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Faustina Solis, a pioneer in higher education and public health

August 16, 2013

By Pablo J. Sáinz

faustina-solisThe name of Faustina Solis in San Diego represents the desire of giving access to education and health care to underserved communities. Solis was a pioneer in Latino higher education and community health care throughout the county.

Faustina Solis died of complications of Parkinson’s disease on August 4, 2013. She was 90.

Nevertheless, her legacy will continue to have a positive impact.

A UC San Diego professor emeritus, Solís was also the university’s first Latina provost. She served as provost of the university’s Thurgood Marshall College (then known as Third College) from 1981-1988, and taught at the UC San Diego School of Medicine beginning in 1971.

She established public health coursework for undergraduates and medical students, following many years in social work focused on healthcare for underserved populations. Solís’ contributions were honored in 1990 when Thurgood Marshall Lecture Hall on the UC San Diego campus was renamed the Faustina F. Solís Lecture Hall.

“Without bold leaders like Faustina Solís, UC San Diego would not be the world-class university it is today,” said Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “She was a beloved campus leader who helped establish the foundation of excellence on which the university has been built.”

Faustina Solis was born in Compton, the daughter of Mexican parents who fled the violence of the Mexican Revolution in 1911. She earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from UCLA in 1951, and a master’s degree in social work from the University of Southern California in 1954.

Solis saw education as the answer to many of society’s problems, especially education as a way for underserved communities to move ahead.

As provost of Thurgood Marshall College, she was once quoted as saying about minority students:

“They weren’t left to fly by themselves. Freshman and transfer students can feel very lost in a large university. They need support and assistance in every way possible, whether financial, social or counseling.”

Solis was a mentor for many Latino medical students at the UCSD School of Medicine in the 1970s. One of them was Dr. Sandra P. Daley, who now is a professor of pediatrics at the school.

“Ms. Solis was one of the few faculty members who was intimately involved with the underserved communities in San Diego,” Daley said. “As medical students, her teaching significantly impacted us and our career choices. In the school of medicine, she taught us, her students, to use our knowledge not only as clinicians but also as advocates for our patients and their families. As a result her work expanded the pool of healthcare providers prepared to work with underserved and vulnerable populations.”

Solis helped establish the San Ysidro Health Center, because she saw the need of families in San Ysidro.

“Faustina was not only a strong force in teaching medical students about community medicine, but also in creating programs for undeserved families,” said Dr. Ruth Covell, who is a founding member of the San Ysidro Health Center, where she worked closely with Solis. “She was an advocate for low-income families.”

Because of her extensive background in public health, Solís was the first full professor at the UC San Diego School of Medicine without a medical degree or doctorate. She introduced ethnic content into the medical school curriculum, based on her experiences in social work and the development of healthcare services for California’s migrant farm workers. She also served as an assistant chancellor during her time on campus.

“Faustina was unique in her commitment and dedication to the least amongst us at UCSD because she had the genius to recognize human value and intellectual potential,” said Dr. Teresa Gonzalez-Lee, a Spanish professor at Mira Costa College. “She will be sorely missed among family, friends and everyone who had the good fortune to come in contact with her.”

Solís is survived by two brothers, two sisters, and many nieces and nephews. A celebration of life is planned for Saturday, Aug. 24 at 2 p.m. at the Soledad Club at 5050 Soledad Road in San Diego.

The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made in her memory to the UC San Diego Hispanic Scholarship Council Scholarship Fund.

Donations can be made online at givetoucsd.ucsd.edu; please search Hispanic Scholarship Council.

Checks can also be made payable to the UC San Diego Foundation, with “Hispanic Scholarship Council Scholarship Fund” in the memo, and mailed to 9500 Gilman Drive, #0940, La Jolla, CA 92093-0940.

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