PVCC art professor Beryl Solla was presented with this year’s Chancellor’s Award for Teaching Excellence (CATE) and a check for $5,000 during the New Horizons conference in Roanoke on April 15th.
1. You were notified in advance of the New Horizons conference that you were this year’s winner of the CATE award, but it must’ve been a seminal moment in your career to receive the award in front of all those people. What was going through your mind as you stepped up to the podium?
I thought about my other colleagues who were also there receiving awards of their own and how from the beginning, I sought out colleagues who were smart and full of good ideas. I thought that success doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It takes a lot of hands to build a program or an event.
2. Teaching has always been an admirable profession but never an easy one. How do you manage to connect with your students and assist them in the learning process?
It was always easy for me. I like the students and I usually find them interesting. Most of them try so hard and often do really interesting work and have great ideas. I find if I listen to them carefully, responding to their individual needs just follows. I always ask what their intention is and I always tell them very clearly what my goals for them are. That helps clarify things for both of us. Once the intention is determined, we just work to find the best path to achieve it. The teaching part is always easy – the part of our job where we attend large meetings…not so much.
3. What’s the biggest challenge that you routinely encounter in today’s classroom and what steps are you taking to overcome it?
We always need money to buy supplies or fund events. We also need to find ways to communicate with our students after they graduate so they can help current students move into their next phase, and reach out to us for support as they move into a senior institution or career.
We recently started a Facebook group to solve the last problem. We’ve been writing grants to generate some funds for special projects and we started an art club as a way to create and fund interesting art events in the classroom and for the campus at large.
I taught for 18 years at a small, private, liberal arts college in Miami. I was “raised” to value teaching and the connection to the students, the college and the community. It was a culture that I respected and was proud to be a part of.
When I moved to Virginia I taught at a large public university and found the administration to be very indifferent to the needs of students, the program, and the community. I kept running into philosophical brick walls with my chair. I didn’t understand the disconnect between administration and the students. I quit after five years, realizing it was not a good place for me and fortunately, a job opened up at PVCC. I applied and didn’t think I had much of a chance because of my age. As it turned out they were very receptive and we shared the same approach to education and community involvement. The college actually valued my commitment to teaching and outreach.
I attended a community college in Miami and it was a fantastic experience. I’m still in touch with my professors and mentors. So, the answer is, I share the same values and goals as the community college and I’m glad we found each other!
5. Can you briefly describe some of your interests outside of your career? What are some of your hobbies and or interests?
I am a working artist so I spend time making artwork. I also facilitate the creation and installation of tile murals around the state. I am an avid gardener and spend as much time as I can in the garden. Virginia is a fertile state and things grow like weeds. I like the time alone in the garden, listening to loud rock and roll and working intuitively.
Last but not least, I have a wonderful husband and two grown, married sons. I also have a fantastic grandson who will be two in August. I am an excellent babysitter and jump at spending as much time with him as I can. I find that he sparks my creativity and helps me see the world as a place full of possibilities.
Featured image (top): Solla (center) hits paydirt at the New Horizons conference in mid-April.
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