April 2024 Team Leader of the Month: Merlin Solares, California State University, Fullerton

From Alex Ortega, Assistant Director of Veterans Services, California State University, Fullerton: “Merlin Solares exemplifies outstanding leadership qualities in her role as a Team Leader for the CSUF PAVE team. She has strong leadership and communication skills, and the ongoing ability to make decisions that are best for her Peer Advisors and veterans within PAVE. Merlin understands the importance of empathy and providing her peers with support to build a cohesive team. She is the first to actively listen to her team members’ concerns and she provides ongoing mentorship to not only her peers, but also to her VSC and Campus Champion. Merlin constantly creates a supportive environment for growth and development. She is a master of team building and curating a sense of camaraderie and cohesion among her team members through team-building activities and shared goals. It is an honor every single day to work alongside Merlin Solares.”

From Merlin Solares: “I’ve been part of PAVE since January 2021. In the six semesters that I have been fortunate enough to be part of this team, I am proud of the culture our team has created and fostered. I have seen peers come in and express feeling out of place, not being able to connect with the student body, and feeling disconnected from the university. These same peers have shown up time and time again to the PAVE events and have found a sense of community and belonging. What I have seen is that all it takes is showing up to one event. None of this would happen without the Peer Advisors (PAs) and the way they connect with everyone. The shift in mentality that sparks in these peers when they see they have a support system through PAVE is what I’m most proud of. None of us are alone and I love that PAVE is a constant reminder of that. 

I love being able to see PAs light up when they see they’re making a difference. As a Team Leader I train and guide PAs with logs, flyers, verbiage, but being able to connect with people is something that isn’t teachable. People are born with that and sometimes it takes a little longer to realize you have it in you. Seeing every PA that has been on this team spark a commonality or extend a lending hand that ultimately brings those peers back to our center or back to our events is my absolute favorite part. We’re a family away from home and fostering that environment is important to the PAVE motto here at CSUF.”