Retired and Former Faculty and Staff

Posted February 9, 2015

Tribute to Paula Wang
by Pamela Hepp


Paula Wang will long be remembered as the environmental science teacher. An energetic, passionate storytelling teacher, she inspired students to pursue environmental science in college. She raised student awareness, understanding, and action on local environmental issues and showed countless others the beauty and functionality of the tree canopy above them and the rich soil beneath their feet. Paula crafted lessons and labs that enabled students to experience the wonder and awe of the natural world. Nothing beats watching real DNA spiral up a glass stirring rod or discovering a live crayfish caught in the kick net sample from Rock Creek.

Paula joined the science department of Sidwell Friends in 1990. She and colleague Ann Wasserman had a great time teaching biology to 9th graders. Out of that course grew a focused interest in ecology and issues of the environment, so in 1995 Paula created the Environ-mental Science course. The AP Environmental Exam came into existence in 1998 and further shaped the course. Paula was a pioneer in multidisciplinary thinking who encouraged students to explore issues by pulling together historic events and public policy decisions, by debating ethical dilemmas, by learning ecological principles, and by knowing their biological effects. She gave the students real reasons to learn and understand how their actions affect the environment around them.

The Environmental Science course was “service learning” long before the term was created. Starting in 1995, course members have monitored the streams of Melvin Hazen Park and Rock Creek Park. The data on water quality and macro invertebrate populations of the streams has been a part of the National Park Service’s official records. Interest by the Forest Service catalyzed the forest ecology work. Students took on counting and monitoring the tree canopy and understory populations of Glover Archibald Park and Melvin Hazen Park. Paula involved all students in the work of real scientists, showing them that science was very relevant to their lives and that they were very capable of being informed citizen-scientists.

Paula is most grateful for the Venture, Travel and Educational Grants provided by Sidwell Friends. Time spent studying genetic evidence of evolution on the Galapagos Islands and of plate tectonics and biodiversity on the volcanoes of the Hawaiian Islands enriched her classes immeasurably. Many times during dinosaur digs in Montana or tern nest counts on Poplar Island in the Chesapeake Bay, Paula would stop, look around, and mentally thank Ellis Turner. “Ellis is my hero. He wanted you to succeed. He wanted you to do enriching experiences. He knew the experience would be passed forward.”

Paula’s care and concern for the environment continues. Working with the USGS & Fish and Wildlife Service, she dons her crane costume and continues to help raise whooping cranes. She completed the Master Naturalist Program and now brings her love and admiration of the out-of-doors to children and adults through the Audubon Society’s programs. As an adjunct professor at American University, Paula now mentors student teachers in DC public schools. Sharing the wonders of the natural world around her is something that comes naturally to Paula. It is the way her life speaks.

Tribute to Susan Wooden
by George Lang


When Susan Wooden came to Washington, DC in 1974 she had 3 job offers – one each from Georgetown Day School, National Cathedral School, and Sidwell. The two from GDS and NCS were full time positions teaching chemistry, which was what she wanted. The offer from Sidwell was part-time teaching biology. By a stroke of incredible luck, or perhaps fate, she chose to come here. Being part-time, Susan would be able to spend Wednesdays at her son’s nursery school, which was a real plus for her and made Sidwell’s offer much more interesting.

Susan was born in Boston where her father, who was in the army, was stationed after the war. But the family soon moved to Manistee, Michigan, a small town located on Lake Michigan, where they had roots. They built a house and raised Susan, her sister, and her brother. She attended Manistee High School, which she enjoyed. She was editor of the yearbook and played in the band. The school was small but had great science and math teachers who had a positive influence on her and all the other graduates. Of the 1/3 of her class who attended college, all but one went on to study some aspect of science or math. Amazing what good teachers can do!

She then attended Valparaiso University in Indiana where she majored in biology and almost earned a second major in chemistry. Susan described this college choice as an act of rebellion because everyone else in her family had gone to the University of Michigan, but Susan decided to break the mold. Here she experienced another very important act of fate. She was a freshman taking introductory chemistry, and her lab partner dropped the course. So she needed a new lab partner and by luck there was one boy in the class, a sophomore, who didn’t have a partner. His name was Bill Wooden. Actually, Susan said that Bill at first annoyed her—he didn’t do the lab write-ups but would call her up at the last minute to get her results (this still goes on today in many science classes). He was more interested in physics, and this chemistry class was not his favorite. Eventually, however, they started dating, and the rest is history. She graduated a semester early and married Bill 3 weeks before graduation.

