Former Mauston high school teacher and baseball coach Jeff Sanders left Juneau County behind nearly 15 years ago.
But Sanders, who was recently named the winner of the 2014-15 Outstanding Teaching Award at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, hasn’t forgotten about the place where he grew up.
“My heart is still in Mauston and Juneau County,” Sanders said. “I have fantastic memories there, and I really want to tip my cap to all educators who molded me — just dozens of great teachers and coaches in the Mauston school district.”
Sanders, 42, is assistant professor of physics in the Department of Physical Sciences at Embry-Riddle in Daytona Beach, Florida, a post he’s held for five years.
A native of Chicago, Sanders lived in Mauston from age 5 to 29, graduating from Mauston High School in 1989. After completing an undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, Sanders taught math and physics, and coached baseball at Mauston High School from 1995 through 2000.
Sanders also played for and co-managed the Mauston Red Sox amateur baseball team, which later became the Mauston Axemen, from 1992 to 1999. In 1999, after five years of teaching and coaching in Mauston, Sanders took a one-year leave of absence to earn graduate credits at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
“The original intent was just to take two semesters of graduate credits and be a volunteer assistant baseball coach for a very good Division I program, and come back and be a better teacher and coach because of the one-year experience,” Sanders said.
But Sanders said when his year was up he found the school’s physics department and top-notch baseball program too difficult to leave.
“It was a very tough decision,” he said.
Sanders stayed in Tampa for six years, earning both master’s and doctorate degrees in physics, before a series of teaching stints that led to Embrey-Riddle, a private, 5,000 student school that enjoys a reputation as the top aerospace and aviation university in the world.
“I feel very lucky to work there,” Sanders said.
Sanders specializes in physics education and routinely teaches four classes of 40 students each semester while mentoring graduate students and conducting research. His research has included collaboration with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory on carbon nanotube-based sensors for detection of chemical- and biological-warfare substances.
“We were developing sensors that were actually 100 times more sensitive than the current technology when I was working on it five years ago,” Sanders said.
Sanders, who is unmarried, said he no longer has family in the area. His parents are both retired and live near him in Daytona Beach.
Among the people Sanders remembered fondly from his Juneau County days: Mrs. Smart, his second-grade teacher at West Side Elementary School; New Lisbon teacher Dan Sagert, who also helped manage the Mauston Red Sox; and others.
“Joan Shaw and Nate Figi were my role models for becoming a physics and math teacher,” Sanders said.
And Sanders also singled out a couple of Mauston coaches — Ron Pfaff and Mike Taake.
“Those two guys were really role models for me,” he said.
Taake’s first year at Mauston High School was 1989, the year Sanders graduated, but he remembers coaching Sanders in football.
“A selfless person, a team player,” Taake said of Sanders.
Sanders enjoys fishing, playing the saxophone and guitar, and, between school years, travel. He also holds a private pilot license he earned through Embry-Riddle.
Sanders called life in the perpetual summer – at least by Wisconsin standards – of Daytona Beach “pretty awesome.” But there are times when even awesome wears thin.
“For my 8 ½ month teaching contract it’s fantastic – for the winter and the school year,” Sanders said. “But the summer, to be honest, is a little too hot and humid for me.”
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