Balancing VISTA and Graduate School Applications

As I wrote this blog, I realized that writing and reflecting on my graduate school application process has allowed me to take a step back and document what I have overcome and celebrate my successes. I want to share my authentic perspective in hopes that this gives insight and support to VISTA members who are applying to graduate school during their VISTA year. Continue reading “Balancing VISTA and Graduate School Applications”


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. Continue reading “VISTA Spotlight – Lillian Senn”

Of Mice and STEM, There and Back Again

August and the FogWritten by August Delforge, CSU STEM VISTA 2014-15

In John Steinbeck’s classic novella “of Mice and Men1,” two strikingly different friends and migrant workers, George Milton and Lennie Small, roam the country side of central California in search of new work opportunities during the Great Depression of the 1930’s.  The two  complement each other by bringing different characteristics and skills to their partnership. Despite his surname, Lennie is a large man of great strength but limited mental capacity, while George is a smaller man and, although not formally educated, is an intelligent, quick-witted figure with goals and aspirations. By virtue of their juxtaposing traits, the two rely on each other for combined, mutual success. This story relates to my work on a daily basis, through recognizing other’s strengths and weaknesses along with my own, to the overall goal of the STEM VISTA program (cultivating more inclusion and diversity in the sciences), as well as a special geographical connection to the region where the story takes place. Continue reading “Of Mice and STEM, There and Back Again”

Eat, Sleep, STEM, Repeat

KyleWritten by Kyle Murray, CSU STEM VISTA 2014-2015

About 6 months ago, “stem” was something connected to roots and “service” and “learning” were rarely used in the same sentence, let alone connected by a hyphen.  We must travel back in time for you to understand what is now my daily routine, Eat, Sleep, STEM, Repeat.

It was a hot July day in Fresno, which means eggs were frying on the pavement and people were fighting for that prime position next to the vent spilling out cool, refreshing air. During my college years I worked as an after school tutor and in summer youth programming. On this particular day, I was outside playing basketball with the 6th, 7th and 8th graders.  In between tips on their jump shot and calling fouls, I noticed some excitement in the grassy area next to the basketball courts.  I immediately made my way over to the group of kids huddled under the tree to see what all the fuss was about.  The students were excitedly preparing to launch their water rockets and with the launch of that first rocket propelling the plastic 2-liter 30 feet in the air, I saw the kids’ interest in the awesomeness that is science launch with it. As I walked back over to the basketball courts, something clicked, for many of the kids at this camp it was their first time experiencing the sciences and I believe because of the real, hands-on components they were thrilled and couldn’t wait to come back the next day and learn more the next day. Continue reading “Eat, Sleep, STEM, Repeat”

My STEM Legacy: Leaving a Larger and Lasting Impact

Brandy_science in the parkWritten by Brandy Hyatt, CSU STEM VISTA 2014-2015

Last year if you were to ask me if I would consider a second year of service, my answer would have been no. But, here I am five months into my second year as an AmeriCorps VISTA.

Last year I was lucky enough to participate in an AmeriCorps state and national program; tutoring math to 4th and 5th graders. After my first year of service I realized I wanted to do more. Although I was making an individual impact, I was not making an impact on the larger issue at hand: a deficiency in mathematics, and similar subjects for underrepresented students.


I searched for a position that would give me an opportunity to focus on the larger issue and found the California State University STEM VISTA position available at CSU East Bay in the Institute for STEM Education. It was a perfect chance for me to learn about what initiatives were in place to increase the number of underrepresented students going into fields like science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Continue reading “My STEM Legacy: Leaving a Larger and Lasting Impact”

My Scary, Tepid, Exhilarating, and Mastery Journey to Conquering STEM


Written by: Jessica Taatjes, CSU STEM VISTA 2014-2015

I was a student scared of tackling the hurdles of STEM; my journey from elementary school to college was full of academic hurdles. Ever since third grade, mathematics always gave me a tough time. In high school, I was always floating through STEM classes without thoroughly understanding the topics.  This approach backfired my senior year and required a tremendous amount of tutoring to pass and graduate with my fellow classmates. Following this experience, I became motivated to not let my academic struggles interfere with a college degree. I enrolled in community college and took the minimum amount of STEM classes required to graduate. Shortly after beginning college, I realized I had to go far beyond the minimum to pursue a career in science, my heart sank. I felt as if this would be a replay of my elementary and high school struggles, but in spite of this feeling, I was determined to reach my goals and embarked on a journey of treacherously high hurdles.

Continue reading “My Scary, Tepid, Exhilarating, and Mastery Journey to Conquering STEM”

PEEPS: Not Only About Marshmallows

Written by Jeffrey Cabanez, CSU STEM VISTA 2014-2015

IMG_0720When you hear the word PEEPS, what comes to mind? Probably five yellow marshmallows shaped as tiny chickens, or five pink marshmallows shaped as tiny bunnies, placed in a box wrapped in plastic. You know, the candy that everyone likes for two months out of the year but is irrelevant for the other ten. When I hear the word PEEPS, I think academic learning communities, professional development opportunities, block scheduling, and financial aid.

At Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, I am working with a brand new scholarship program called the Program for Engineering Excellence for Partner Schools, cleverly shortened to PEEPS. PEEPS aims to recruit, retain, and graduate engineering students from underrepresented backgrounds. To recruit students to apply for our scholarship program, we worked with Admissions and Financial Aid to see what target group would benefit the most. We decided that Cal Poly Partner Schools would be the students we recruit from. A Cal Poly Partner High School is a high school that meets one or more of the following criteria:Jeffrey (2)

  • The school is part of the College Preparation Partnership Program introduced by Senator Hayden.
  • The school supports First Generation student’s efforts to attend college.
  • The school primarily serves students eligible for free or reduced school lunch.

Continue reading “PEEPS: Not Only About Marshmallows”