Senah Stephens, an undergraduate student in the Department of Biochemistry, was recognized as one of the department’s outstanding seniors. Stephens is one of two outstanding seniors in the department and shares this honor with one of her classmates, Taylan Tunckanat. Stephens hails from Wytheville, Virginia where she grew up milking cows, tending to chickens, gardening, and baking loads of sweets for the local farmer’s market every weekend. Working on her family’s dairy farm instilled a sense of commitment and dedication early on in Stephens’ life. 

Stephens says being in a farming family taught her what it meant to truly earn your own money, as milking cows and baking would help her to earn supplemental income to support her dancing career. Stephens remembered always dancing as a child and began dance classes when she was three years old. “It was a really good outlet for me. It’s an art, a form of expression, a way to release,” she said. Dancing would become an important part of her life as Stephens grew older. After auditioning and being selected to join the Virginia Tech dance team, the Hightechs, Stephens couldn’t pass up the opportunity to attend Virginia Tech.

Senah Stephens performing
Stephens performing on the sidelines. Photo courtesy of Senah Stephens.

“Both of my parents went to Virginia Tech and I was raised to be a Hokie, so it only made sense for me to go to school there and cheer on the Hokies,” Stephens said. Stephens majored in biochemistry and biological sciences and performed on the sidelines for Virginia Tech football, basketball, and soccer games. Along with her intensive studies and dance team responsibilities, Stephens still managed to find the time to help others by serving as a tutor for other student-athletes, teaching dance classes in the local Blacksburg community, and volunteering for the Virginia Tech YMCA and the COVID-19 Call Center for the New River Health District.  

How does she balance it all? Stephens says it’s a constant act. “I always say that no one will ever have it right. Some weeks, the balance tips one way and then the next week, it tips the other,” she said. “As long as you stay focused and have your priorities straight, that’s what matters.” 

When Stephens heard the news that she was named as one of the department’s outstanding seniors and would later be recognized as one of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ outstanding seniors, she said it was a testament to her work ethic and determination. “This recognition shows the love and respect that I have for Virginia Tech, CALS, and biochemistry. I strive to represent myself in the best way possible,” Stephens said. “When I’m performing on the dance team, a motto we abide by is that the VT logo never comes off. I know that everything I do represents my school, my professors and mentors, and my character. I really take that to heart, and I’ve done my best to apply it to every aspect of my undergraduate career.” 

Senah Stephens standing in front of Virginia Tech stadium
Stephens will complete both of her degrees in three years, instead of four, and graduate debt free from Virginia Tech in May 2021. Photo courtesy of Senah Stephens.

Along with being honored with the title of outstanding senior, Stephens has also been recognized as a Scholar Athlete and All-Academic Team Member, honors awarded by the Athletics Department to students who are within the top 10% GPA in their respective departments. She is also the recipient of the William Burns Downey Scholarship and the John and Ann Hess Educational Scholarship. As she reflects on her years at Virginia Tech, Stephens is most proud of her ability to accurately explain the materials she’s learned in her classes to either help someone else better understand these concepts or to excite others about science.  

“On the first day of my biochemistry lab, a student came up to me and asked for my help after leaving their notebook behind. Though I did not feel prepared enough to fully explain the procedure and knew that my experiment would be delayed if I helped, I didn’t hesitate to go over the calculations step-by-step alongside her, and we both ended up having very successful experiments that day,” Stephens said. “Even though I was truthfully feeling anxious about what I was doing on my own, talking with my classmate actually helped me understand the material better and boosted confidence in both of us. It’s little moments like that when you don’t realize the effect you may have on another person, or even yourself, that are the most fulfilling.”

Stephens will complete both of her degrees in three years, instead of four, and graduate debt free from Virginia Tech in May 2021. After graduation, Stephens will be applying to medical school with hopes to matriculate in the summer of 2022. Stephens ultimate goal is to become an orthopedic surgeon. In the meantime, she’ll be gaining medical experience by working as a clinical assisting student in the Dermatology Research and Practice Scholars (DRAPS) program at Dermatology Associates of Tallahassee in Florida.

Written by Cameron Warren