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True to UMR
form, her professor,
Robert Dunbar,
a survey of the
students before
and after the labs.
What he discovered
was encouraging,
he said: After the
lab, more students
said they would be
willing to donate
their bodies to
science. “They
really saw the value in the experience,” Dunbar said.
Like his UMR colleagues, Dunbar, an associate
professor who earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience, was
hired because he has a passion for teaching as well as
research. So he often checks in with his students to get
their reactions. Based on student feedback, he adjusts
exam dates, assignment due dates—even assignments
themselves. Now Dunbar, who has an interest in
learning and memory, is studying the dynamics of group
learning, by having his students take exams twice: once as
individuals, and once in small groups. He has discovered
that the group scores are consistently 15 to 20 percent
higher, and he is trying to figure out why.
As for the interdisciplinary nature of UMR’s program,
Classrooms, known
in UMR parlance as
“learning labs,” are
designed so students
face each other to
optimize interaction
and small-group work.
in large part because of its ties to the medical clinic—a
connection that she said has paid off. On three different
days during March, for instance, she and her classmates
from anatomy and physiology descended the escalator
and walked through a passageway to Mayo Clinic lab
where, supervised by their UMR professor as well as two
professors from Mayo’s department of anatomy, they were
able to dissect and examine human cadavers.
“It was a huge learning experience. And not just in an
anatomical sense—in a tactile way,” Salk said afterward.
She was struck by how spongy the heart is, and by the size
of the aortic valve and esophagus. And she was excited to
feel how tight tendons really are, and to learn where the
nerves innervate the muscles.
It was an unusual opportunity for underclassmen,
and Salk was thrilled. She had originally wanted to be
a dentist, but now, after being exposed to other options
at UMR, she plans to become a doctor. “Studying from
a book gets old,” she said. “Going to a lab like this just
reignites the passion.” She said that she felt completely
prepared on both an emotional and intellectual level,
thanks to numerous discussions she’d had in different
“Pretty much since the get-go, we’ve been talking
about using cadavers,” Salk said. During the first semester
of her freshman year, her humanities class discussed
different cultural attitudes toward death. In her second
semester, her ethics class addressed
questions associated with the use of
cadavers, while her biology class had
the option of attending a lab where
Mayo Clinic faculty, staff and medical
students pointed out anatomical
features in cadavers that had already
been dissected. (Salk was fascinated,
but the experience prompted some of
her classmates to realize they needed
to rethink their career goals—an
equally useful result.) Prior to that
lab, the students had a presentation by
Mayo Clinic faculty and staff on what to expect in the lab.
When Salk returned to school as a sophomore this
past fall, a UMR literature professor with expertise
in historical medical texts visited her anatomy and
physiology class, where she tried to get them to think
about the human body as a learning tool without
completely objectifying it. As part of that discussion,
students partnered up and identified superficial
anatomical structures such as muscles and tendons on
each other’s bodies—in the process, learning how to be
personally and culturally sensitive. And just prior to the
three cadaver labs this spring semester, the director of
anatomical services at Mayo came to Salk’s class and gave
a presentation explaining how the cadavers are procured
(most die from natural causes, and all have chosen to
donate their bodies) and about appropriate behavior in
the lab.
“I had all the tools that I needed,” Salk said. “So I knew
what to expect.”
Student “success
coaches” function
as academic and
career-path advisers
throughout the
students’ time at UMR.
“Students want to impact the success of the program as much as
the faculty do,” says sophomore Evan Doyle, who is president of
UMR’s newly created student government.