Lehigh’s supportive faculty and anything-is-possible atmosphere helped first-generation student Marta Kasica-Soltan ’21 ’22G find her niche in software engineering

For Marta Kasica-Soltan ’21 ’22G, the family computer was one of her favorite things growing up. It wasn’t just something to play around with. It was something to explore.

She wanted to know how the machine actually worked. Through trial and error and a lot of YouTube, she started figuring things out, and pretty soon she became that kid the teachers always turned to when they got stumped by the classroom computers. When the internet cut out at home, she was the one her mother depended on to fix it. 

It was, in part, this knack for problem-solving that got her hooked on Minecraft. She was in middle school when her friends first introduced her to the video game, which allows users to work together to create their own worlds and experiences. The game was more than a fun diversion. It gave her community and camaraderie and fueled her tireless drive to learn. She eventually mastered best practices, learned how to debug, and set up servers, and somewhere along the way, she discovered her passion. 

“Through Minecraft, I learned that I loved optimizing,” she says. “When you’re thinking, Is this the most efficient way to build this house or town or solar panel? you can get overwhelmed, because there are so many things to keep track of, but I loved it.”

As a first-generation student, Kasica-Soltan had to wade through much of the college application process on her own. And she didn’t have the luxury of a roster of college tours.

“I only got a chance to visit one school, and I chose Lehigh,” she says. “I met someone who was recruiting people for the marching band, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ve always wanted to learn how to play an instrument.’ She said I should join, and when I said I didn’t know how to play anything, she said it didn’t matter.”

A lot of people have helped me in life. Without all my friends and the connections I’ve made here at Lehigh, I would not have made it even close to this far.
Computer engineer Marta Kasica-Soltan ’21 ’22G

As much as she loved Lehigh’s libraries, its beautiful campus, its squirrels—“they’re very cute”—and the financial aid, it was the people and their ethos that she loved the most. That mindset that it didn’t matter what you did or didn’t do before, you were welcome—and encouraged—to try it here.  

“The size of the school is just really good for allowing you to find your niche and who you are as a human being,” she says. 

For her, that meant starting as a chemical engineering major—a direction initially inspired by all that resource optimization in Minecraft. But she switched after a semester.

“I saw my friends taking computer engineering courses, and I was like, wait. That looks really fun. Why can’t I do that?” she says. “So I did.”

And it was fun. But definitely not easy. Far from it. But the harder the class, the bigger the payoff.

“I came to college to have people hold me accountable to learn,” she says. “I’ve gotten homework where I’ve had no idea what it was saying at all. And then you read the book, you look up the lectures, and eventually you figure it out. The professors don’t teach you everything on purpose because they want you to learn that skill of teaching yourself. Without that skill, you’re missing an important aspect of being an engineer.”

Still, she never had to struggle alone. Her professors were always responsive to her queries. 

“I know people at other schools who never get a response when they email their professors,” she says, “and that can completely block you from succeeding. So that quick response time has been huge.”

Her years at Lehigh have helped Kasica-Soltan realize something else about the course she is setting for herself. She wants to use her skills and her talents to help other people.  

“A lot of people have helped me in life,” says Kasica-Soltan. “Without all my friends and the connections I’ve made here at Lehigh, I would not have made it even close to this far.”

In many ways, Kasica-Soltan has already begun stepping in for those around her. While an undergraduate, she worked as a teaching assistant, tutored her friends, and served as a mentor for first-year students as a Rossin Junior Fellow. She’s nearly completed a one-year master’s program in computer engineering, and is currently working for a startup that’s developing an assistive device for crane operators. But in June, she’ll be moving to San Francisco to become a software engineer for Tesla.

The new gig is another manifestation of that anything-is-possible ethos that resonated so strongly with her on that first visit to Lehigh. The opportunities are here, she says, if you choose to pursue them and work hard to make the most of them. The job—whose selection process involved reading a textbook, preparing a 20-minute presentation, and undergoing a six-hour interview—is yet another example of how community and connection have helped her succeed.

In her new role, she’ll be working for Tesla Energy, the company’s clean energy division. She’ll be doing what she’s good at, to help make the world a better place. 

Marta Kasica-Soltan

After completing her master’s program in computer engineering, Marta Kasica-Soltan ’21 ’22G will join Tesla Energy as a software engineer.