Southern Research Institute’s new STEM Education Outreach Lab will host 50 high school students who will use it to conduct physical and life science experiments

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Photo courtesy of Southern Research Institute
Innovation Week Is Like No Other

Off the heels of the DC BLOX’s economic development announcement on Monday, and then the kick-off of a week that celebrates creatives, risk-takers and innovators, Southern Research Institute cut the ribbon on its new STEM Outreach Lab. It’s part of the nonprofit’s aim to attract more people to work in the science, technology, engineering and math fields.

The lab is set up to accommodate 50 students to conduct physical and life science experiments. Eventually the lab will house 3D printers, coding software and robotics equipment, as well as other items to give it a makers’ feel.  

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Last year Southern Research chose Kathryn Lanier as the organization’s first director of STEM Education Outreach. Since coming on board, she has been ramping up STEM education efforts. The lab already has been used by teachers who are participating in Southern Research’s Summer Internship for STEM Educators (SIPSE) program and students who are part of the Alabama Governor’s School honors program. The goal is to have students in the lab every day, working alongside scientists.

Southern Research is using the lab to invest in the next generation of the state’s STEM professionals, according to CEO and president Art Tipton.

“It’s an exciting tool in our mission to introduce young people across the state to the fields of science, technology, engineering and math,” Tipton said. “This is where students will learn new lessons, make interesting discoveries and perhaps start dreaming of careers they never considered before.”

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Other educational STEM initiatives also are being rolled out by Southern Research:

SIPSE, a professional development program for Alabama high school teachers, provides paid summer internships for 9th– through 12th-grade educators. Teachers from schools in the Jefferson County, Chilton County, Russell County, Tarrant City and Hoover City school systems are already participating. This program allows teachers to work with Southern Research professionals in several areas, including cancer therapeutics, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, environmental science,engineering, internet of things and vaccine development.

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At the end of the program, each teacher will be given $1000 to implement in the classroom what they learned through the STEM internship.

The new STEP program (STEM Excellence Program) will be held the last two weeks of July.  Students from 30 high schools and eight counties across Alabama will participate in hands-on experiments in the new STEM lab, and UAB undergraduates will serve as mentors for the students. Guest speakers will include Southern Research scientists and engineers, scientists from the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, marine biologists conducting research in Antarctica and an astrobiologist working with NASA to explore other planets.

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STEP also will promote discovery and teach problem solving skills and teamwork, while enhancing student understanding of the technology skills necessary to be successful in STEM careers. Lab investigation topics will include environmental engineering, molecular biology, computer science and robotics.

Girls, Gigabytes And Gadgets   
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In addition to these programs, the lab also has programs that train people in problem solving. Just last month, Southern Research participated in the N.O.B.E.L (National Organization of Black Elected Legislative) Women’s conference by providing instruction to 60 local girls who participated in the organization’s STEM education program.

“It was such a good experience for these girls, who were able to interact with Southern Research scientists and engineers, as well as strong African-American women who are elected leaders,” Lanier said.

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Photo courtesy of Southern Research Institute

Other educational programs Southern Research hosted were a Spring Break camp and a Black History Month science fair.

Lanier stated that the lab is meant to serve as an inspirational, creative and innovative place for students to learn as well as serve as Southern Research’s way of giving back to the community. It also exposes students to STEM and helps develop them into critical thinkers and problem solvers.