Meet your teacher: A return to Harker, 20 years later

Alumna comes back to teach, embracing choir and compassion


Aastha Mangla

Upper school Intro to Journalism teacher Whitney Huang sits at her desk in the back room of the journalism classroom, holding her “Harker Journalism” mug. Huang, a 2008 alumna and Harker “lifer,” returned to Harker due to her deep connection to the school’s culture and environment.

by Sarah Mohammed, Features Editor

Thumbing a photograph from 2000, new upper school journalism teacher and Harker alumna Whitney Huang (‘08) laughs with upper school activities director Kerry Enzensperger, recalling fondly each of their young faces when they had posed outside of Dobbins for that group picture over two decades ago. 

Huang, who studied at Harker since kindergarten, returned to the upper school this year to teach journalism. She feels connected to the school’s culture and environment after spending so much of her life here. 

“While I was applying for jobs, I was looking to substitute teach at Harker since I knew that it would be a really wonderful environment,” Huang said. “All of a sudden, [upper school assistant head of school Jennifer] Gargano said, ‘Whitney, would you like to maybe teach? We’re looking for someone who can learn on the job and teach the young thirsty minds of our next generation.’” 

Huang has always had an investigative mindset, asking her parents “why?” as a child and exploring her questions through research as a biologist. Being an only child, she learned to question what other children, siblings and families were like, wanting to understand from a human perspective how other people live. 

Journalism has been a welcoming space for her to lean into the curiosities that have fascinated her, learning more about the people and spaces around her. Her favorite part about journalism is the human aspect—her favorite section on Harker Aquila is Humans of Harker—because she enjoys learning more about the communities around her. 

“Being curious and skeptical allowed me to really move into the world of journalism pretty smoothly,” Huang said. “Coming to Journalism feels like coming to a home that you didn’t know you had.”

In the classroom, Huang hopes to share the multifaceted aspects of reporting with students and help them understand the breadth of possibilities in the activities they can engage in through journalism. 

She enjoys finding a “small river of lack of understanding,” a bridge where she can meet her students and where they can learn and explore together, rather than alone, uncovering ideas and topics, most recently the Texas abortion ban and the recall election in California, and investigating them more deeply. 

“It’s important that students realize that there are so many things involved in journalism,” Huang said. “Literally all facets of life are possible journalism topics. That appreciation for all of those different sides of the gem is really important as well.”

As a student, Huang often spent all day at Harker, engaging in afterschool activities and getting to know the recreational activities coordinators and staff working at the loading zone on top of teachers around campus. 

“It’s been great already, reconnecting with a lot of my old teachers,” Huang said. “Some of the teachers have really grown; they’ve advanced in the time they’ve been here while I’ve been doing other things and not been at Harker.” 


Huang (center) sits outside of Dobbins Hall with her classmates in 2000. (Provided by Whitney Huang)

Ever since her time at Harker, Huang has been involved in music, joining vocal group Cantilena in high school and pursuing a masters in music. Middle school science department chair Kathy Peng (‘05), also a Harker alumna, sang with Huang in Cantilena for one year. Later in their careers, both of them sang at The Choral Project in San Jose and bonded over their shared interests in music and teaching. 

“She is such a talented musician,” Peng said. “It’s cool to see her again much later in life, as adults. Even though neither of us are teaching music right now, it’s still part of our life.” 

Huang, who majored in biology at Case Western Reserve University and worked at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, has returned to the Bay Area, which she considers home, and returned to her interests in music to give back to her community by teaching at Crystal Children’s Choir

“I pursued [the medicine route] and then afterwards started helping back at my community choir, which I also grew up in, which is interesting because now I’m coming back—this is where my loyalties are,” Huang said. 

As she has continued teaching and connecting with the family values her parents instilled in her as a child, Huang has found a passion in engaging in service, practicing kindness and giving back to the community in which she grew up by sharing her knowledge and being patient with those around her. She believes that even small moments of gentleness and generosity make an impact. 

“One of the things that is always at the forefront of whatever I’m doing is thinking how can I help other people, or how can I alleviate possibly, whatever it is that’s bothering them,” Huang said. “A lot of times we can’t touch the big scale [of service] because it’s too big for us, but with little things that you do, between you and friends or holding the door open for a stranger, it starts there.”

A lot of times we can’t touch the big scale [of service] because it’s too big for us, but with little things that you do, between you and friends or holding the door open for a stranger, [service] starts there.

— Whitney Huang

 In the classroom and with her students, Huang continues to hold her generosity close, taking breaks alongside her students and chatting with them about their daily lives. Gemma Chan (9), one of Huang’s journalism students, has bonded with Huang over their shared interest in music, K-pop and dogs. 

“During our five minute breaks, she actually talks to us and goes outside with us, [even though] most teachers don’t do that,” Gemma said. “It definitely means a lot because she’s interested in what we’re doing outside of school—outside of her class she wants to actually get to know us.”

From the first day of the school year, the first class of the day, Huang has made sure to treat her students with care and gentleness, assuring them that they can feel held in the space of journalism regardless of their interests, assuring them that they belong. 

“She has such a welcoming personality,” Sidak Sanghari (9), a student in the Introduction to Journalism course, said. “Ms. Huang has that warm energy to her. and she puts a smile on everyone’s face and makes the classroom feel very open for conversation. On the first day of school I was a little nervous, but having Introduction to Journalism as my first period was a great way to start off high school.”

Upper school Director of Journalism Ellen Austin has seen the generosity Huang gives to her teaching. On one occasion, she saw Huang poring over First Amendment cases to discuss with her students, giving them deep context and background for their journalistic work beyond the standard teaching materials for the course.

“She prioritizes care, she prioritizes her students,” Austin said. “I’ve been so impressed by her, her commitment to this content area. She is a scholar in the way she approaches what she’s doing in the classroom.”

Additional reporting by Aastha Mangla.