Student Conducting Research

How a Cal State Long Beach Undergraduate Student Chemist went from Dreading Chemistry to Enjoying it

Monica Alarcon


Student Conducting Research

Kayla Landers conducting research at a Cal State Long Beach Lab.



Kayla Landers is an accomplished senior at Cal State Long Beach. She has excelled in her studies and has been very involved with the university community. In May, she will be graduating with her Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry with honors. She has also impacted many chemistry students through her mentoring and tutoring position in the STEP into STEM program and Supplemental Instructional chemistry courses she has taught. Her hard work has not gone unnoticed. She has been accepted to some of the most prestigious universities for graduate school including Princeton, Harvard, Georgia Tech, University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, and many others with Fulbright scholarships to continue her education. Kayla envisions a bright and fulfilled future for herself as a chemist. However, she admits that she did not always feel this way. There was a time when she never imagined she would become a scientist let alone a chemist. Even with her many academic accomplishments, she is still surprised she has done so well in the chemistry field.

Back in high school, Kayla did not initially like chemistry. In fact, she always thought she would go to college and study political science, possibly being a lawyer, or in a social science program. These are the fields she connected with because she felt she could make a social impact with these degrees. It is no surprise she never thought about chemistry in this same manner. Her experience with chemistry was a difficult one as it often is with many students. Chemistry was a difficult subject for her to understand where she had to study long hours in high school to comprehend the course materials. But through her determination and help of her chemistry teacher, Mr. Russel Glancy, she was able to develop a positive relationship with chemistry.

Kayla credits him for helping her succeed in chemistry. Mr. Glancy saw great potential in her and tutored her before and after class. With her dedicated study habits and his help, she started to excel quickly. She began to master the course comfortably and confidently. 

The class was an impactful moment in her life. Mr. Glancy not only helped her excel academically, but also helped her see a different side of chemistry that she was able to connect with. It was in this class she started to think that maybe one day she could become a chemist. Kayla explains that before chemistry, she had not been exposed to learning about successful chemists or scientists that looked like her. She admits that this may have played a huge role in her uninterest in the field of chemistry, her dreading the subject, and the perception she had of chemistry in high school. She saw it as a class that she just needed to perform well in, rather than a subject that could become a career path she could enjoy.

Her connection to chemistry grew stronger when she learned about Dr. Marie Maynard Daly. Kayla was in awe of her. Kayla was excited to see a chemist that was so accomplished and that she could relate to because Dr. Daly looked like her. The more she learned about her brilliance in science the more Kayla wanted to be like her. Mr. Glancy could see the impression that Dr. Daly left on her and told Kayla “you can be like her one day and be a great chemist”. This ignited a new passion for chemistry in Kayla and when she attended Cal State Long Beach, she immediately knew chemistry was the field she would study. Four years later, she is well on her way to accomplishing what Mr. Glancy said to her that day.

Kayla admits that she still has many doubts about her career choice. She often experiences self-doubt and questions whether she really belongs in the chemistry field. She recalls being the only African American woman in her Cal State Long Beach classes and feeling awkward. However, she said she was able to overcome those feelings by the great support she received from so many on campus. She is grateful to professors such as Ms. Andrea Chen who did not let her give up during her General Chemistry CHEM 11B class and helped mentor her to success. She also appreciates all the research mentorship she received from Dr. Kensaku Nakayama. He has greatly shaped her as a scientist and helped Kayla navigate every step of her educational journey.   Her research experience in his lab has been invaluable. She is also grateful for programs such as the STEP into STEM program that have helped shape who she is. Kayla was able to lean on these support systems to help her get through her many insecurities she had as a chemistry major. She remembers many times rethinking her decision of majoring in chemistry but time and time again she overcame those thoughts because of her strong support system at Cal State Long Beach.

She values all the support and mentorship she received on campus and has become inspired to give back and help support those who are first year chemistry students. She has partnered with the STEP into STEM Program Manager, Helen Barriere, to create a scholarship to help financially support an incoming student who will join the program in the summer. Her hope is more minority students will lean on this program so they can feel comfortable and confident to major in chemistry.

Kayla may not have chosen to study in a social science program, but she is aware that her presence in a field such as chemistry can create an impact on students who look like her. She knows they may connect with her story and be inspired to choose chemistry as a career and become intrigued with a field that initially may not seem to connect with them.

Meanwhile, Kayla is currently trying to decide where she will continue her education. She has taken a virtual tour from all the campuses that have accepted her as a doctoral student. She is impressed with all the campuses and admits she will consider all campuses very closely. One thing that will weigh on her decision is how inclusive the campus environment is. She wants to make sure that the campus she chooses supports her academically and her mental wellbeing.  She believes a strong support system on campus will help her achieve her Ph.D. chemistry aspirations and goals.

After she receives her doctorate, she plans to be a postdoctoral fellow for two years and then apply for a tenure track faculty position at a university. She hopes to spend the rest of her professional career continuing to do research, teaching, and inspiring students just as Mr. Glancy, Ms. Chen, and Dr. Nakayama have.