Editor's Note: Where They Were Before is a Ball State Daily News series profiling various professors and their lives before teaching.
World traveler. Author. Teacher. Mother. Communicator. Advocate. All of these words can be used to describe one of Ball State's instructors, who spends most of her days in the Art and Journalism Building.
Instructor Colleen Steffen is an experienced life liver. She hasn't always been in the classroom. In fact, this is only her fourth full year teaching at Ball State. In the meager four years she has been here full time, she has taught a variety of students and come to love the college.
"I like talking to the young people, seeing them live their lives. They're so cool and fun," Steffen said with a crinkle in her nose.
Born on Oct. 25, 1972, when asked about what she remembered most about being a '70s baby she laughed wistfully and said "plaid pants."
Thanks to her aunt and the blank notebook she gave Steffen in second grade, a creative writer was born and the idea stuck. She wrote a whole book in that blank notebook about a mouse who lived in a dollhouse.
Toward the end of high school, after being editor of the yearbook, Steffen received a journalism scholarship to Franklin College and away she went.
Two life-changing events happened to Steffen once she went to college. One, she found her people and her career. Two, she met Ryan Sparrow.
Married since 1995, they have been together for 21 years. However, when Steffen met Sparrow on the day of her college orientation, he wasn't the only person who caught her eye.
"Here we are, all of these freshman, standing in a circle in the grass, holding hands. I was between Ryan and this other cute boy, which I don't remember his name, but all I could think was 'yes, college' and then who I wanted to flirt with," Steffen said. "I chose Ryan."
From college, Steffen and her photographer husband moved about seven times in 11 years. She worked at four newspapers in three different states and has done a long list of jobs besides being a journalist. Some of these jobs include a telephone operator, a janitor and a daycare employee, many of which she did while in college.
In 2003, the couple finally settled down in Muncie and have been here ever since, making it the longest time they have ever stayed in one place. In 2008, they welcomed their rambunctious and outgoing daughter, Tommy Sparrow.
"We basically waited until everyone stopped asking [when we were going to have kids] and slid one in there," Steffen said. "I love it [being a mother. It's fun to see life through their eyes and they make you love people more because they are so pure. It's almost like a re-do in life with this beautiful little human."
During the early years of Tommy's life, Steffen stayed home and even wrote a whole book about Catherine Winters, a girl who disappeared from New Castle in 1913. The book is presently going around publisher's' offices waiting to get published.
"Every couple months I call my agent and ask if it's time to give up and she says ‘no, not yet’ and I sit and wait," Steffen said.
Steffen has a variety of hobbies that include thrift shopping and searching for antiques. Advocacy also takes up some of her time — as of right now, she fights against the Muncie School Board budget cuts for teachers. As a teacher herself, and a having a child who goes to a school in the district, the situation is very close to her heart.
In addition to teaching and holding several odd jobs, Steffen has traveled to a variety of places including Russia, Scotland and Ireland.
When she was in college, she studied abroad for a whole semester in London, where she has been more than a few times.
The thing she remembers most is continuously raising the credit limit on her credit card whenever she reached it. By the end of the trip she had more than $2,000 worth of credit to pay back, which she luckily was able to pay off after winning a writing contest the following year.
It took a village to get her on a plane; one night she slept in a stranger's living room, another on a park bench. Steffen calls it her "grand adventure."
On her recent trip to Rio de Janeiro, Steffen did her best to learn how to say phrases in Portuguese, the native language of Brazil.
She studied and planned and after weeks of going around Brazil and asking for a certain food item, she realized she had been going around Brazil asking for “cheese penises.”
It’s stories and memories like this that have made all of her travels unique adventures.
Not only is Steffen an around-the-world traveler; she is also a cross-country traveler. During one summer her whole family packed up and did a cross-country trip to Seattle, Washington, stopping to sleep in motels and see landmarks along the way.
Although she has gotten lost on the backroads of Italy before, Steffen plans to make her upcoming summer trip back to the country her best yet. Traveling with students from the telecommunications and journalism department, she will be teaching a five-week course abroad focused on travel writing.
One student going on the trip, Alexandria Crunk, can't wait to take on Italy with Steffen.
"She's traveled a ton of places and backpacked through countries. I just think that's awesome and so cool," Crunk said. "Plus, she's funny. I love that."
Steffen’s husband, Ryan Sparrow, will be visiting her while she there, bringing along Tommy to explore Italy, who believes her mom's claim that it's "like Fazoli's" every day there.
Steffen loves her job, her family and the life she has created. She wouldn't want to have done it any other way and strongly believes everything happens for a reason.
"I like forward motion and I feel like that's what I've done. I'd never want to be anyone else because I feel like it's such a gift to be able to live this life and do all of these things,” she said. “And sure, other things may be more perfect, but what I have is so great. This is awesome."