She's a student at the University of California-San Diego, expects to graduate with a degree in economics next month and at the same time is helping the Tritons become one of the top women's rowing teams in the country. They are currently ranked third in the USROWING/CRCA Division II Coaches Poll.
"I was planning on staying in the Midwest," Chang said of her college plans after she graduated from Ames High. "(Attending UC-San Diego) was completely by chance. I didn't have any intentions of going here, but when I was registering I decided it felt right."
After arriving on campus, Chang saw a flyer about the rowing team, attending a meeting and the rest is history.
"As coaches, we recruit heavily from on-campus during the first week of school," said UC-San Diego women's rowing coach Pattie Pinkerton. "We picked up Stephanie when she was a freshman. The great thing about crew, there's kind of a spot for everyone."
Chang, who ran cross country in high school, but more for fun than for the competition, calls herself "incredibly competitive." She said she was looking for a way to meet people and decided being a member of the rowing team would help. She initially wanted to be a rower, but Pinkerton noticed Chang's leadership skills and quickly turned her into a coxswain.
"We rely on the coxswain, and we have to teach them a lot," Pinkerton said. "They have to move a 60-foot-long boat with a rudder the size of a credit card. They have to steer and they need to get eight rowers working together. It's the ultimate team sport. There's no room for showboating. Everybody has to be together totally.
"Stephanie has been very, very good at that. She's a terrific motivator, the girls really like rowing with her because she has a good sense of what they can do. She's ready to step into coaching because she's got such a good understanding of what goes on in the boat and how to correct it."
Just a junior, Chang didn't step into the top boat during her freshman season, but has been the team's top coxswain the past two seasons. Her team-first emphasis was never more evident than at the 2007 National Championships. It takes a 12-person team to qualify for nationals, meaning teams enter an 8-oar boat and a 4-oar boat. The boats are 60 feet long and the 8-oar boat is the top varsity boat with the top eight rowers. The next four rowers make up the 4-oar boat.
"We had two great coxswains," Pinkerton said. "It was hard to choose between the two as both were really strong in their particular area. But for us to get a team bid, our second (boat), the varsity 4, had to do well in order to qualify us for a team bid. We put (Chang) in the second boat even though her preference was to be in the first boat. Stephanie pulled them together, got them all working together and working as a unit and totally committed. Because of her work with the 4, they re-qualified a team bid for the nationals. We were like the second team overall in the country. She had a profound affect."
Chang admits she wasn't happy with Pinkerton's decision, but accepted it because of what it meant to the team.
"It was heart-breaking, but again it's what you've got to do," Chang said. "If I could go back and do it again, I probably wouldn't choose (the 4-boat), but knowing the amount of experience that gave me, I would definitely do it again. It forced me to be a lot more mature than I probably was willing to be at that point."
Chang, who was named the team's Coxswain of the Year in 2007, has been the top coxswain this season.
"She's awesome," Pinkerton said. "She finds out what it is that motivates that particular crew. Anytime you get four or eight strong personalities together, it's always going to be slightly different and she has that ability to find out what it is that motivates them and gets a superlative performance out of them."
Crew races can range from 2 ½ miles to four miles during the fall season. The Olympic and collegiate races are 2,000-meters in length. Pinkerton said crew is the oldest collegiate sport in the United States.
Chang's responsibilities as a coxswain include steering, executing a race plan and advising the crew on technical points that will help them to better compete in a race. She also has to be aware of water conditions, temperatures, tide and/or current conditions and wind.
"My first responsibility is keeping crew safe because they are all facing backwards," Chang said. "The boats cost about $40,000 and I want to make sure to keep (the rowers) safe.
"Motivation during a race is the most important. That's probably my favorite part (of being a coxswain), figuring out what makes my teammates want to go that extra mile."
The Tritons are just getting into the meat of their season. They'll compete in the Western Collegiate Rowing Championships on May 3, the Pacific Coast Rowing Championships on May 17 and the NCAA Rowing Championships on May 30.
All three events are in Sacramento, Calif., and Chang thinks making two trips to the area before nationals will benefit the team.
"That should work in our favor because go up there two weekends in a row prior to (nationals)," Chang said. "Three weekends in a row, we've raced there, we know the course. Maybe will give us an advantage."
Though she has another year of collegiate eligibility remaining, this will be Chang's last season with the Tritons. She's in the process of looking for employment and regardless of where she might end up working, rowing will always be a part of her life. She rowed with the Des Moines Rowing Club last summer, coached a couple of crews and also taught a novice class and is planning to be with the club again this summer.
"Depending on where I go next year, I hope to be part of a rowing club," Chang said. "(Being a coxswain) is amazing. I would never dream of not doing that the rest of my life.
"I wasn't expecting to come to (UC-San Diego) and it turns out to be the best experiences of my life. I wasn't expecting to do crew and it turns out to be the one decisions at college I would never, ever regret."
Dick Kelly can be reached at 232-2161, Ext. 355, or email@example.com.