Once a Jayhawk, Always a Jayhawk: Lisa Tilson

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Wherever Lisa Tilson travels, the Jayhawk family tends to be where she goes. Tilson grew up in Mercer Island, Washington, just outside of Seattle and attended Kansas from 2003-07. Her four years as a swimmer for head coach Clark Campbell are special and memorable years. After graduating from Kansas in 2007, Tilson traveled to New York City, then across the country again in 2011 to her current job at the Google headquarters in Mountain View, California.

Although Tilson grew up in Seattle, her family frequently visited her Aunt Lori and Uncle Wayne at their home in Lawrence. She experienced the spirit of KU at the basketball games they attended, so when it came time for her to choose where to continue her education, Kansas just seemed right.

“I wanted a good swim team and a great journalism school,” Tilson said of choosing a college. “Having family in Lawrence and going to some of the basketball games made me love the energy on campus.”

Her senior year at Kansas, Tilson was chosen as team captain. She was accompanied by six other seniors, by then who felt like sisters, and she still remains in contact with to this day. Her favorite memory from the 2006-07 season was the senior meet against Iowa State.

“You spend four years training with those people,” Tilson said. “So to stand there—the seven of us seniors—(with) our families there, at your home pool for the last time… it was really great.”

After graduation, Tilson went to New York to pursue a master’s certificate in publishing from New York University. Upon completion of the program, she worked a few months at Martha Stewart before becoming an editorial assistant at InStyle.com, where she covered celebrity health and fitness as well as special events such as the Royal Wedding, the Oscars, the Golden Globes and New York Fashion Week twice a year.

“InStyle was a really fun job to have in my early 20’s, especially being in New York,” Tilson said. “(During) Fashion Week you always run into a lot of celebrities, and I got to interview some really cool people. I have to say my favorite was Kristen Bell. I interviewed her once at the very end of Fashion Week and I was really tired. I think she noticed, so she offered me her chair while I was interviewing her. I’ll love her forever.”

Even with New York City being 1,200 miles from Lawrence, Tilson credits much of her success in the Big Apple to her time as a Jayhawk student-athlete.

“When I moved to New York, I was very used to a lot going on,” Tilson said. “Being a swimmer at Kansas, I had practice twice a day and was working on getting a degree. I learned how to multi-task and get a lot done in a short amount of time. I think I’m much more efficient and much more team-oriented than other people might be.”

In October of 2011, Tilson accepted a job at one of America’s most innovative companies, Google. The job, located in New York City, did not have many celebrity perks but instead allowed Tilson to work on things that Google users use every day. As a “user experience” writer, Tilson writes the text that appears when users search, as well as geo-imagery, the maps product Google has.

“As much as I liked what I did at InStyle, fashion and celebrity just isn’t my passion,” Tilson said. “For some people it is, and that’s great, but for me it’s really nice to work on things that I, and other people, use every day. I work on search mostly and helping people find what they need—from sports scores, to directions, to medical information. It can sometimes be just fun and sometimes it can actually be life-changing. It’s a cool job. Overall, it’s just a really great company to work for.”

Tilson was with Google in New York for about a year when she was suddenly told that her job would be relocated to the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, California. The move did not give Tilson much of an option; if she wanted to keep her job, she had to make the cross-country move. In two weeks, she got rid of her apartment in New York, found one in San Francisco and moved.

“It wasn’t really a decision for me,” Tilson said. “I just kind of did it—which was kind of a great way to do it—because you kind of just have to fall in and do it. It’s been fun.”

Even on the West Coast, Tilson connects with Jayhawks from around the country. Some of her teammates, Lia Pogioli and Maria Mayrovich, even live within an hour of Tilson. She frequently has friends from her KU days visit her in California and is always running into other alumni she can share her stories of Lawrence with.

“It’s actually really great,” Tilson said. “Some people I work with at Google are Jayhawks and it’s always fun to see how big the network is. Even going to watch games and attending alumni events, it’s great to hang out with people that bring all the college energy back.”

Outside of her work life, being a Kansas student-athlete runs in Tilson’s family. Her Aunt Lori played volleyball for KU and cousin, Megan Heacock, was a member of the rowing team from 2005-09.

Tilson has returned to Lawrence a few times since graduation, including the return for her cousin’s wedding in the fall of 2013. Tilson said one of her favorite things to do when she comes back is to walk the campus on which she spent four memorable years.

“I especially love campus in the fall,” Tilson said. “It’s always nice to just walk around Jayhawk Boulevard and see campus. I usually have a Yello Sub, too. We don’t have Jimmy John’s here in San Francisco so I usually get one of those too.”

Just seven years after graduating from KU, Tilson has had amazing opportunities all over the United States. Being all of these remarkable places, she still says that “Lawrence will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s always so nice to come back.”

Once a Jayhawk, Always a Jayhawk.