Political science grad to work for Tennessee commissioner

Cindy Solis credits her family for where she is today. Her parents migrated from Mexico in search of a better life for their family. Through her parents’ encouragement and her own hard work and planning, the Shelbyville resident received her bachelor’s degree in political science May 4 from the University of Tennessee at Martin.

Solis follows her brother who is a first-generation college graduate and leads the way for a younger brother who will follow in his siblings’ steps to earn his diploma in a few years. She began a new position following graduation as executive administrative assistant to Greg Gonzales, Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions commissioner. The future is bright for her and her brothers who learned from parents who raised them to believe that they could accomplish anything.

The Solis children attended Shelbyville High School and were supported by a stay-at-home mother and their father who worked in construction. She was active both in school and church activities, which honed her leadership skills. She was attracted to UT Martin because of the small town and students she already knew in the College of Business and Global Affairs who had interned in the Tennessee General Assembly.

Once at the university, she immersed herself in academics and activities, including service on the student advisory board for the College of Business and Global Affairs, participation in the Baptist Collegiate Ministry and involvement at Martin First Baptist where she assisted with children’s programming. Political science majors are encouraged to pursue internships and participate in the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature, so her junior year saw the first of two trips to TISL where she learned about state government and the legislative process. Several  internships followed that added to her knowledge and further shaped her career path.

“I think that it (TISL involvement) was really important because it helped me understand kind of the basics of how government worked as in bills going through the senate and through the house, and the debate, and how you conduct yourself – how you speak in front of people, the decorum,” she said. In fall 2022, Solis was elected outstanding lobbyist and in fall 2023 she served on TISL’s executive council as lobbying director.

Her first internship came in 2023 during the 113th General Assembly when she worked with Rep. Bryan Terry (R-District 48). Dr. Terry is an anesthesiologist and chairs the health committee, which allowed her to see committees function and bills related to health care. In this role, she created notes or “process sheets” about proposed legislation and wrote resolutions. Terry even wrote a resolution in her name recognizing her service.

After experiencing the legislative session, Solis turned her attention to the executive perspective when she interned in summer 2023 with Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett. An internship with the lobbying firm Capitol & 5th Public Strategies followed where she met and worked with the firm’s varied clients.

“I think all of the internships played a huge role in shaping my perspective of government and how I can make a difference,” Solis said as she reflected on those experiences.

“And really, it’s all about knowing people and caring about people genuinely, and I think that this specific internship with the lobbying firm really helped me see that, because I would see the lobbyists within the firm truly caring about their clients and making sure that whatever bill needed to be passed for them to be better off was being done.

“So, they worked really hard, and I think seeing that really did push me to continue going towards political science and government.”

Even before these experiences, an initial meeting with Gonzales in Martin during her sophomore year began a professional relationship that paved the way for a full-time position with the longtime Tennessee commissioner.

Solis had applied for a Minority Leader Scholarship through the encouragement of John Clark, interim chairholder for UT Martin’s Horace and Sara Dunagan Chair of Excellence in Banking. She received the scholarship, which prompted an invitation from Clark for Solis to attend a luncheon where she met Gonzales and Colin Barrett, president and CEO of the Tennessee Bankers Association. The meeting went well and established a connection between Gonzales and Solis that continued whenever she was in Nashville pursuing her internships. Then things moved quickly in April of this year when Clark suggested her for a new position in the commissioner’s office.

“So, I agreed to make a phone call with Commissioner Gonzales, and we got to talking about the position,” she said. “He realized that it was a good fit for me, and so it was really Mr. Clark’s networking … that he used so that I could get my foot in the door. So, props to him.”

In the position, Solis will support Gonzales by attending meetings, assisting with administrative work and helping with the department’s legislative responsibilities during session. Assisting within the consumer-complaints sector will fill the rest of her time.

“One of the problems he mentioned was that they get a lot of Spanish speaking (callers), and they have trouble translating or helping them because they are lacking in bilingual speakers,” she said. “So, because I am bilingual, he was really excited to have that help so that we could serve Tennesseans better.”

Things have fallen into place almost perfectly for Solis as she begins her career, but she’s not one to describe her journey as simply a matter of good fortune. She always had her family’s support and encouragement, and she found the same at UT Martin. Faculty members guided her academic and personal experiences on campus, which became an extension of home.

“Everyone was just very like a family,” she said. “(I) felt really at home, so I think that allowed me to perform my best.” And then there’s the spiritual aspect of her life that she nurtured through the people at Martin First Baptist and the BCM, “so God is good,” she added.

In the coming weeks, months and years, if you contact the Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions seeking assistance with a consumer problem, you might hear the positive, helpful voice of Cindy Solis on the other end of the call. If you speak Spanish, you’ve still reached the right person – that same positive, helpful voice will assist you in your native language.

Callers won’t know the back story, but proud parents raised a daughter who is proof that most anything is possible through hard work.

PHOTO: Cindy Solis graduated May 4 from UT Martin and began a fulltime position May 16 with the Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions.

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