After college, Susan and Bill moved around a lot while both pursued advanced degrees. First they went to Cleveland, Ohio, then spent a year in Switzerland, then to Pueblo, Colorado and finally to Superior, Wisconsin. They spent 4 years in Cleveland where she worked as a research assistant and took graduate courses in biology and chemistry and they lived in a great apartment for $75.00 a month. Her plan was to eventually do research, but here again fate intervened. She was in her advisor’s office when the phone rang. It was someone from the Laurel School (a private high school for girls in Shaker Heights) who was trying to find someone to take a long-term substitute position in chemistry. Her advisor just handed the phone to Susan, and two days later she had a teaching position at Laurel. As it turned out, the teacher for whom Susan was substituting never came back, so Susan taught chemistry at Laurel for the next two and a half years. She said this school was a lot like Sidwell (except, of course, being all girls), and she learned a lot about teaching. Most importantly, she learned that she really liked teaching high school. The chair of the Science Department at Laurel, Sandy Hall, was an important role model and mentor for Susan. Ms. Hall had a no nonsense style, a great sense of humor, and got kids to JUST DO IT! (Where are these teachers today?)

But soon it was on to Switzerland – Bill got his PhD and had a post-doc offer for a year in Basel. Susan had her first child, Hugh, just six weeks before leaving. They traveled a lot while there, visiting France, Germany, England and Italy. Susan mentioned that taking a six week old on a plane was so much easier than the return flight with a 58 week old child.

After another one-year assignment in Pueblo, Colorado, Susan and Bill moved to Superior, Wisconsin where Bill got a job at the University of Wisconsin at Superior, which they thought might be permanent. Susan also worked there as a Lecturer in Chemistry, teaching the first year course for majors. They bought an old Victorian house, and her second child, Matt was born. But, fate again played a role. A former colleague told Bill about a potential job as a contractor for NASA in Washington, DC that really interested him. He applied, got the job, and soon the family was moving to DC.

Now we can go back to the first paragraph of this article where Susan comes to Sidwell. She was part-time for 4 years. In 1974 biology classes were not taught in the Upper School Building but in the Sensner Building (where the Fox Den is now located). Susan gradually switched over to chemistry from biology and finally became the full-time chemistry teacher in the mid 80’s. She realized that she made the right decision by choosing the Sidwell offer. She enjoyed the interactions with the kids and also the faculty – not just science department people but everyone in Upper School.

Susan became Science Department Chair and still taught 4 classes—quite a load, and she would not be allowed to do it today, but she did it for 3 years. Her children came to Sidwell – Hugh (class of ‘88) in 9th grade, and Matt (class of ’91) in 7th grade.

Susan was also Interim Dean of Students for the 1999-2000 school year. She found that her work on the Honor Committee was instrumental to making this job work. She was on that committee from 1990-2009, a very long tenure but one that was the right fit for her.

“The best thing I ever did professionally” -- this was a comment Susan made about a senior elective course that she and Laura Byerlee developed in the spring of 2005. The course was Bioethics. Susan saw it as a kind of capstone course for kids at Sidwell that would draw on all of their previous experience. It was philosophy, science, writing, debating and most importantly, dealing with open-ended controversial issues in a respectful and serious manner. In developing this course, Susan could draw upon all of her previous interests and strengths and then go farther – she attended an NAIS bioethics convention in Houston and a summer seminar at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University. She and Laura put together an incredible course, and she is still in contact with some of the students who took it.

Another part of teaching that Susan enjoyed was committee work with colleagues who she both liked and respected. She and Mamadou Gueye co-clerked the Faculty Evaluation Committee and came up with a system that is still used today. It gives both administrators and (more importantly) faculty an active role in shaping evaluations. The fact that the system is still in use speaks for itself.

Another equally important committee she co-clerked with Mamadou was the Committee on Faculty Governance. Here again, there was an important need to bring both faculty and administrators together to work out a system of governance where everyone had a real voice. Susan said they had a lot of interaction with other Quaker schools and, again, put together a document where many diverse opinions were heard and respected.

Coaching was another strong interest for both Susan and Bill. In fact, Bill, who was the cross country coach, got her interested in this by making her assistant coach. She went on to coach Girls Varsity Basketball with Anne Renninger and learned a lot from Anne. Anne had the knack to push girls just hard enough so that they accomplished what the thought they could not do, which really helped build the athletes’ self-confidence. Coaching, of course, is a time-intensive activity, and often practices would not even start until 6 pm – but by this time Susan’s two boys were grown enough so she had the time.

The year 2006 is another important year in Susan’s life. This time it is not fate but careful planning that comes to play. Both Susan and Bill were spending a lot of time back in Michigan and they decided it might be a good idea to buy a second home there – not that they would leave the DC area where they have strong ties, but they wanted a second place that could be used when they no longer worked full-time. They had been looking at places for about 3 years – usually old Victorian houses—but decided that fixing up such a house was just too much work. But then they found a more modern house that interested them and they bought it – almost on a whim. They go there every summer now, and Susan stays long into the fall. They spend some holidays there. The kids and grandkids come and visit. It is a perfect counterpart for living in the much more hectic and urban Washington.

On the back of the chair Susan used in the Science Department Office, her maroon Sidwell Friends shirt still hangs. Last year, I would think of her often as I came into the science office and saw it. Nobody else has this chair and I hope the shirt will remain for a long time. Susan is a great teacher and leaves a legacy far more than the shirt – her even-handed manner, fairness, and ability to listen to and respect kids and adults alike are some of the important things she modeled to both students and adults. She is missed.

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