-one meetings with parents about what to expect when their child is a college freshmen.

PG: Congratulations on your promotion to College Success Team Leader.
YS: Thank you.

PG: What are you looking forward to most about your new position?
YS: It’s exciting. I’m growing and maturing as a professional at the same time that Project GRAD is growing and evolving. I’m really looking forward to deepening my involvement in the education of my community and really putting a stamp on where we’re headed as an organization. This work is so close to my heart. I’m a mentor first so I will continue to work one-on-one with a cohort of students. I want to put on a series of community-wide “town halls” for families that covers a lot of the necessary information about college and addresses common questions. I’m also interested in some technology innovations like “GRADguru”, a pilot program we’re working on to engage our college scholars with text alerts.

PG: What’s one thing your colleagues would be surprised to learn about your life outside of work?
I’ve run the LA Marathon six times, some people know about that. I’m a pretty good cook; I’ll try making anything – from Thai to make-your-own sushi.  People would probably be most surprised to learn that I’m a huge karaoke fan (laughs)… especially love singing Tina Turner songs!

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