Stephanie McDowell, Upper School science teacher

Stephanie McDowell, Upper School science teacher

Stephanie McDowell is known around campus for her upbeat personality, her die-hard allegiance to her alma mater, Clemson, and for truly memorable biology projects, like her work with students to publish the gene sequence for the coqui frog. Stephanie received her B.S. from Clemson University, and an M.S. from Rutgers University.


Where did you grow up?
Ohio, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. I’ve been in Hawai‘i for about 16 years.

How do you like living in Waimea?
I love small town living! My husband, Doug, is a teacher at Honoka‘a High School, and we joke that between the two of us, we know every teenager in West Hawai‘i.

What do you hope your students will take away from your classes?
Science actually requires a lot of tenacity. You really have to persist and keep working at it and be patient with it; you can’t rush through research. You have a lot of time to read and think while you’re waiting on a new shipment of primer. Being at HPA, there are truly unique research possibilities. One of my recent students, Mako Yamamoto ’19, for example, worked tirelessly to sequence a native caterpillar for her independent science research biotech project. She did a tremendous amount of work: finding the caterpillars, growing and hatching them, feeding them, photographing them, extracting DNA, and processing the data. It’s tricky to research living things, but she kept at it, and ultimately was successful in getting sequencing data.   

If you were a lab instrument, which one would you be and why?
I would want to be a scanning electron microscope because I just really want to see electrons spinning. We talk about molecules all the time, but it’s so abstract because you can’t see anything that small. I wish I could see that happening.

Who do you like to cheer on when March Madness rolls around?
Anyone in the ACC because Clemson never makes it that far. You asked the wrong question! You should have asked how many times have I watched the Clemson/Alabama National Football Championship. The answer is four.

You’re an HPA parent, too! What do you hope your own children will get out of HPA?
It’s about the whole experience—there are so many opportunities for them: to be on stage, to learn to chant, to participate in the makahiki games … along with the math and reading instruction. It’s the whole person experience that I’m really excited about. As someone who moved around a lot, I’m so glad that they’ll have this incredible place as their home. I love that we have this pretty amazing school on a small island in the middle of the ocean. That’s really cool.