Alumni Spotlight - Dr. Kim Cho, Ph.D., '96

This month, we Spotlight Dr. Kimberly Cho, Ph.D., '96. Kim teaches chemistry and physics at Pembroke Hill and is the head coach of the upper school Science Olympiad team.  She is also a parent of a preschooler in the Early Childhood School and serves as a representative on the Alumni Executive Committee.

Q. What is your best memory of being a student at PHS?
A. Traveling with the Science Olympiad team and participating in Latin Club. On Science Olympiad trips, I loved exploring university campuses with my friends and having the freedom (and responsibility!) to manage my own schedule and handle my own competition responsibilities. The level of trust our coaches had in us was a unique part of being a PHS student. I relished everything about being a Latin student: five years with Mrs. Lacy, Junior Classical League trips to Columbia, and annual Latin Club banquets where we dined on Cornish hen and green beans with our fingers - Roman style!

Q. Who influenced you the most during your time at PHS?

A. My mother, Kathy Firestone! My mom worked in various capacities (first grade faculty assistant, upper school secretary and registrar) at PHS for 29 years to support my education. So, she really understood my experience at the school, and I always felt like I could talk to her about anything. (I still can!) Later, we had the fun of overlapping as PHS employees.

 

Q. Which teachers made the biggest impression? 

A. Nancy Lacy (Latin) and Connie Wells (physics) made tremendous impacts on my life and career. They were (are!) brilliant, versatile, multitalented and utterly inspiring. They accepted me for who I was and encouraged my independent learning. Mrs. Wells showed me I could be a real scientist. Mrs. Lacy continues to be the colleague I most admire now that I'm a teacher. She is as innovative as she is funny and wise! Looking farther back, Laula Ashley really helped shape who I became. She always encouraged me to respond to critique by upping my game instead of giving up. I loved her kind but no-nonsense approach.

 

Q. What is the most important thing you learned while at PHS?

A. Resilience. We were constantly challenged, our grades fluctuated, and rather than being discouraged I learned to innovate new ways to study. I was forced to keep an open mind about new concepts, the differing ideas of others, and my own abilities. I learned that although academics came first, giving time to my personal interests was as important as achieving top grades. In that sense, PHS helped me defeat a tendency toward perfectionism.

 

Q. Why did you choose to come back to PHS to pursue your teaching career?

A. The old adage goes: "Find a job that you love, and you will never work a day in your life." It registered with me - from an early age - that my teachers absolutely loved what they did. As a "faculty kid," I observed the sense of community among everyone here. I thought it would be amazing to have colleagues like that...and it is! Although I began my career as a research scientist, I always harbored a secret desire to teach at an independent school. The Class of '96 had it right when they voted me (along with Andy Frisbie) "Most likely to be wandering the halls of Pembroke Hill in 20 years." (Frisbie, I'm sure we can find a place for you at PHS, too!)

 

Q. What piece of professional advice do you have for young alumni just starting a career?

A. Do what you love and be brave about cold calling professionals who can guide you. Reaching out to science teachers in Seattle for career advice ended up landing me my first job - a position that I never would have been brave enough to apply for otherwise. It is so hard to become employed unless you've made some connections.

 

Q. What something people may not know about you?

A. Everyone knows that I'm a giant nerd, but most of my hobbies are more artistic. I still make Ukrainian eggs, figure skate, play the piano, and I'm trying to take up painting. I also dare anyone to challenge me to a game of pool!

 

Q. What is it like having your son (Austin Cho '35) at PHS? 

A. I'm so excited to share PHS with Austin the same way my mother did with me. I have a "professional crush" on the entire early childhood division. Everyone there inspires me to do a better job each and every day!

 

Q. What is it like at PHS in the time of a pandemic?

A. Things may look different - with masks, distancing, and plexiglass - but the spirit is unchanged. My students are motivated, inquisitive, and determined to make the best of their experience. I'm proud to support them.