Dr. Pethel’s Science of Teaching

Dr. Pethel in Wilson Hall talking to a parent.

You can always spot Dr. Pethel, a biology teacher at Western Reserve Academy, in the basement of Wilson Hall, enthusiastically teaching her classes — freshman Biology, Microbiology, Synthetic Biology, … you name it, and she will be on it! Her first work as a biologist, as she recalls, was working through her college undergraduate school. She spent two years in a dairy microbiology lab working night shifts and testing for contamination and ingredient testing. She then moved on to working for health care products as a microbiologist.

While attending graduate school at Emory University, Dr. Pethel was involved with an immunology rotation, CDC TB lab and genetic recombination transposons. This was also when first became interested in teaching: she had to teach one semester of a Medical Microbiology Lab, and when the director left, she had the opportunity to run the lab herself and oversee peers. She started to love teaching as she moved on to become a teaching assistant for one of her professors.

While she was attending graduate school, she visited the high school nearby and met a teacher who “taught differently,” igniting students’ interest in actually learning and understanding science rather than making them memorize formulas or experiment results. She finally decided she wanted to become a teacher and started her teaching career at Mercersburg Academy.

After nine years at Mercersburg, Dr. Pethel moved to Dallas, TX as a director of resident Hockaday School, an all-girls boarding school. She loved being part of a community friendly to women in STEM, but she missed teaching. Thus, she came to WRA in 2010.

At WRA, Dr. Pethel taught science and held multiple different positions as she coached volleyball, attended many different committees, was part of the dean’s office and helped with the admissions process. Yet her most valuable experience and proudest moment at WRA was growing professionally, both herself and the institution, through expanding biology programs.

She wants to advise students who are now learning science to “work with an open mind.” She says that everything depends on how you view the information; thus, ponder it, and be amazed at the pure awe that science gifts you. Her goals as a biology teacher are to inspire and encourage students to be confident that they can understand and pursue science!

Renee Oh ’22

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