It’s rare for undergraduate students to be allowed access to study with cadavers. It’s even more rare to allow them to perform dissections. For the past 25 years, this is exactly what has transpired in the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences at Heidelberg. The nameless cadavers have partnered with Heidelberg faculty as a valuable tool in the teaching and research of future scientists, educators and health care professionals.
On Tuesday, the selflessness of the families and individuals who donated their bodies to science was duly recognized and honored during a Convocation of Thanks ceremony – the first ever held at Heidelberg. Senior biology major Gabrielle Mintz, who has studied with the cadavers, planned the ceremony along with biology professor Dr. Pam Faber, who was instrumental in setting up the program in 1987-88.
“It takes a very special and self-sacrificing individual to willingly choose to donate their body to science,” Mintz said during the ceremony. “Even after a year and a half of working directly with these donors and learning the value of such a resource, I still don’t know if I would be able to be as selfless and donate my own body.”
A meaningful part of the ceremony, Mintz, along with senior bio major Josh Olewiler and senior athletic training major Alyssa Howard, shared their experiences and appreciation at the opportunity to learn from the cadavers.
Without exception, the students recognize the value of learning about the complexities of human anatomy hands-on.
“In my experience, [working with the cadavers] has been enormously beneficial. It has made human anatomy and physiology very real to me,” said Olewiler. Howard and many alumni before her understand the advantage they have when they enter graduate school after having worked with cadavers as undergraduates. “To see anatomy first hand or learn it from a book are completely different styles,” she said.
Heidelberg employs a two-year rotation of the two cadavers – one male and one female – who reside in Bareis Hall of Science. Every other year, one is returned to The Ohio State University, where they are cremated, and a new donor body arrives on campus, explained Faber. “Each typically resides with us for four years,” she said. OSU provides the cause of death and age at death but all other information is kept confidential. “We continue that spirit of respect and privacy here in our labs.”
The cadavers are utilized in instruction for the junior-level Human Anatomy and Physiology class and the senior-level Cadaver Prosection lab. Over the years, Heidelberg has received a total of 13 cadavers, symbolized by 13 candles at the convocation ceremony.
The silent teaching partners are a demonstration of excellence in the minds and hearts of students, faculty and colleagues across the U.S., said President Robert H. Huntington. “[Heidelberg’s cadaver lab] is something very special,” the president said. “It is uncommonly distinctive to have this type of a learning experience for our students.”
Huntington credited Faber for her leadership in starting the lab, as well as Trustee and alumna Dr. Susan Wolf, a physician who has a passion for supporting the lab, and Andrew Felton of Webster Industries, a local company whose financial contributions help secure cadavers for scientific study at Heidelberg.
Mintz organized the ceremony as her senior honors project. In closing the ceremony, she offered her personal thoughts: “It is hard to find the words to adequately express the gratitude and appreciation that many of us feel for having been given this opportunity. Words seem too small for such a selfless gesture.”