A recent alum reflects on her time at APU and how it shaped her to be a difference maker in her field today.

Steenstra graduated from APU in May of 2023. (Photo by Kelli Olson)

Nanette Steenstra is an APU alum who graduated in May of 2023 with a double major in applied mathematics and Spanish. Considering her majors, what she is doing today is pretty unexpected.

Steenstra is originally from San Diego but currently resides in New York City working with a nonprofit called Restore NYC that helps victims and survivors of human trafficking get prepared to reenter the workforce and assists in acquiring housing. 

Reflecting on her time at Azusa Pacific University and the lessons she learned about how to be a difference maker in the world, Steenstra credited APU’s staff for being mentors and guides on how to live a lifestyle that is Christ centered. 

“From professors to bosses and mentors, just seeing the sort of staff that is at APU and learning from my professors in the way that they would share their lives [left] me [wanting] to make a difference,” said Steenstra. 

There were certain professors who shared their testimony and gave their views on wanting social justice from a mathematical lens that sparked something in Steenstra, leaving a desire to make a difference in someone’s life. 

She also mentioned that throughout APU’s history, the main mission has always been to mentor, train and raise up people in ministry to make a difference. With her degrees in applied mathematics and Spanish, she’s glad that this was still the outcome for her story.

During her time at APU, Steenstra worked in the Office of Service and Discipleship and went on global engagement trips to the Netherlands and Mexico City. She was an Alpha Leader over Zoom her sophomore year as well as an Alpha Coordinator the following year. She also took a semester off to study abroad in Ecuador where she found a love for the different Spanish-speaking cultures found in different parts of Latin America, resulting in the addition of her Spanish major. 

“I wouldn’t have gotten my job without [the global engagement trips]. I spent 10 days in the Netherlands in an area called the Red Light District, where prostitution is legal, with an organization called Bright Frame. We went from window to window talking to prostitutes, and I would say most of the women I spoke with spoke Spanish, and I was able to have conversations with them,” said Steenstra. 

“I also spent two months in Mexico City serving at a church that my host family attended, gaining a better understanding of the different cultures, which has helped me better understand the clients I help and see for their points of view.”

When reducing an entire college career into one word, one would expect the words “fun” or “community,” but for Steenstra’s time at APU, it was “Kaleo.” 

“What immediately comes to mind is Kaleo chapel, which kind of surprised me,” said Steenstra. “I think that for me it was a big part of APU, especially freshman year in pre-COVID times. Kaleo was the event of the week; people were lining up on the stairs trying to get a seat! I also think that what made it so memorable was that I knew the chapel bands, the speakers, and it just made it better seeing someone I knew, a friend, on stage and to see everybody there with the same purpose of worshiping the Lord.” 

Furthermore, she said that APU grew her faith tremendously despite the fact that she grew up in Christian schooling from kindergarten all the way up to 12th grade. Her biggest spiritual takeaway from APU was to learn to live by faith, which is exactly what she did when she applied for Restore NYC from a post she saved on Instagram.

When moving from the West Coast to the East Coast, there are a lot of major differences such as weather changes, having an unfamiliar community and an overall completely different environment. But for Steenstra, having been a student at APU who built a strong community and lasting relationships with professors, staff and students, the transition wasn’t as hard as she expected. She said this was because of the outpouring of encouragement she received from her relationships she made in college to step into her calling and vocation.

Having graduated with two degrees that seem to be the complete opposite from one another, Steenstra still finds a way to utilize them both in order to assist her clients. 

“Spanish is key,” said Steenstra. “Sixty percent of the clients we have are Spanish speaking, and about half of my personal load are Spanish speakers.” 

She hopes that while working with Restore, she might be able to use more of her applied math degree to be more impactful and collect data to measure the effectiveness of their programs. But, for now, she uses her problem-solving and critical-thinking skills to put together the pieces of information clients give in hopes that she might better serve their needs.

Five months after graduation, Steenstra has the ability to reflect on her experience in hindsight. Her advice to students is directed toward all APU students regardless of major: “Get to know your professors and staff because, for one, they are kind-hearted and really do want to help and support you. And, secondly, they have so much life experience to share that is so helpful. Watching the way my professors live their lives is what formed me most, and hearing staff life stories is what taught me so much about what it looks like to live life as a difference maker.”