Spring Branch ISD Featured News

Karen Whitefield: Dedicated pharmacist turned high school teacher inspires students


At the beginning of the school year, Karen Whitefield, Ph.D., Pharm. D., found herself in an unfamiliar setting: teaching 11th and 12th graders in a public school setting for the first time.

An accomplished professional, Karen previously spent time in the pharmaceutical industry. Teaching while pursuing her Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm. D) ignited a passion within her that eventually led her to choose teaching as a lifelong career.

After obtaining her Pharm. D., she taught molecular biology and genetics at the University of Texas in Austin. Then, she served as an instructor of life sciences at a private middle school before taking her current position teaching microbiology and aquatic sciences at Northbrook High School in the Spring Branch Independent School District (SBISD).

A true sense of fulfillment 

One might wonder why, after working in the pharmaceutical industry and spending time teaching at the university level, she chose to continue her career as a high school teacher.

The answer is simple.

"Teaching at the high school level is where I find my greatest sense of fulfillment. The opportunity to inspire young minds and spark their curiosity is something I look forward to every day," said Karen. "I find my job energizing, and I'm grateful for the chance to impact students' lives this way."

Family ties 

Her connection with the district strongly influenced Karen's transition to SBISD. Having raised three children, one currently at Stratford High School and two others having graduated from the district, teaching in SBISD seemed like the next natural step. She deeply values the importance of education and the role teachers play in shaping young minds.

"All three of my children attended Nottingham Elementary, Spring Forest Middle School, and Stratford High School," said Karen. "From the parental point of view, SBISD is a strong school district. They have provided my kids with a firm foundation, and I'm glad to be here," she said.

Her children's experiences in the district have only strengthened her commitment to providing the best education for her students, just as her children received.

Providing a steady presence 

Her motivation for teaching, however, extends beyond her own family. She believes that students today need unconditional support and someone to serve as a calming, nonjudgmental presence in their lives – someone who can help them navigate the ups and downs of their academic journey.

"As an educator, I believe it's important to meet students where they are and to understand that each one is unique," said Karen. "I do the best that I can to tailor my teaching approaches to reach students on their individual learning journeys."  

Infusing learning with fun 

Teaching medical microbiology and aquatic sciences are topics Karen thoroughly loves to teach. She's always had a deep love for science, which stems from her childhood experiences of spending a lot of time outdoors and surrounding herself with all sorts of animals. Alongside this fascination for the environment, she also developed an interest in human health, making her the perfect fit for the role.

As the sole instructor for medical microbiology and aquatic sciences, two electives at Northbrook High School, Karen infuses her classes with humor and whimsy, making the content relevant to her students' lives. Each day, Karen works to apply the curriculum to real-life events so students can draw parallels between what they are learning in class and what is happening in the world around them. She strives to make her classroom a place of discovery and inspiration, sharing her love for the many wonders of science. In her class, students don't learn facts and figures; they learn how to apply their knowledge to the world around them.

Students enrolled in her classes have the unique opportunity to explore the microscopic world of bacteria, viruses, and fungi and study the intricate balance of aquatic ecosystems.

"My teaching philosophy is pretty simple: I believe learning should be fun, so students remain engaged in the material," said Karen. "By combining hands-on experiments with lively discussions and real-world applications, I hope to accomplish that goal.” 

Finding joy 

When you speak to Karen, you can tell she thoroughly likes her work. She not only finds purpose in sparking curiosity in young people's minds but also finds purpose through serving as a mentor and positive role model.

In this way, Karen reflects the SBISD value of Collaborative Spirit. She believes in her students and colleagues while finding joy in her work. She also has found joy in the students who attend Northbrook, commenting on how kind they are to each other.

"I feel like I'm exactly where I need to be, doing what I'm supposed to be doing at this point in my life," said Karen. "While I may have taken a different road than most educators to the public school setting, I got here as fast as I could and am fortunate to be at Northbrook High School."

While Karen's path to teaching high school may have taken a few twists and turns, her dedication to inspiring and educating young minds has remained a constant theme throughout her career. Her goal is to remain teaching until she retires, possibly transitioning into an academic support role at some point in the future. For now, she is dedicated to sharing her passion for science and is committed to transforming her classroom into a hub of exploration and learning.  

Her journey serves as an inspiration for all those who aspire to make a lasting difference in the lives of young people while sharing their passion and love for the world around them.

To learn more about career opportunities in SBISD, click here.