By Mike Floyd – Caswell Messenger
Leia M. Rollins was named to replace McKenzie Burk as coordinator for the Piedmont Community College and Bartlett Yancy College High School advisory program. Rollins was already serving as a similar consultant to PCC’s Roxboro campus and brings years of experience and expertise to her new, expanded role.
The 30-year-old Rollins will be responsible for helping seniors take advantage of pre-college programs offered at PCC as well as helping students decide where their education could or should take them.
Her background in sound decision-making helps validate her to the students seeking direction. Not only is she highly trained in her advisory capacity, but she is also a busy, professional musician/songwriter and happily married with a family in Caswell County.
“I was born in England and our family ended up moving here to the states. I was pretty young, about eight or nine, and my mom married an American. We settled in Durham, North Carolina and I wound up going to Guilford College, where I graduated with a B.A. in Psychology and a minor in Education. The Guilford College area was really where my music started to do well. I begin to meet musicians and other people in music, collaborate and enter music competition which really helped my confidence in performing,” says Rollins in a recent interview at PCC, Caswell.
“When I was about 20, I started performing more publicly and weekly in local venues like Mark’s Restaurant, a fine dining bistro. It was very close to Guilford College, and I used to play there every week. The restaurant wound up paying for my first little amplifier to play my guitar through. People would come from the college, and I would perform inside or outside depending on the weather. The main owner, Mark, was awesome about supporting me.“
She elaborates, “I was also in a hip-hop group. I had played for a music competition that Guilford called “The Element” and I ended up winning it.” At that competition was a rapper who later would go on to win a Grammy, named Beau Young Prince (“Groovyland”), that also attended Guilford and was from Washington DC. He heard Rollins and suggested they begin collaborating. They formed a group called “Super Team” with four musicians and ended up opening for a few acts, then playing at the University of Virginia and Guilford for larger venues. They also did some studio recording and mixed soundtracks. One of them had a video game incorporated into it; together, the video game and the songs were “synced” with the soundtrack while the game was played. “I thought it was very unique,” comments Rollins. “Beau received his Grammy for Spider-Verse, the animated Spiderman movie and he continued on and signed with the Def Jam label. Our band, “Super Team” had some amazing talent and we’ve all gone our different ways, but are still active in the business. They were really an important part of me and my music, in general.”
She adds, “I’ve been working here at PCC for five years. I had stopped performing after I had my baby, Hazel (“we call her Rukie”), and was moving my focus to just a family and work kind of thing for a time. Now, I have a pretty good balance between being the student advisor, a musician, and being a mother.”
The Rollins live on the Person County side of nearby Leasburg, NC and have been there for about five years. She and husband Jeremy (from Maine) wanted more land because they’re “animal people” and needed room for their goats and chickens. Their rural address suits them and their two-year-old Rukie just fine.
“Now that I work with students from both Person and Caswell County, we’ll work on some sort of transition between here and the Roxboro campus to handle the travel. I really love doing what I do, helping the kids take the pre-college classes, which is an awesome opportunity for them to finish courses while they’re still in high school. I started off being a recruiter for PCC and after a year I applied for the position of ” Career and College Promise ” Program, and I’ve stayed with that,” she says.
Rollins maintains a close relationship with the students and their high school counselors. Her PCC advising reaches out to Person High School, Roxboro Community School and now Bartlett Yancy High. If a certain student’s needs are mentioned, Rollins will arrange a one-on-one meeting to discuss the student’s future educational plans. Many times, the student’s family wants to be involved in the proceedings and is included.
“I like to do assessments if they really don’t know what they really want to do. It’s hard to know because there are so many options out there. It’s called a ‘career coach assessment’ and you have an option to pose a lot of questions or several. I like to do a lot of questions because I feel like the assessment is probably more accurate. Questions are phrased like, ‘Would you rather do this?’ and they can either say ‘maybe or I’m not sure’ and it’s helpful because it can narrow it down to their top three options that use their strengths to their advantage for what they can potentially do. I want them to think about what jobs they can get in the long term. They will want to be able to sustain themselves and to be happy going to their jobs! Not be miserable but to use what they’re good at.”
She goes on to say, “I ask them: Are you planning to stay in Roxboro or Yanceyville, or do you see yourself traveling? It really depends on the student because every student is different. Some tell me they’d like to stay close to home and we look at those options. Some say they really want to get out of here and we look at those options as well.”
Rollins rarely subscribes to the myth that students can only grow if they leave the area. For some that’s true, but not the norm. Emphasis is on personal choices and Rollins sees many of the students staying local, supporting their community, and giving back to the culture that they grew up in. Many nation-wide studies have shown that people are fleeing the big cities for simpler lifestyles in rural America, which can be less stressful.
The talented young mother has been a regular performer at the beautiful new winery in Roxboro, Tunnel Creek Vineyards. Originally, she was doing matinees with just her own material. She also is billed, with the stage name, Leia Sadiku, and is a solo, acoustic act with herself on guitar or “electric” ukulele backing her distinctive, versatile voice. Several of her YouTube videos prove the girl can sing a song.
“I started learning more covers because a lot of people like hearing what they know. So, I have upped my covers in my repertoire in general. People have told me about doing some Bob Dylan and I like doing things that are unexpected. I enjoy country, doing Dolly Parton material, but I had a couple come up to me that were upset that people were asking me to play covers. They said, ‘It was really admirable that you are playing your originals, keep doing that kind of thing’,” laughs Rollins.
Rollins will write a song by having a sequence of chords in her head and getting a certain feeling for its progression. She may find something that she’s written in the past and “kind of” fit it into those chords. Then she ends up removing some of the words and editing. There are times when she won’t finish a song and then one day come back to it and complete it.
“My husband was in a band for ten years: he played guitar and he grew up playing saxophone. Normally, he can pick up any instrument and play around with it. He’s a songwriter and we’ve written songs together. He has a completely different style of music than I do. He’s more jam band where I’m on another spectrum.”
She continues, “Sometimes I’ll do soul-jazz and I even some rap. I never want to be put in a box necessarily, so I started writing a country song although I haven’t named it yet. It would be best for me to write for other people. That would be the most fun! I do love performing but writing for others gives you a lot more freedom than when you’re performing your own songs. That way you’re not limited to who you are. Sometimes people may be stuck in an image of what you are supposed to sing or what style you’re supposed to sing in. I could write a country song for someone. I could write a jazz song that might fit them better. Different singers have different ranges and different styles and what I write might sound better if they sang it and not me.”
Rollins confides, “I could write a song with a certain vocalist in mind and that would be super fun to do. The chords come to me. I can’t force them, and I can’t sit down and say, ‘I’m going to write a song right now!’ It’s a mood, it’s a feeling and you just kind of go with it. Sometimes, I’ve written a song in ten minutes and then I have songs I’ve never finished. It just depends.”
In closing she stresses, “I want to stay with PCC in Person County and make the transition here to the Caswell campus more frequently. I want to remain working with my students. My daughter, Rukie, can stay at the day care facilities at PCC when I’m in Roxboro so that’s a big convenience. I want to continue raising a family in Leasburg and I want to continue my performing.”
So far, she’s doing just that.