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Graduation Files: Soliman returns to high school alma mater to help bridge culture gap

Lipscomb's Pionero Scholars Program closing culture gap in local schools

Kim Chaudoin  | 

Verna Soliman in her cap and gown holding flowers

When Verna Soliman was a junior at Nashville’s Antioch High School, she made a promise that she intended to keep. 

Since pre-school Soliman says she has “loved every one” of her teachers. But one — Andrew Price, AP language teacher at Antioch High School — inspired her to follow in his footsteps. She made a promise to him that she would return to her alma mater one day and teach English just like him. 

And in January, Soliman will make good on her promise as she will become the newest English teacher at Antioch High School. Soliman will teach as a colleague to Price, following her graduation from Lipscomb University during December commencement. 

Soliman, who earned her degree in English teaching through the College of Education, came to Lipscomb as part of the Pionero Scholars Program which encourages students in Nashville to become teachers and to return to teach in their home communities. 

When she was an infant, Soliman’s parents moved her and her siblings from Egypt to the United States for an opportunity for them to pursue a college education when they got older. Her parents received their college degrees from universities in Egypt and wanted their children to have the opportunity for a good college education.

“I have always enjoyed learning and attending school, so pursuing a degree was the easiest decision for me,” says Soliman. “I knew for a fact that I did not want to be a doctor or an engineer, like the majority of my Egyptian community, so I decided to study English teaching and instill the love of reading, writing and speaking into others.”

I am incredibly excited to be back because I am aware of the lack of representation in the school system. — Verna Soliman

It was under Price’s tutelage that Soliman developed a desire to teach English. 

“The fluidity of his class, combined with discussions on morals and ethics, really put into perspective what learning should look like,” she explains. “I promised Dr. Andrew Price that I would come back and teach right next door to him during my junior year of high school. Here we are, a few years later, and I am honored to say that I will be teaching alongside him.” 

At Lipscomb, Soliman excelled in the English and education departments.

“My Lipscomb experience was memorable. I had many great mentors that encouraged me and allowed me to see my full potential,” she says. “But, it was the English Department that genuinely made my time at Lipscomb worthwhile.”

Reducing the culture gap between the diversity of students in Nashville public schools and the diversity of the faces they see at the head of the classroom is a mission of Lipscomb’s College of Education

To help bridge that gap, the College of Education launched the Pionero Scholars program in 2015, funded by a private grant, with the intent to recruit Nashville students who reflect the diversity of Nashville to go into the teaching field and hopefully end up working in the school system where they grew up. The Pionero program provides a scholarship of up to $10,000 a year to students, professional development and networking, mentorship and a community of diverse, like-minded classmates.

Like the nation as a whole, Nashville schools suffer from a culture gap with more than 30 percent of MNPS students come from households in which English is not the primary language and 67 percent identifying as a minority, while only 22.5 percent of MNPS educators are African American and only 2.2 percent are Hispanic. This gap feeds a perception among high school students with diverse backgrounds that education is not a potential career option for them.

Soliman, who is part of the third cohort of Pionero scholars to graduate from Lipscomb, wants to try to close that gap. 

“I am incredibly excited to be back because I am aware of the lack of representation in the school system,” Soliman explains. “My high school alma mater has students from over 100 countries on the globe, but they don’t have teachers with similar immigrant experiences or the same skin color. I want to offer those students a helping hand as they navigate a different culture while broadening their worldview.”

Learn more about Lipscomb’s Pionero Scholars Program.