‘Top 100 woman’ works nonstop
Felícita Solá-Carter, who was born in Puerto Rico and has lived in Howard County for the past 30 of her 70 years, is a wonder woman of sorts.
The former federal official, businesswoman, wife, mother of two and nonstop volunteer was recently chosen as one of Maryland’s Top 100 Women 2021.
Solá-Carter currently chairs the Board of Trustees of Howard Community College, where she also leads the board’s audit and finance committee. She earns no salary in either position.
“What I do is because of my mother, my family, teaching me that you have to be of service. This was one of the core values inculcated in me from an early age,” Solá-Carter said in an interview with the Beacon.
The designation was bestowed on her by the multimedia publication The Daily Record of Baltimore. (She received a similar recognition from the business and legal newspaper in 2008.)
The Daily Record newspaper noted that “the winners are recognized as high-achieving Maryland women who are making an impact through their leadership, community service and mentorship.” This year’s winners “are navigating Maryland businesses through extraordinary times,” according to publisher Suzanne Fischer-Huettner.
Solá-Carter was also inducted in 2014 into the Howard County Women’s Hall of Fame. It was noted that she was “the first Puerto Rican woman appointed to a senior level executive position at the Social Security Administration and the current president of Conexiones, a nonprofit advocacy for Howard County Public Schools System Hispanic students.”
She also happened to receive in 2014 the Leadership Howard County Unsung Hero Award, which went to volunteers “whose efforts have not made headlines but have made a difference.”
College scholarship launched career
Felícita Solá-Carter grew up in Caguas, Puerto Rico, about 20 miles from San Juan. Her parents enrolled her in Colegio Católico Notre Dame, a pre-kindergarten to high school run by the Catholic Sisters of Notre Dame. The bilingual school gave Solá an
excellent education and fluency in English, which helped her earn a full scholarship to the College of Mount Saint Vincent, located in the well-to-do Riverdale section of the Bronx.
“Upon graduation in 1971,” she said, “in order to stay in New York, which I loved, I needed a job. My family always believed in public service and valued federal employment in particular.”
So the 20-year-old Puertorriqueña took a federal exam and scored high enough to be offered a claims adjuster position at the Social Security Administration (SSA).
“It was the beginning of a wonderful and challenging career, one that made my parents proud as my bilingual and bicultural skills would be in use,” she said.
Solá was employed at the agency for 38 years (1971-2009). She moved up in the ranks from claims adjuster in Washington Heights (the area where fellow-Puerto Rican Lin Manuel Miranda set his highly acclaimed musical “In the Heights”) to assistant deputy commissioner for human resources in the SSA’s Woodlawn office, just outside of Baltimore. While there, she provided leadership in, among many other fields, training, civil rights, equal opportunity, labor management and employee relations.
After her 2009 retirement from the federal government, she established Felicita Sola-Carter Consulting, where she gives strategic advice to government leaders, business executives, and others.
Just a part of her long list of volunteer work over the years includes serving as president of Conexiones, 2007-2014; a consultant at the Partnership for Public Service; chair for six years of the Hispanic Youth Institute of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund; a founding board member of the Bright Minds Foundation, which arranges grants and scholarships for the county’s public school students; a member of the Howard County Library System’s Choose Civility Campaign; a member of the county’s General Plan Task Force.
A few more of her many recognitions: U.S. Hispanic Youth Entrepreneur Education Hispanic Hero Award (2008); SSA Human Resources Leadership Award (2006); Presidential Rank Awards for Meritorious Executive (2003) and for Distinguished Executive (2004).
Heritage still part of her life
Solá-Carter has been married for 44 years to Baltimore native Bruce W. Carter, also a former SSA official, who was one of the agency’s first webmasters. They have two grown sons.
Both wife and husband love to cook the Puerto Rico Christmas dish of pasteles (pork and several dozen other ingredients wrapped in green plantain leaves and boiled). During the holiday season they gather with other Puerto Rican families in the area for yearly joyful pasteles cook-ins at one another’s homes.
Her family has lived in the same house in Howard County since 1991.
“Moving to Maryland was one of the best decisions of my life,” Solá-Carter said.
“I wanted to live in Columbia because I believed, and still believe, in [Columbia founder] Jim Rouse’s philosophy of people of all backgrounds living together. That appealed to me — and so did what was considered, for my kids, one of the best school systems in the state.”
Inspired to lead by serving
Of her dedication to volunteer work, Solá-Carter points to Robert Greenleaf, a former AT&T business executive who took an early retirement to write a book about his philosophy of “servant leadership.” Greenleaf, who wrote in the 1970s and 1980s, proposed that “a true leader who is trusted by followers is a servant first.” He noted that this was very different from the general belief of the time “that leadership only comes with fancy titles.”
“I’m a firm believer and practitioner of Robert Greenleaf’s servant-leadership philosophy,” Solá-Carter said. “It is the leader’s role to invite, develop and encourage the unlimited potential of each person.”
She is also a follower of one of her mother’s dictums, “No basta ser bueno, sino paracerlo,” which means, more or less, “One is always ‘on’ and will be judged by how one chooses to appear and engage with others,” she said.
“It is important to know who you are and what you stand for. To succeed in public service, one must earn public trust by being a person of integrity,” Solá-Carter said.
“I feel blessed with all the opportunities I have had, and it is a privilege and an honor to give back.”