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Admissions counselor shares love for Brandeis

By chriscal

Section: Features

October 23, 2009

STILL in Love: After three years as a quad director, Associate Director of Admissions Luigi Solla left to work at Northeastern University, only to come back after one year when he jumped at the chance to join the admissions team. <br /><i>PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot</i>

STILL in Love: After three years as a quad director, Associate Director of Admissions Luigi Solla left to work at Northeastern University, only to come back after one year when he jumped at the chance to join the admissions team.
PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot

When Luigi Solla applied to Fairfield University in his native Connecticut, he did so because of a suggestion from his English teacher.

The youngest child of Italian immigrants, Solla had been schooled on the value of education many times, so going to college wasn’t a question: the big issue was where.

Solla’s family had two prerequisites for him: Go to school in state, and earn lots of money. So he attended Fairfield, where he studied psychology and studio art as an undergraduate student. After graduating, he moved out of state to attend Northeastern University, where he earned his master’s degree in counseling and college student development.

Now an Associate Director of Admissions at Brandeis, Solla draws upon his personal experiences every day when he speaks to prospective students.

“I get to share that experience with some of the students that I meet, and let them know that there’s a whole lot more to college than just the paycheck that you may end up getting when you get a job [after] college,” he says.

As the first member of his family to attend college, Solla brings that perspective to the oftentimes daunting college application process.

“When no one in your family has gone to college and you’re coming from a high school where the resources aren’t good, you don’t know that the SAT matters, you don’t know that your essay matters…you just pick up things here and there, and you sort of navigate the admissions process solo,” he says. “And that’s a tough process to navigate. So a lot of the students that I work with, I get to sort of relate to them in that way.”

Solla, five feet and nine inches tall, with dark hair and a cheerful smile, has a tendency to lean forward in his seat when he gets engrossed in an interesting point of conversation, expressing his excitement both through his words and his body language.

Solla’s office is a lot like he is: welcoming, colorful, filled with admiration for loved ones and friends and childlike at heart.

The desktop space and shelves of his office in the new admissions building are meticulously arranged with gifts he’s received from friends and family over the years. There’s the Charlie Brown music box that plays a song of friendship that one of Solla’s best friends gave him upon graduating from college, and the Mr. Potato Head Solla received from a friend because he’s a kid at heart.

Then there’s the collection of Luigi caricatures – one from the Super Mario Brothers video game and the Simpsons character – he’s accumulated over time.

“People have given me these Luigi figures over the years. And, you know, they’re all stereotypically Italian,” he says, and laughs. “But they’re meaningful because they’ve come from people who are meaningful to me.”

“So I get to keep them in my office,” he says, then continues humorously. “They get dusty, but I don’t tell them that.”

Solla is in the start of his seventh year working at Brandeis, and his fourth year working in admissions. Although he’s made a cozy home for himself in admissions, Solla didn’t always envision himself in this line of work.

“I never really thought that I ever wanted to go into admissions,” he says. “I wanted to stay in residence life or do new student orientation or student activities. That was sort of what my training was in, and that’s really what I wanted to do.”

Ten years ago, Solla, 31 years old, moved to Massachusetts for graduate school. Straight out of school, he started work in Brandeis’ Department Community Living as a Community Development Coordinator (CDC) for East Quad and the Village. Solla worked in residence life for three years, the maximum time a CDC, is allowed to stay on.

When his three years as a quad director were up, though, Solla found himself at a crossroads.

“I wanted to stay at Brandeis because of how connected I felt to the community, but there weren’t any opportunities for me here,” he says.

So he started work as an academic advisor at Northeastern University and stayed there for a year before realizing it just wasn’t as good a fit as Brandeis.

When he heard about an open position in Brandeis’ Office of Undergraduate Admissions from a former residence life colleague, Solla figured he’d give it a shot.

“I did and I fell in love with it, and it’s been a really good fit for me,” he says.

Solla says Brandeis has remained a good place for him for two reasons: “One, because it’s an institution that I can buy into and believe in. And two, because at the end of the day, I sort of discovered that I very much enjoy sharing college access and getting people excited about college and the opportunities that college can give.”

As an Associate Director for Admissions, Solla’s work ranges from coordinating on-campus events to help with recruitment and yield, to managing diversity student recruitment and the application process for the Transitional Year Program.

He helps organize many large-scale on-campus events such as fall Open House, Preview Day and Admitted Students Day, and oversees campus tours, visits and info sessions with fellow admissions employee Ethan Feuer ’07.

Assigned to the territories of Greater Boston and West Massachusetts, Solla also travels around the state to meet with prospective Brandeis students and their families.

Currently in the middle of his travel season, which starts in mid-September and ends in early November, Solla views this traveling as paying it forward.

“Brandeis has given me so much that [this recruitment traveling is] a way I get to give back to Brandeis,” he says.

When asked his favorite aspect of working as an admissions counselor, Solla’s eyes light up and, with his trademark enthusiasm, he cites the same traveling experience that seems to be mutually beneficial for both him and the students he meets.

“I just get to meet some really neat people [on the road] and get them excited about an institution that I believe in,” he says. “And sort of giving them that same sort of excitement about Brandeis that I have [is rewarding].”

Sitting in his office in the newly reopened admissions center, Solla’s laser eye contact becomes momentarily distracted as something out in the hallway catches his eye.

“Oh my gosh, it’s Gil [Villanueva, former Dean of Admissions],” he exclaims, and jumps up out of his chair to greet his recently departed boss.

It’s this childlike excitement that endears Solla in the hearts of so many Brandesians.

Lisa Fay has worked with Solla in admissions for nearly three years and says Solla’s passion for his work is admirable.

“He truly, truly enjoys what he does. He loves talking to [students]. He just is absolutely in the right job for him,” she says.

Fay says Solla is always willing to “go the extra mile” and help his colleagues: “He’s always willing to step in [to do] whatever needs doing.”

Four years into his time at admissions, Solla still speaks of his work with the enthusiasm of a fresh-out-of-college student who just landed his dream job.

“Thankfully I love my job, so I’m not one of those people who has to wake up in the morning dreading going to work,” he says. “That piece of appreciating what I do is [still] there.”

This enthusiasm for his place of and line of work helps Solla sell Brandeis to prospective students.

“I love why Brandeis was created; the social justice mission of the institution and providing access to those who are denied access,” he says. “That is amazing to be a part of and to invite students to become a part of.”

The conversation turns to talk of the new admissions building, and Solla speaks happily of the new space and how thankful he is to move in. There is, however, one thing missing, he says: a touch of home.

“I just want coziness inside,” he says, and mentions the need for art on the walls.

He’s the type of guy who’s content to enjoy time with family and friends and stay inside on a snowy day. When he’s not working, Solla, who lives in Cambridge, loves walking his beloved dog Jackson and cherishes every opportunity he has to spend time with friends and loved ones.

“At the end of life or at the end of the day, those memories are going to be pretty important,” he says. “And so I want to create as many of those memories as possible.”

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