Northern State University’s Biology program has risen as one of the most popular majors on campus, and the science faculty are constantly trying to open new doors for students to gain cutting edge educational experience. This spring, Dr. Alyssa Kiesow, Associate Professor of Biology, is offering her pre-health students an incredible opportunity — a chance to encounter real human anatomy in class.
BIOL 411: Advanced Gross Anatomy has been in the works since Dr. Kiesow came to NSU ten years ago. When she was initially hired, the dean at the time asked her, “What do you need to be successful in the classroom?” Since Dr. Kiesow was hired to teach anatomy (along with several other biology classes), she indicated that cadavers were the key to her success as an instructor. Having previously taught anatomy at SDSU and Capital University Center in Pierre, she was used to using cadavers to teach in the lab.
At NSU, however, the anatomy lab class was comprised of cat dissections — an animal with similar basic anatomy to humans but harder to learn human anatomy with. Dr. Kiesow had not previously taught with cats, and she worried it would inhibit her students’ learning experience.
The cadaver lab was not an option at NSU at the time she was hired, but fortunately, Dr. Kiesow believed her vision would ultimately become a reality, and she requested new ventilation that would allow for cadavers in the MJ 203 lab, since the labs were already being renovated.
After the renovations occurred, she discovered that the ventilation had not been correctly installed, which pushed back the option of offering the class another couple of years.
A grant provided the funds for Dr. Kiesow to get the ventilation fixed, and in summer 2015, this process was finally complete. Once this occurred, she obtained permission from then Dean Mendez, then Provost Hawley, and then President Smith to begin working with the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine to obtain human donors.
USD instructed her on how to meet all of the lab protocol, which included sealing up lab doors and the ceiling, adding lockers for students, etc., and upon a site visit by USD in the summer of 2016, MJ 203 received approval to house donors for dissection.
Ten students are a part of BIOL 411 this semester, and they get to dissect both a male and female donor for four hours per week.
All of these students were chosen by Dr. Kiesow to participate in this class because of their outstanding performance in the classroom and their potential in the medical field. Some students are pre-physical therapy and others are pre-medicine, but they all share a common desire to learn anatomy more extensively than they did in BIOL 221, the required human anatomy course that pre-health students take, which is also a prerequisite for this particular course.
This experience allows students to see how human anatomy varies a bit, and the ailments that the donors suffered from during their lives allow students to discover the abnormalities themselves and hypothesize what might have been wrong.
The donors’ pathologies also have provided an excellent tool for discussion, as students are required to read scientific papers each week on a particular ailment suffered by one of the donors. Then, students participate in a discussion once a week with Dr. Kiesow on what they discovered.
Dr. Kiesow encourages people to look into donating their bodies to USD’s Body Donation Program to help programs such as the one here at NSU. She is a donor, and she has seen firsthand how impactful this learning experience can be for students.
Students in BIOL 411 are incredibly thankful that Dr. Kiesow did not give up on her dream to have a cadaver lab at Northern State University.
This course is offered each spring. Since space is limited, and since all students in BIOL 411 are selected by Dr. Kiesow, those interested in this course should contact Dr. Kiesow for eligibility requirements.
Annika van Oosbree