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Young adult author graduates, aims for library science

ASU Online student finishes degree in family and human development, will continue pursuing interest in literature

Portrait of ASU grad Lily Anderson.

Lily Anderson, courtesy photo

November 14, 2023

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2023 graduates.

Lily Anderson has long been fascinated by human behavior and experiences — in fact, it’s what sparked her literary career. 

Growing up in Northern California, Anderson spent much of her time reading, writing and performing in theater. She especially enjoyed worlds with magical elements to them, like horror and fairy tales, but also delved into classical works from writers like Shakespeare. But what largely hooked her attention was the diversity of characters sharing universal experiences. 

Eventually, Anderson wanted to develop magical worlds and human adventures of her own, so she began writing while working as an elementary school librarian. Over time, she started to gain a following of readers who enjoy her published works. Now she is an established author known for well-reviewed novels like "Scout’s Honor," which was awarded the Michael L. Printz Honor from the American Library Association in 2023.

In the groove of a successful career, Anderson decided to go back to school to officially pursue her curiosity about humanity and its various life stages. She opted for ASU Online because of the straightforward class structure, and surprised herself with how much she enjoyed the experience of going to school. 

With Anderson graduating this semester with her degree in family and human development from the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, we asked her about her time at Arizona State University, what she’s learned from courses and what she plans to do next.  

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I've always been deeply interested in why people are the way they are and the ways in which people share universal experiences. It's what fuels my career as a young adult author. We all learn to walk, talk, count and read around the same age. I wanted to learn more about where those universal experiences start to diverge. The family and human development program was perfect because it focuses so much on diverse experiences within common frameworks like falling in love, raising a family and aging. Things most people do but few people do the same way.  

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because I knew that I wanted a school that was fully online with no sneaky missing classes. Other schools I looked at would seem like they had online programs, but then they would have requirements that you had to take in-person (classes) at a local community college because they just didn't offer them online. I had friends who had graduated from ASU Online and in person, and everyone had a really great experience, so I applied! 

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I was really shocked at how much I came to love learning at ASU. I came back to college after a decade break and I felt really trepidatious about it. When I was younger, I really didn't like school, even when I was doing well in classes. Back then, I was overwhelmed by needing to juggle work and school and a personal life. It felt like I was going to school because I had to, not because I wanted to. Coming back in my 30s, I was more established in my career and could really devote myself to my classes. I found something that changed my perspective in every class I took. It's pretty obvious to me now, but it really struck me how amazing it is that we get to build upon the knowledge of everyone who came before us going back to ancient history. How cool is that?

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: I have to shout out my favorite professor Dr. Kari Visconti! She's incredible. I took as many classes with her as I could because they were all so thoughtfully taught and structured. The most important lesson she taught me was in SOC 390: Social Statistics, a class I was absolutely dreading. I'm not a math person at all. But in the syllabus and throughout the course, she reminded us that math is a skill and that learning a skill requires practice and mistakes. Going through the class trying to acquire the skill of statistics rather than getting everything right was so important. Not only did I get an "A" in the class, but now I take that perspective with me everywhere. 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: I did all of my best studying at my partner's work-from-home setup. Dual monitors are such a gift for anyone using a digital textbook. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Be as curious about your classes as you can be. You can certainly get through school just memorizing facts and taking good notes. I did that for years. But if you really consider the centuries of work that is behind what you're learning, it becomes an incredible gift. Do you know how many millions of people had to live and study and observe and devote their lives to one specific subject just to create one line of your textbook? Everything you're learning is uncovering a piece of the world that you didn't know before! That's worth so much more than just studying for a test.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation, I'm hoping to attend grad school to study library science. I've worked in school libraries for my entire adult life, but I'd love to know more about how public libraries function, with a particular focus on archives and preservation. And I'll keep writing novels. My next is a young adult horror coming out fall 2024 from Henry Holt for Young Readers. 

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would make sure that everyone across the planet had access to clean water. As much as there are other things that I care deeply about (mental health access, literacy, food security), I think that everything comes second to our most basic bodily need for safe, reliable hydration. I don't know if $40 million would be enough, but it would be a good start.

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