Professor Emily Soltano | On Learning to Be Comfortable with Who You Are


Professor Emily Soltano shares some of the biggest lessons she’s learned in her almost 20 years as a faculty member at Worcester State.

Written by Jess Evora, Assistant Director, OSILD
Photos provided by E. Soltano

When I walked into the Psychology Department here at Worcester State University (WSU) on a beautiful Thursday afternoon, I was greeted by the vibrant, upbeat Dr. Emily Soltano, a WSU professor who is warmly regarded by both students and colleagues alike.

Dr. Soltano has been teaching at Worcester State since 1999.  As she approaches 20 years of service on our campus, she happily took some time out of her day to share with us a few life lessons she has learned (and continues to learn) during her time here at WSU.

LESSON #1: Be the leader that you were meant to be, not the leader someone else wants you to be.

Dr. Soltano describes her leadership style as the more low-key leader. She emphasizes that she is a confident leader, but it took years of experience and of accepting who she is in order to gain that confidence.

“I’m not the aggressive, in-your-face type of leader. I’m not the leader who needs to be the face of the project. I’d rather be behind the scenes getting my things done,” Dr. Soltano said. “And I think what’s changed since I first started here years ago is that I’m now comfortable with being this type of leader.” Dr. Soltano explained that only through experience was she able to learn to be comfortable with not trying to be a specific type of leader, and to just to be true to herself.

Dr. Soltano shared that she grew up as the youngest of 3 siblings who all are very different in how they approach matters. She said that with this experience, she has come to realize that it is okay to be her own person.

“Don’t be somebody else,” Dr. Soltano said. “Make sure that it is your thoughts, and not what somebody else told you to say or do, because there is no ‘right way’”.

LESSON #2: Surround yourself with a diverse group of people. 

Dr. Soltano grew up in a Jewish household.  Her neighborhood in Brooklyn was majority Catholic, but was ethnically diverse.

“Growing up as a Jewish girl in a Catholic neighborhood, it was hard at times because I felt that no one else was like me,” Dr. Soltano said. “My family celebrated Jewish holidays. During Passover, when I was at school with my matza and egg salad, people would look at me, asking me, ‘Why are you eating that?’”

Despite those few incidents of feeling isolated, Dr. Soltano feels she benefited tremendously from growing up in a diverse neighborhood.  She thought back to one of her childhood neighbors who she affectionately called “Titi Iris” (“Titi” is a word for “Auntie” in Spanish).  Titi Iris was Puerto Rican, and exposed Dr. Soltano to a culture outside her own. Dr. Soltano believes this exposure had a lasting impact on her.

“I’ve learned to be kind to people,” Dr. Soltano said. “I don’t know if I always succeed, but I always try. I don’t always assume the worst.  Be empathetic.”

LESSON #3: Learn to be comfortable with knowing that you won’t always have the answers.

“I don’t react to matters immediately. I try to be thoughtful,” Dr. Soltano said. “I support the person who I’m interacting with by saying, ‘I acknowledge it. I hear you. Let me think about,’” Dr. Soltano said.  “And I will think about it. I’ll process it and then I’ll get back to the person as soon as possible.”

“I know I don’t always know the answer, and I’m okay with that,” Dr. Soltano said.  “If I’m not sure what the right response should be, I might talk to my colleagues both within the institution and outside of Worcester State.  I might talk to my friends and family to get their perspective on things.”

LESSON #4: Try to keep an open mind.  

It takes time, experience and intention to learn this particular lesson. However, over the years, Dr. Soltano has learned not to assume the motivations of others. “We may see someone’s behavior, but we’re not mind-readers,” Dr. Soltano said.  “Even here in the Psychology Department, we are not mind-readers.”

“Often when someone does something, I think of several reasons why they may have done it, but in reality it’s sometimes something that I would never have realized. I take the time to ask more questions, and actually talk to the person about what they are going through,” Dr. Soltano said.


LESSON #5: Remember the bigger picture. 

Among her many contributions to WSU, Dr. Soltano served for 4 years as Chair of the Psychology Department.  She learned during her four years as Department Chair the importance of taking a step back to understand how your individual work fits into the goals of the larger community.

“As a faculty member, I think academics are ‘It’, but realistically I know that it’s not,” Dr. Soltano said. “I now have a family, and I have my own kids.  I’ve come to realize that it’s not just my view of the world, sitting in my office, teaching my classes, and doing my committee work.  Being a department chair for 4 years gave me the perspective of the bigger picture.” This is a lesson for which Dr. Soltano is extremely grateful.

Professor Soltano has dedicated much of her time to engaging with students as an advisor on many student trips throughout the years.  This has helped her to better understand the importance of the learning that goes on outside the class.

“I’m so glad that I have a relationship with Kristie [Director of the Office of Student Involvement],” Dr. Soltano said. “Getting involved as an advisor on these trips allowed me to understand that we are all here for the students.  Both staff and faculty play an important role in the bigger picture.”

Thank you Dr. Soltano for your years of work within the Worcester State University community. Thank you for reminding us that, although we should always continue to challenge ourselves and grow as leaders, we should not do so at the expense of staying true to who we really are.

And with that, to our Worcester State Lancers: Keep reaching for the stars. Remember that you have a support system in the faculty and staff. And lastly, remember that although advice from others is extremely valuable, only you know how to become the best version of yourself.

We here in the Office of Student Involvement look forward to watching and supporting you as you take that journey. Go Lancers!