Kate Stephensen

Hometown: Born in Birmingham, Ala. I lived there for nine years and then nine years in Davis, Calif.
Major: History, with anthropology minor

Favorite classes: One on the civil rights movement and one on the Constitution as viewed through the civil rights movement and other racial aspects. I’m getting my teaching certification, so it’s been interesting to study the integration of schools and look at the history of parts of Alabama where I’ve lived. It was eye-opening to reflect on my student-teaching experience at Evanston Township High School and to see some of the issues we discussed in class as they are relevant today.

Favorite hangout: North Beach in the summer. I enjoy swimming in the open water.
Also I’m on the women’s swimming team, and some of my favorite practices are co-ed Ultimate Frisbee games on the beach.

Favorite tradition: Singing the fight song after touchdowns at the football games. As student-athletes we all have to learn it, and I remember my freshman year it took a long time for everyone to get all the lyrics down. The women’s and men’s swimming teams had to perform it once for Jim Phillips [Northwestern’s athletic director], and it was just a disaster.

Turning point at Northwestern: In the fall of 2010 I student taught at Evanston Township High School. That’s when I realized my passion for education. Earlier I spent some time doing research in history, and it was kind of isolating. I really enjoyed being able to teach and present to kids and lead discussions.
I also realized that working with high schoolers was really important to me. There are a lot of kids who don’t necessarily have someone to support them. As a teacher I hope to fill that role.

Biggest vice: I’m a big chocoholic, especially peanut M&M’s. I also have a really bad habit of watching The Colbert Report until 2 a.m. when I have to be up for morning swim practice at 5:30 a.m.

Something no one at Northwestern knows about you: I considered going to pastry school rather than heading to college. I still spend a lot of time in the kitchen.
I also play the viola, though not well. I have no sense of tune, rhythm or pitch, so I never perform solos.

What’s next? I’ve applied to Teach for America. I applied specifically to Alabama, to the rural region, because they need teachers down there, and I really want to go back to my home community. If I’m in Alabama, I want to start a learn-to-swim school for kids from lower-income families. Drowning rates are really high in rural areas and in Alabama specifically, so that’s a problem I could help to alleviate.

Dream job? Working with kids. In retirement, I’d open up a bakery but have it so the kids come in and do the baking. It’d be a baking school, but they’d sell their pastries.

Greatest adventure? The Alcatraz swim after my freshman year. It’s a 1.25-mile open-water swim. They ferry you out there at 7 in the morning, so it’s freezing cold — the water was 54 degrees. The name of the swim was the SharkFest because there actually are great whites and other sharks in the Bay. If the race officlals see sharks two or three days before the swim, they’ll cancel it. I used to have this phobia of sharks, so doing the swim helped conquer that fear.

Describe yourself in two or three words: Spunky, determined and klutzy  — my childhood nickname was “Calamity Kate.” I am much more graceful in water than on land.

Thesis topic: I used an Undergraduate Research Grant to go to Nova Scotia for spring break during sophomore year. I looked at documents, mostly letters and journals written by a loyalist named Jacob Bailey, who was persecuted during the American Revolution. He was forced to flee to Halifax from Maine. I am looking at why he opposed the Revolution and what exactly happened to him while he was in Maine. Local revolutionaries tried to get him to swear an oath to the colonial government. At one point they had him stand on a hogshead, a large barrel, at gunpoint, and they said, “You’ve got to sign this oath or we’re going to shoot you and you’re going to fall into this coffin.” It’s interesting to look at the creation of our country and the idea of freedom and civil liberties and the right to free speech. While those were issues the revolutionaries fought for, their practices did not always reflect their ideals.