VISTA Spotlight – Lillian Senn

IMG_9089Name: Lillian G. Senn

Host Site: California State University Fresno, College of Science Advising Resource Center

Alma Mater: California State University Fresno

Major: Biology

Background: After high school I went to Fresno City College (FCC), as opposed to many of my friends who immediately went to 4-year institutions. I felt embarrassed by the choice, compared to my friends who went directly to UC’s and CSU’s. Looking back, I am so happy I waited. I saved so much money, had smaller class sizes, and my professors were solely focused on teaching me rather than also doing research. At FCC, I was a part of the TRiO Student Support Services program which provided me the advising I needed to navigate the process of transferring.

When I transferred to Fresno State, I began as a Biology and Animal Science double major with a minor in Psychology. After two years, I found out that this combination wouldn’t be supported by the university, and I would need to make a choice of which major to continue with. I ran into a dilemma of choosing between the major I was closer to completing (Biology) and the major I enjoyed (Animal Science). This event caused an identity crisis for me. I started these two majors because I enjoyed both subjects and planned on becoming a professor. This way, I could advise and work with both students and animals. During this time of introspection and meeting with a career counselor, I became aware that my motivation was to support students like my advisor at FCC did. I decided to finish my Biology degree and then seek a master’s degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs.

IMG_0097.JPGFollowing this, I sought opportunities to support students. I volunteered my time at Fresno State’s Student Support Services Program as a peer mentor, during which my resolve to work closely with students was solidified. I will never forget when, at the end of the year, one of my students timidly asked for a hug at the end of our last meeting. It was in this position I finally felt I was capable, and I found a strength and determination for my students that I didn’t even have for myself at the time. I went on to become a peer academic counselor for our University Advising Center where I worked with undeclared students, freshmen, and probationary/disqualified students. I also began working with the College of Science and Math First Year Experience as a peer leader and an instructional student assistant which inspired me to continue to work with the program as a CSU STEM VISTA following my graduation.

Ah-ha moment: I am extremely purpose driven with my work. I find it hard to relate to others who do not feel this way about their work and that their job is simply a 9-5 activity. It means I am more than keen to work extra hours to get things done. Although this does in fact make me happy, I need to watch myself to ensure I don’t go too far.  I enjoy constantly revising and learning for my projects. I don’t think I would be as happy with a 9-5 advising job but would prefer a more flexible professorial career and not be involved as directly with administration.

IMG_8015.JPGFuture Goals/Plans: After this year of service, I will be entering the MS in Biology program at Fresno State with an emphasis in STEM Education. During my time as a VISTA, I have found a joy in program creation and management. I want to be a faculty member who is policy knowledgeable and who strives to support their students both inside and outside of the classroom. Moving forward, I have a great interest in supporting STEM transfer students in the CSU system, as well as exploring the impact of purpose vs. major driven degrees in higher education. I want to create experiences for students and not simply assignments. I plan on pursuing a doctorate degree and am currently considering one in educational policy or possibly one in curriculum and instruction.


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