Five-Oh-Ones to Watch 2024: Karen Ferrer, St. Joseph High School

The Karen Ferrer always knew what she wanted to do when she grew up. “From age 7, I knew I wanted to work at NASA,” she said, laughing. “No … not being upside-down in space but doing research in the lab. I wanted to be among those who made it possible for others to go into space.”

She has done that, working on research projects for NASA when she was in college, and is continuing work with NASA-related projects through a Girl Scout project.

Ferrer, now 49, was a Girl Scout growing up, earning the Gold Award, and is now a Girl Scout leader, working with older girls in Troop 6827 and Brownie Scouts in Troop 6746. “We have so much fun,” she said.

“Our older Scouts just received an award, a grant, through the National Science Foundation (and other organizations) for the upcoming project, Einstein’s Incredible Universe,” she said.

The project is a “media and engagement program designed to catalyze interest in space science and spark scientific curiosity in lifelong learners, especially young women,” according to the National Girls Collaborative Project’s website,

Ferrer said the troop has received a telescope and other materials to capture and broadcast solar images during the April 8 total solar eclipse. “We will send our live links directly to NASA,” she said. “We are so excited. We’ve already started practicing with the telescope.”

Ferrer is chair of the science department at St. Joseph High School, where she teaches Algebra I, Algebra II and chemistry. Prior to coming to the high school five years ago, she was an adjunct professor at Hendrix College for 15 years.

She grew up in Brookville, Ohio, the only child of Bob and Phyllis Lewis, who now live in Conway. She has a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from the University of Alabama at Huntsville and a Master of Science and doctorate in materials science and engineering from the University of Virginia.

Ferrer and her husband, Gabriel Ferrer, who is a professor of computer science at Hendrix College, met in graduate school. They moved to Conway in 2002, when he joined the staff at Hendrix. They have five children, Juliana, 20, a college student, and Carolina, 18, Thomas, 15, Daniel, 11, and Veronica, 7, who all attend St. Joseph. “My husband and I grew up as Catholics and we both have taught in the RICA program – Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults – for those joining the Catholic church.” When she has time, Ferrer enjoys travel, camping, hiking and “crafty things” such as crochet.

“When I was an undergraduate working on my degree, there were no women in the chemistry department,” she said. “I had a mentor—a woman in the biology department who inspired me to mentor women in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields.

“So that’s what I’ve tried to do,” she said. “I taught physics at Hendrix and now math and chemistry at St. Joe. And I’m working with Girl Scouts. “As far as the future, I will be here teaching at St. Joe at least as long as our kids are here,” she said, smiling.