An Independent School • Grades 5-12

Meet a Teacher: Michelle Wahlin

Chemistry teacher Michelle Wahlin knows how powerful teachers can be.

October 2014

Growing up in a family where science was revered — her dad was an emergency room doctor, one brother was premed, and a sister a nurse — it wasn’t surprising that Michelle Wahlin set her sights on a career in marine biology. She graduated high school at the top of her class and confidently enrolled at the University of San Diego, which offered a strong program in her intended major.

But in sophomore year, “I had an amazing chemistry teacher.” Inspired, she switched to chemistry and found her true passion. So, she says, "I know how powerful teachers can be."

Completing a Ph.D. program in medicinal chemistry at the University of Washington, Wahlin came to Lakeside fulltime in 2012 to teach general chemistry. She recently began teaching pharmacology, sharing with students the fruits of her dissertation research on a drug used to treat breast cancer.

Wahlin, like her fellow Lakeside teachers, eschews the kind of “cookbook” chemistry where students are handed the problem and given steps to the solutions. Instead, students learn how to identify and solve problems for themselves – to “think like a scientist.”

On a given day, the students might be synthesizing artificial strawberry scent or figuring out what dyes are in Gatorade as part of a project to study the components and chemistry of all the ingredients in the popular sports drink.

They might be figuring out the most efficient alternative fuel sources to solve a hypothetical task to buy Lakeside a new heating system. Or they might be dealing with any number of chemistry challenges that typically involve everyday items — from baking soda to vitamin C — but the solutions for which, from project to project, require increasingly sophisticated understanding.

“I love it; it’s fun and challenging,” Wahlin says about teaching at Lakeside. “The kids are amazing, really motivated, receptive, and responsive. They’re exciting.”