Students get hands-on-brain experience


The characteristic worm-like grooves were there. The tiny cerebellum was there. Even the beginnings of a spinal cord could be seen. But this plastic-feeling organ was no replica.

It was a real human brain and it sat in the un-gloved hands of 13-year-old Eleya Raim on Tuesday as she participated in the UI’s Junior Mini Medical School.

“I liked actually seeing human organs. It’s really cool to know it was inside someone,” Eleya said, burying her hand in the white lab coat that designated her as a “future medical student.”

Raim was one of 24 students who visited the UI medical campus this week to partake in the Junior Mini Medical School, a UI initiative launched in September 2008.

The outreach program aims to get students in grades seven through 12 enthused about medicine and science, said Jackie Williams, the director of the Mini Medical schools for UI Carver College of Medicine.

“Students can hold a human brain or hold a human heart and really get excited about the fact that they just held a brain in their hands,” she said.

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With a white-coat ceremony to kick off the activities, the students spent the day touring different areas of the medical school and the UI Hospitals and Clinics.

Highlights of the experience include a video demonstrating four procedures performed at the UI, an anatomy overview where students examine plastinated human organs, and a tour of the UI Heart and Vascular Center.

While it was difficult for these self-proclaimed future historians, doctors, teachers, and football players to decide what was the stand-out moment of the day, Williams believed the highlight was their reactions.

“You could see those ‘Aha’ moments, and that’s what we’re looking for,” Williams said.

And it is these realizations — this exposure to new realms of medicine — that West High advanced-placement biology teacher Doug Herman believes is needed in today’s education.

“I think there are a lot of kids interested in medicine but their perception of medicine is pretty limited,” Herman said.

A teacher in Iowa for 43 years, Herman believes most students think medicine only involves physicians, and they don’t realize the wealth of other professions in the field.

For this reason, he has invited professionals like researchers, doctors, genetic counselors, and laboratory technicians into his classroom to give his students a varied exposure to the science and biology fields.

Even though the program has not been specifically advertised, Williams said many are interested in the information and are seeking it out. She estimated approximately 250 students will have participated in the program by mid-March.

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