Honors Alum Dedicates Career to Helping Others Through Law, Advocacy & Education
By William Lineberry
Honors College, University College
Axana Soltan’s (B.S., ‘17, Honors & H&S) family fled her home country of Afghanistan when she was a child because of the Taliban. For 10 years, Soltan and her family lived together across central Asia living in refugee camps before immigrating to Richmond in 2009.
It is this journey that informs the work that Soltan, who graduated from both the Honors College and the College of Humanities and Sciences with a degree in Criminal Justice, now does as a human-rights lawyer and advocate.
“It has instilled in me a profound commitment to advocating for the rights and well-being of vulnerable and marginalized communities, ensuring that their voices are heard and their rights protected,” she said. “My experiences have taught me the value of keen observation, the surprising strength of a single voice and the lasting importance of advocacy.”
Soltan, who was recently named a Ten Under 10 by the Virginia Commonwealth University Office of Alumni Relations for her advocacy work, said what drives her work is compassion and empathy. She knows the struggle that marginalized communities face that stem from her experience as an Afghani woman and refugee.
Before graduating, Soltan founded her own non-governmental organization (with a consultive status with the United Nations) that sought to assist low-income children both in the Richmond community and abroad. Soltan credits her time at VCU and in the Honors College as being very impactful on her growth as an individual and as an intellectual and advocate, she said.
“My professors imparted invaluable knowledge, and the diverse student body provided a rich learning environment,” she said. “The Honors College, in particular, pushed me beyond my comfort zone with its diverse course offerings outside my specialty.”
My professors imparted invaluable knowledge, and the diverse student body provided a rich learning environment. The Honors College, in particular, pushed me beyond my comfort zone with its diverse course offerings outside my specialty.
Soltan credits an Honors Philosophy section as being one of the classes that transformed her thinking while at VCU.
“My experience taking the Honors Philosophy section was nothing short of transformative,” she said. “It challenged my intellect, broadened my horizons and instilled in me a commitment to intellectual rigor and open dialogue. Philosophy compelled me to confront ethical dilemmas and grapple with questions about morality and the human condition.”
In addition to her work as a human-rights lawyer, Soltan advocates for vulnerable and marginalized communities with a particular focus on advancing women's education. Over the years, she has brought literacy initiatives to over 6,000 women through her library resource center and social café in Afghanistan.
Soltan also pioneered the invention of the first Solar-Powered Interactive Audio Instruction (IAI), a program that uses photovoltaic technology to deliver STEM education to women in conflict-affected regions and in remote communities to bridge the rural and urban education gap. With a mission to foster climate-resilient communities, Soltan uses solar-powered radios as a means to deliver environmentally conscious education.
“I am committed to leveraging philanthropy and activism to create a world where vulnerable and marginalized communities are empowered, heard and resilient,” Soltan said. “I believe that education can empower vulnerable communities to adapt to a changing world and contribute to sustainable development. Through dedication, collaboration and a commitment to social justice, I hope I can play a part in creating a world where we can all stand together in the pursuit of a brighter and more equitable future.”