Campus Closeup: Chris Standerford
Northern has played a pivotal role throughout much of Chris Standerford’s adult life. He enrolled as a freshman here at about the same time his mother, Suzanne, joined the NMU education faculty. As a student, he worked on campus for Housing and Residence Life and the Academic and Career Advisement Center. Standerford earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in secondary education with a science emphasis. Even in his first professional capacity as a teacher at Marquette Senior High School and director of its Shiras Planetarium, Standerford served as an adjunct physics instructor at NMU and partnered with the Seaborg Center on various projects. He returned to his alma mater in 2013 as director of the Seaborg Center.
“When I found out that Deb Homeier (the previous director) was going to retire, I called and asked her about the job,” Standerford said. “She was very enthusiastic and encouraged me to apply. I had been at MSHS for 15 years and was ready to take on new responsibilities and move in a new professional direction. I do miss working with students on a daily basis. But I haven’t completely lost that energy because we have a large number of students circulate through the Seaborg Center programs and we have a presence in the schools.”
Teaching was not Standerford’s initial calling. He originally wanted to be an architect or work as a physical therapist. A high school experience as a tutor for students struggling in a keyboarding class changed his mind.
“It really struck a chord with me. I found it highly rewarding and my mom helped me to realize that teaching would be a great career. It certainly didn’t hurt having the influence of an educator in the household.”
Standerford did not immediately gravitate toward science. In fact, he acknowledges opting for the science class rumored to be “easiest” in 9th grade because he feared he would not excel at it. Once he had more exposure and began to appreciate how its concepts connected to everyday life, the subject came alive for him and became one of his academic strengths. He also developed a love for science fiction books and movies and became focused on understanding how things happen. With the exception of biology, he taught the full gamut of science classes at MSHS—from advanced-placement chemistry and physics to earth science.
As director of Seaborg Center, Standerford oversees student programming such as the annual College for Kids, Science Olympiad and First Lego League competition. There also have been recent, revitalized efforts to bring secondary-age students to campus for a more immersive NMU experience. These include last year’s cybersecurity program and the inaugural environmental sciences camp, which starts next week. The latter was supported by a Wildcat Innovation Fund award and involves the Seaborg Center, Admissions, the College of Arts and Sciences and the Earth, Environmental and Geographical Sciences department. If the three-year pilot proves successful, other science and technology camps may be offered on campus.
“Another function of the center is professional development for teachers. State grants are available to help teachers keep up to speed on changes in policy, benchmarks and student assessment. We are not just a math and science center anymore; we now encompass all of STEM. We are part of a network of 33 centers in the state that perform similar functions. If the Michigan Department of Education needs to release new standards, information or training programs in the STEM fields, it can go to the network and disseminate that material across the state. Teachers in the U.P. get everything their downstate peers are getting. It’s a powerful tool.”
Three Standerfords were working at NMU simultaneously until Suzanne’s recent retirement. Chris’ wife, Abby, is a faculty member in the School of Education, Leadership and Public Service. Outside of work, the couple enjoys family time with their young daughters, Tessa and Ella, and traveling. Chris also likes mountain biking and tinkering around the house on improvement projects.