Courtney Karner grew up in Altus, Oklahoma, working in the cotton fields and playing football. When it came time for college, Karner was recruited by several universities including Oklahoma State University, Tulsa University, Abilene Christian, University of Pittsburg and “an unfamiliar college called East Central University.”
Karner was certain he would attend OSU like the rest of his family but was convinced by ECU’s defensive football coach Todd Fuggett to at least visit ECU.
“As soon as I stepped on the campus, I felt like this is where I was supposed to be,” Karner said.
Karner played offensive tackle on the ECU football team and majored in Biology. During his football recruiting visit to ECU, Karner met Gerald Williamson, then ECU’s president of student services, who affirmed Karner’s college choice. Williamson predicted, “I don’t know you, but I do know that ECU is going to present you with opportunities that no other place can offer, I don’t know what and when, but trust me, it’s going to happen.”
“He was right – a lot of things good things happened to me,” Karner said. Karner was a College Sports Information Directors of America NCAA Division II Academic All-American in 2003 and earned numerous academic and athletic awards while the Tigers were a member of the Lone Star Conference. He graduated from ECU with a B.S. in biology and minors in math, chemistry and physics.
“Science is more than having a lot of laboratory space or funding. It is a process that is both challenged and nurtured by your professors,” Karner explained. “The ECU professors know their students personally, understood what you are capable of and hold you to a higher account.”
Karner went on to earn his doctorate at UT Southwestern and did postdoctoral training at Washington University in St. Louis. He is an assistant professor at Duke University with a research focus on cellular metabolism in bone development.
Fate once again put Williamson in Karner’s path during a visit to Duke. Williamson proposed that if he could get funding to bring an ECU student to Duke, Karner would sponsor the student’s research.
“Of course, he came through and the student was exceptional,” Karner said. “We have a high level of expectation of our students and the experience was fantastic.”
Scientists sometimes say they stand on the shoulders of giants when it comes to research. Karner also talks about standing on the shoulders of professors who were role models. As a professor he is driven to create the same environment for his students that he had at ECU.