From Research to Outreach

Kathryn Lanier Evolves from Chemistry Student to Proud STEM Educator

Kathryn Lanier and Student pour Liquid Nitrogen

“I want to make STEM come alive for everyone—young and old.”

Kathryn Lanier, Ph.D., (’12) is an accomplished science education leader and master communicator, currently serving as the director of STEM Education Outreach at Southern Research in Birmingham, Alabama. Lanier’s position was the first of its kind — a job with no guidebook. Since 2017, Lanier and her team have built their program from the ground up — crafting learning experiences that have impacted more than 249,000 students across Alabama.

A Dream Job

 “My job is so unique, I have a dream job,” said Lanier. “Some days I might be dressed like the chemistry cat blowing stuff up in front of elementary school students. Then the next day I might be leading a field trip about antibiotic resistance for a group of 12th grade biology students. And then the next day, I might be talking to a group of state leaders about how to craft education in Alabama to move the needle forward and rewriting the state standards to make science more rigorous and more relevant.”

Although Lanier has never taught in public schools, she considers herself a STEM educator and advocate. She assists teachers, crafts lesson plans and conducts workshops to support science education. Middle school students hold a special place in her heart, and she cherishes their genuine curiosity and potential.

In 2019, Lanier was appointed to Alabama Governor Kay Ivey’s Advisory Council for Excellence in STEM. She serves as one of Gov. Ivey’s at-large representatives on the Alabama STEM Council. Her work on the council resulted in the creation of “Alabama STEM Explorers”, an Emmy Award-nominated series of stimulating 30-minute television episodes that air on PBS. Lanier also hosted the show, drawing in an audience of over 100,000 viewers each week.

“It’s the hardest thing I think I’ve ever done,” said Lanier. “Because you’re crafting these episodes where you’ve got to keep the attention of an eight year old across a digital device. You’ve got like 10 seconds before their attention is gone and the channel gets changed. You’ve also got to think about ways to communicate with an eight year old, whether they’re in rural Alabama or in a suburb, but then also their 86-year-old grandmother who’s also watching right beside them. Otherwise, they change the channel on this opportunity to advance science.”

Discovering a Love for Science 

Lanier’s journey into STEM began during her high school years at Warner Robins High School in Warner Robins, Georgia. Although chemistry initially posed a challenge, her admiration for her teacher, Randi Collier, sparked her interest in the subject.

Motivated by Collier’s passion for teaching, Lanier decided to pursue a career in education. She enrolled at Georgia Southern University with the goal of becoming a high school chemistry teacher like her beloved mentor.

However, as she delved deeper into her studies, she discovered a newfound love for research and the process of asking groundbreaking scientific questions.

Lanier’s time at Georgia Southern exposed her to diverse experiences that shaped her career trajectory. While she was engrossed in research, she also sought opportunities to engage with non-scientific individuals and share her enthusiasm for STEM. Her experience working as a bartender gave her the ability to communicate science to a broader audience and ignited her passion for education.

Impactful Mentors at Georgia Southern

Lanier credits her success in STEM to influential professors and mentors at Georgia Southern. Christine Whitlock, Ph.D., under whom she conducted undergraduate research, and Michelle McGibony, Ph.D., who taught her biochemistry, played significant roles in shaping her academic and personal growth. Their guidance and support were instrumental in her development as a scientist.

A Life-Changing Experience in Brazil

Lanier highlighted a pivotal moment during her Georgia Southern years—an international internship in Brazil. Although her time there was primarily focused on cultural immersion rather than scientific research, the experience broadened her horizons and deepened her appreciation for different perspectives. She shared a remarkable story of crossing borders without passports, illustrating the adventuresome spirit that led her to embrace diverse experiences.

Georgia Southern: A Special Place

Heavy involvement on campus, including being a SOAR leader and a member of Alpha Omicron Pi sorority, Lanier credits for opening doors and creating lasting memories. She even likens Georgia Southern to a sanctuary and refers to it as the “Disney World of academia.”

“Those leadership opportunities I had at Georgia Southern helped develop me into the person that I am,” said Lanier. “They developed my public speaking skills and gave me confidence in front of an audience. Also Georgia Southern developed a sense in me that wherever I go, I know that when I am involved in something, I instantly have this pride and this ownership that comes along with it that carries you in whatever you do.”

Kathryn Lanier’s journey from undergraduate chemistry student to an inspiring STEM educator showcases the transformative power of Georgia Southern and mentorship. Her story demonstrates that one’s career path can evolve in unexpected ways, guided by a genuine love of science and a passion for connecting with people. Through her work as a STEM professional, Lanier is empowering future generations of learners and educators.

Liz Walker