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Campus Closeup: Kathy Solka

Several framed photos grace the walls and desk in Kathy Solka's office in the Jacobetti Complex. Al, her husband of 28 years, appears in a couple. So do their canine and feline pets. But the most popular subject—hooves down—is Rye, her 15-year-old Mustang gelding. Not only does the buckskin-colored horse trump hubby in number of appearances, but his image graces a frame inscribed with the tender expression, "Life is Better with You."

"I don't think Al knows about that one," Solka laughs. "I'm lucky to have such a tolerant husband. He's a great guy and understands that my horse is my passion. I bought Rye three years ago as a way to channel the grief after my dad died. He loved horses and owned them when he was a kid. I hadn't ridden since I was a teenager, but it's become a great way to feel closer to my dad. Rye and I are partners and have done amazing things together. He's been an escape, teacher, friend and listener. I can't say he's the best thing in my life because of my husband, but it's safe to say Rye is my best purchase ever."

Solka enjoys regular trail rides near her native Ishpeming and surrounding areas. She has met some lifelong friends through the activity. Each July, she also saddles up Rye and guides him through the streets of downtown Negaunee during the Pioneer Days parade. "I do parades mainly for the kids. When we stop, several kids come up to us and want to pet Rye. Most kids love the horses. It's fun."

It is not cheap to board a horse at a stable, Solka says, so she is grateful to be gainfully employed at NMU. She was hired in 1985 after brief stints at the Marquette County Medical Care Facility and an attorney's office. Most of her time on campus has been at the Jacobetti Complex, where she is principal secretary in Engineering Technology, located right next to Technology and Occupational Sciences.

"My main duties center on students, from responding to their questions to handling their advising files," Solka says. "That's my favorite part. I believe in the laddering concept of the programs we offer, where students can go from a certificate to bachelor's degree. Not every student is a BS candidate. We also have had great success stories with associate and certificate students. All of the programs have their place and sometimes it's a matter of getting students in the door and building up their confidence. Our faculty does a great job nurturing and going the extra mile. It's rewarding to see students graduate and get a good job."

Other perks of her job, by virtue of her Jacobetti Complex location, are serving as a taste tester in some of the hospitality management classes and serving as a model for a manicure from cosmetology students learning the process. Solka also handles payroll, helps faculty members with their needs and processes employment contracts.

When she's not at work or sitting atop Rye, Solka spends time at Al's family camp on the Sweitzer's basin and enjoys bonding with her two golden retrievers and two cats. She also picks blueberries from her favorite spot, which she keeps as a closely guarded secret. Quilting is her winter hobby.

"It's pretty easy if you can cut and sew accurately. I've taken classes and I've met some awesome people through quilting. There's an international quilt festival in Houston every year, and I've attended several. While I'm there, I buy some great Western wear for riding, as well as add to my ever-growing fabric stash that every quilter seems to have. I've donated quilts to student groups like the NMU Constructors and other organizations for fundraisers. I've also made quilts for babies of graduates and served as a matchmaker for one of my graduates. It's really cool to establish that relationship with students and continue it after they leave."