Several students from Melaney Birdsong Farr’s recent human anatomy class at Salt Lake Community College spoke this month in Florida at the 28th annual Human Anatomy and Physiology Society (HAPS) conference as recipients of coveted HAPS student grants.
“Receiving the grant from HAPS was surreal,” said SLCC biology student Caris Cassady, who already has a bachelor degree in anthropology and sociocultural linguistics from the University of California at Santa Barbara. “It is an honor to be recognized nationally for the work we have been doing.”
In all six SLCC students won grants after competing nationally with graduate students and participants from two- and four-year schools.
Birdsong Farr has been involved with HAPS for about 15 years and has been trying to get SLCC students to be more creative and collaborative when it comes to science education.
“These students are not simply passive learners,” she said about the SLCC grant winners. “They designed their projects, and most of my direction was simply in trying to clear obstacles and direct their focus.”
One of those students was Jennifer Gebhardt, a ski patroller who also works at a non-profit physical therapy clinic that specializes in treating people with spinal cord injuries. She was able to use SLCC for pre-requisite classes before recently starting the Doctorate of Physical Therapy program at the University of Utah.
Gebhardt and three other SLCC students, including Cassaday, shared an interest in the central nervous system, and as part of their end-of-year project they decided to dissect the spinal cord and spinal nerves from one of the cadavers available to the College’s anatomy classes.
“In our experience we have noticed that many times patients don’t have a clear idea of what their bodies look like inside and how this relates to the complexity of their injury,” Gebhardt said. “We wanted to combine our dissection with a paper that would explain the anatomy and physiology of the spinal cord and nerves in simple terms for the average reader who might not have any background in the subject.”
That paper earned Gebhardt and her group a grant and an invitation to the May HAPS conference. Another group of SLCC students earned a grant through their creation of a rare but useful photographic cadaver prosection (dissected body parts) database for anatomy students, who will use the database as a visual compliment to their laboratory experience.
Gebhardt and her group partner and coworker in physical therapy, Kari Walker, credit Birdsong Farr and Dr. Steven Farnsworth with helping the project succeed.
“Melaney and Steven were the best leaders for us to take on this project and run with it,” Walker said. “They were always so supportive for this project and for our future professional endeavors. They are the embodiment of true educators.”