Mr. USF: A Budding Renaissance Man With A Heart Made For Helping

Maintaining good grades and managing life away from home can be daunting tasks for students on any college campus. What happens when you add an additional major, mentoring other students, participating in student government, joining a fraternity and getting a job?

In the case of University of South Florida (USF) junior Dazaun Soleyn, you get the 2010 Mr. USF, a young man who is praised for his commitment to his university, youth and art. Soleyn, at just 20, displays the extraordinary characteristics of a promising leader who already has mapped out ambitious plans for his own future.

Soleyn, the first person in his extended family to get a college education, credits Upward Bound for molding him into the successful student that he is today. He says he always knew he wanted to go to college, but wasn't sure how to get there.

"College wasn't spoken of much within my household, but I knew it was an option," says Soleyn. It wasn't until he stepped into the halls of USF and its Upward Bound program that he realized that attending college would be a good fit.

USF's Upward Bound program has been a launching pad for more than 2,000 of Tampa's first-generation, low-income students. The program welcomes high school freshmen and offers a demanding academic schedule, coupled with extensive counseling. Upward Bound provided Soleyn with three consecutive years of discipline, focus and encouragement when he was a teen.

"Upward Bound was my eye opener,'' says Soleyn. "It was my first time with a mentor and having someone on my back."

As of a result, he graduated early from high school and began his journey at USF at age 17.

Soleyn, a hip hop dancer with a passion for the arts, initially convinced himself that he couldn't possibly major in dance.

"People told me I would either be really famous and rich or broke and struggling as an artist," says Soleyn. Therefore, he chose the next best thing. "I majored in business because I am a natural in leadership and management roles."

It took a few years, but Soleyn eventually took a dance class at USF and instantly knew that he had to stay committed to it. He decided to double major and is currently studying both dance and business. Soleyn says the combination is a terrific foundation for his dreams of opening a performing arts high school and community center.

Dance has been an outlet for Soleyn since childhood. "I'm in a different world when I dance," he says. "It's a great release for me."

Although he prefers hip hop and reggae, Soleyn trains in ballet, jazz and tap as a part of his formal dance curriculum. He admits that he isn't a dance history buff, but he's had the chance to learn from some incredibly talented people, including professional dancer Jennifer Archibald.

Encouraging Excellence

Soleyn met Archibald at the 2010 Florida Dance Festival in June. Archibald, a hip hop dancer in New York City and the owner of the Arch Dance Company, taught the Hip Hop Repertory and Performance courses at this year's dance festival hosted by the University of South Florida School of Theatre and Dance. Soleyn says he keeps in touch with Archibald and she often encourages him to do better and be better.

That message is embedded in his mind, not just for dance, but for life in general.

He's an active member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, the USF Alumni Association and USF Ambassadors.

He is also teaching others to live by the same standard. Soleyn recently found his way back to Upward Bound, this time as a counselor and resident adviser.

Although just a few years older than some of the youth now in the program, he clearly has established a great relationship with the students.

Soleyn admits that it was initially a challenge to balance the friend vs. mentor roles.

"I knew many of the students in the program,'' he says. "I was leaving the program, when some of them were coming into it. I just made them understand that I was there to help them get where they needed to be."

As a resident adviser, Soleyn had the chance to build a bond with the students. They ate and studied together, went on trips and more. It was his opportunity to give back some of what Upward Bound had given to him.

"Dazaun is a true role model, a fine example for other young men to pattern their lives,'' says Pat Solomon of USF's College Reach-Out Program. "Especially for African-American men."

Extending A Helping Hand

In addition to Upward Bound, Soleyn plans to extend that same helping hand to young theater and dance hopefuls with his forthcoming project called Changing Ways, Inc.
The mission for Changing Ways is to "build individuality through the creativity of the arts, one life at a time."

Soleyn's motivation stems from the lack of support he received as a teenage dancer.

"Society teaches the coming generation to follow one way to success. I plan to use the Upward Bound principles I've learned and incorporate them into my arts programs," says Soleyn. "Everything that I do now as a mentor is what I didn't have growing up."

Soleyn is determined to change the way people view the arts and to help local students hone their craft.

When asked where he envisions himself five years from now, Dazaun Soleyn says ideally he'll be dancing with a famous dance company like Alvin Ailey for a few years.

Once he gets that professional dance fever out of his system, he plans to come back to Tampa to work on his community center and performing arts high school.

"I have a true passion for helping people and I love the feeling of being there for others who really need me. I truly believe that this is my destiny in life and I am ready!"

Keisha Pickett, owner of Pickett Public Relations Group and operator of an informational website called Black In The Bay, loves live music and comedy, and enjoys meeting positive, ambitious people. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

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