80th birthday celebration honors Pauline Crowling’s decades-long love of teaching and learning
Wednesday, October 18 was a uniquely special day at Trinity, as students, teachers, alumni and distinguished guests threw a surprise party to celebrate Pauline Crowling’s 80th birthday. A chemistry teacher and role model for intellectual curiosity, contagious enthusiasm and love of science, Crowling has been a fixture on Trinity’s campus for more than 45 of the school’s 51-year history.
Crowling’s day began with a “Happy Birthday!” serenade at Morning Meeting and the unveiling of commemorative tee shirts emblazoned with the mantra “Trinity — powered by Pauline Crowling for 45 years.” Students and faculty signed a huge birthday card, gathering at lunchtime in Dunn Courtyard to enjoy cupcakes and watch Crowling demonstrate one of her favorite chemistry experiments, “elephant toothpaste.”
To honor Crowling’s historic tenure and impact on generations of students several elected representatives sent official letters and proclamations, including U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, Gov. Glenn Youngkin, U.S. Rep. Jennifer McClellan and Va. Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, whose chief of staff, June Laffey attended the celebration.
Named Teacher of the Year by the Virginia Association of Independent Schools (VAIS) in 1989, Crowling was also the head of the Science Department for several years in the late ’80s and early ’90s. No longer teaching a full load of chemistry, she is still substitute teaching, helping in the front office and coaching the school’s Battle of the Brains team. In addition to science, she has a passion for music, which she instilled in her son, Patrick, and daughter, Kathy, both guitarists, and she is also a mainstay performer in Trinity’s annual Cabaret music revue.
“I don’t feel elderly,” she said. “There’s no reason why I need to stop. It gets you up and out of the house and talking to students and colleagues.”
Reflecting on the past five decades, Crowling recalled that when she graduated from college it was still unusual for women to find professions in STEM-related fields. She is proud of the wider opportunities now available to women — due in no small part to teachers like her inspiring students to pursue careers in science.
“Now I have close to 200 alumni who are friends on Facebook; they are doctors, vets, engineers,” Crowling said of her former students. “No matter what grades they got, I always praised them and encouraged them to keep going.”
In response to an email blast from the school, dozens of alumni shared recollections of praise, which were compiled in a notebook for Crowing as a keepsake.
Former students like Sage Timberline ’11 recalled the “surprise and delight'' they felt in her chemistry classes. Kay Ferris Schlembach ’80 called Crowling a “ball of positive energy.” Others remembered the joy and anticipation of going into her classroom each day. Many like Kent Pankey ’81 loved the sense of humor she used to manage pranks and hi-jinks from even the rowdiest of classrooms.
But most of all, there were messages of gratitude for sparking a passion for science and for learning, like Lindsay Wheeler ’00, now a chemistry professor at the University of Virginia. “When I tell people what I do, they usually cringe and say 'I hated chemistry in high school',” Wheeler wrote. “I am always proud to say that I had a knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and amazing high school chemistry teacher who, unknowingly, helped put me on the path that has led me where I am today.”
Len Norman ’89 put it succinctly, when he wrote: “You set the example for what a great teacher should be — a competent professional who meets their students where they are and elevates them up from there with compassion and understanding.”