Stephan Sanford ’18
Physical education teacher and coach, Storm Lake Elementary, Iowa
Stephan Sanford

Making connections

Stephan realized he had an unusual connection with kids—they gravitated toward him and listened to him—and that’s why he felt called to teach, coach and mentor the next generation. Now he spends his days helping kids keep fit while blasting everything from today’s hits to the oldies, earning him the teacher-nickname “DJ Sanford.”

How did you land your first teaching job?

I received my current job placement due to numerous connections Northwestern people had in Storm Lake, including Rahn Franklin [director of multicultural student development] and even President Christy, who made phone calls to the Storm Lake Elementary principal on my behalf.

What does your job involve?

My main position at Storm Lake Elementary School is physical education teacher. Within the district, I am also the junior varsity defensive football coach, head freshman boys’ basketball coach, and the girls’ track and field coach. Last but not least, I am also part of the Starz Mentor Program.

My main job is to keep these kids fit with a smile on their faces. As a coach of three sports, I want to help shape young men and women into great people for the world. And I’m a mentor because that’s why God called me to be a teacher in the first place. I take my roles very seriously because they have a direct influence on the kids.

How well did Northwestern prepare you for your current job and for life after college?

Northwestern both prepared and equipped me, which made me highly qualified for this job. I am thankful the education department gave me the opportunity to teach in a diverse setting at Sioux City West; teaching in Sioux City was the experience I needed after living in Orange City for four years. The hands-on training that student-teaching provided, combined with Spring Service Partnership trips to New Orleans, Louisiana, and Jacksonville, Florida, played the biggest role in preparing me to teach youth. In addition, the host family Northwestern provided me with has helped me tremendously as an adult.

What things do you appreciate most about your Northwestern experience? 

I really appreciated my athletic career and teammates. If I had to say what I appreciate the most about my experience, it would be Northwestern’s location. Growing up east of Los Angeles, I was surrounded by gangs, drugs and violence. There were a thousand things to do, but it was more like a thousand ways to get in trouble. So for me, being in a small town enabled me to be far away from distractions so I could stay focused on my studies and athletics. The community was so loving, and I could volunteer and get involved with the youth. 

How would you describe Northwestern professors?

Northwestern professors are real, caring people. I remember a professor telling me she wouldn’t let me fail. That meant the most to me, because my whole life, all I’d known was failure. So the way I heard it come out of her mouth was, “I won’t let you be the norm; I won’t let you be another statistic; I won’t let you give up on yourself.” The second thing that meant the most to me is that they were real people. They always kept it real with me, and most were active in the community, so it was good to see people who are in that position lead by example.

In which ways did your faith grow at Northwestern?

My faith grew a lot during my time at Northwestern. A verse that I live by is Exodus 14:14: “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” After having to be independent growing up, Northwestern helped me take a leap of faith and trust God to fight for me instead of doing everything myself.