The Anatomy of the STEM Pipeline: Dissecting Misconceptions at the 2016 #STEMforum

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Anatomy: The subject tend to make teachers freeze up, or make the obligatory “gross” puns. But it’s a great topic for STEM, and a career field more students need to know about.

The NSTA staff had a chance to sit down at the 2016 STEM Forum and Expo with Shawn Boynes (SB), Executive Director of the American Association of Anatomists (AAA), and Lisa Lee (LL), Associate Professor  at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, to learn a little more.

Q. What does an anatomy career look like?

A. Anatomy is the core competency for any career in health care. But it’s not just gross anatomy—there are so many branches like histology, neurology, embryology. Career pathways could take students into pathology labs, the field as an anthropologist, a classroom as a biology teacher, the coroner’s office. —LL

Q. What could a K-12 teacher do to encourage more students to go into anatomy?

A. We have members in almost every medical and dental school in the United States, and they work on outreach. Teachers could contact us to find an anatomist who could set up a demonstration or program for them. Going through AAA makes it much easier to develop this type of relationship; you don’t want to just call a med school and ask the receptionist to send a skeleton to your school! —SB

Q. That sounds great for older students, but what about teachers of really young children? Many teachers of that age group don’t have a science background.

A. It doesn’t have to be intimidating. That’s one of our goals is to dispel that notion. A preschool teacher could start with simply getting students familiar with their own bodies. Ask questions like: What are these hard things in here? What’s the squishy part in the middle? What’s this leathery stuff on the outside? And read books about the body with them! —LL

Q. Dissection. It’s a difficult subject for some.

A. There are some stand-ins for biological specimens, but you certainly can’t be a doctor without having dissected an actual human body. But there are some good companies out there, making virtual dissection software, specimens in clay, and so forth. For K-12 students, these alternatives allow students to become familiar with anatomy. —SB

A. At med schools, there is a tremendous respect for cadavers. When we have finished learning from each one, we hold a memorial service and all students and teachers who have been honored to work with it take part, and the family members are invited. The families always come, and it’s very moving. —LL

Q. What do you hope to get out of the STEM Forum and Expo?

A. We are here to learn. We’re in an exploratory phase, for AAA, looking for ways we can reach out to K-12 STEM educators. To learn how we can get student into the anatomy career pipeline earlier, make anatomy more accessible as a subject they can teach. —SB

Q. What else should STEM teachers know about your association?

A. We want to encourage more students to get into the anatomy profession, and we have great programs for preservice anatomy students. Find them all here: Student, Postdoc and Young Faculty Competition Award Winners. We have a strong commitment to bringing younger members into the profession, and in fact we have two Board of Director positions specifically for student members so that they can bring new ideas and help us address their particular challenges. Learn more about us at http://www.anatomy.org/. —SB

Q. Any skeletons in your closets?

A. Yes! I’m a collector, and they come in really handy at Halloween. —LL


The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.

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