Kimberly Tanner, PhD ’97 : Audaciously making the world a better place
Kimberly Tanner trained as a research neurobiologist at UCSF before becoming an educator.
“What a waste!” some of her scientific colleagues lamented, because, they said, she was such a fabulous scientist.
In her 14 years as a biology professor at San Francisco State University (SFSU), Tanner has transported those skills into the teaching of science education, fashioning a rich portfolio that combines teaching undergraduate biology with pedagogical research, teacher training, and advocacy for science education across all ages, ethnicities, and genders.
“Coming to San Francisco State was the best career decision I ever made,” she says. “Teaching is so important and rewarding, and I love teaching our undergraduates because they are earnest, eager, and really do go out and change the world.” Tanner received her UCSF Campaign Alumni Award in “The Audacious” category, so we asked her how that word defines her work.
“Audacious is exactly what UCSF trained me to be!” she says, emphatically. “To politely push the boundaries of what we can do in the science classroom to make the world a better place.”
Tanner’s early passion for biology was born at her Nashville, Tenn., high school, where two innovative teachers regularly had the classroom abuzz and the kids working together on engaging and exciting experiments. Tanner continued to thrive on that collaborative energy as a doctoral student at UCSF, volunteering through the Science and Health Education Partnership (SEP) to teach science in the San Francisco Unified School District.
“Within two weeks of moving to San Francisco, I was at a middle school teaching kids, and I was hooked,” Tanner recalls. “I had a double life working on my PhD and volunteering at SEP, and that was a key reason for my success in graduate school.”
When she arrived at SFSU, Tanner founded SEPAL, the Science Education Partnership and Assessment Laboratory. Its mission is to grow and support a vibrant community of scientists and inspire students to embrace science. At SEPAL, Tanner studies how students learn and how instructors teach, with the goal of strengthening both sides of that equation. Her methods include studying classroom behaviors, researching science educator training across disciplines and institutions, and formalizing training for science faculty members.
“Eighty-five percent of our biology faculty has spent at least 100 hours getting smarter about how they teach,” Tanner says. “Our team has made amazing changes to benefit the education of our students, and I’m proud to be a key part of that.”