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Jennifer Hellier: All Around the World

If Dr. Jennifer Hellier could give Anatomy in Clay® models a beating heart, she might find a troupe of MANIKEN® models following her everywhere.

Although the models seem to do a pretty good job of that already.

The idea of bringing a MANIKEN® model to life, by the way, isn’t entirely absurd. Dr. Hellier has a degree in Biomedical Engineering and extensive familiarity with the Anatomy in Clay® Learning System.

In a career that has spanned two decades, Dr. Hellier has used the system for instruction in a wide variety of settings—from Colorado to Africa— and at all educational levels from elementary school to undergraduate students.

Dr. Hellier’s approach to anatomy has evolved since being a young girl with dreams of becoming a doctor. In college and then in graduate school, Dr. Hellier took interest in the science and research aspect of anatomy, falling particularly in love with the “big electrical circuit” that is the human brain. Then, in her post-graduation travels to laboratories across the country, the interest in research blossomed into a passion for teaching.

Hellier channeled that passion in her time as Associate Director of the Colorado Area Health Education Center Program Office (COAHEC). In that position, Hellier helped mold practicing medical professionals by developing pipeline programs for students at all grade levels, starting as early as kindergarten.

It was around this time when a Tanzanian friend, who was living in Colorado, suggested taking the system to his home country.

Dr. Hellier asked Anatomy in Clay founders Jon and Renee Zahourek if they would part with a few models: “I reached out and asked if they would be able to donate ten, and the answer I got was no.” Responding, instead, that they would be donating 20 models. Hellier’s reaction went from heartbroken to dumbfounded. “I fell out of my chair,” said Hellier.

So, in 2016, Hellier traveled to Arusha, Tanzania, where she led a workshop on how to use Anatomy in Clay MANIKEN® models. Many of the participants were Anatomy teachers that came to Arusha, a city of 400,000, from the surrounding rural areas. “Their eyes lit up. They had never seen anything like it before,” reflects Hellier.

One year later, Hellier returned to teach the next group of teachers, and follow up with the previous group. She wondered: How did the programming work? What was successful? What were some barriers?

Whether in rural Colorado or rural Africa, resources can be limited. Many of the teachers in Tanzania acknowledged having only one ‘Science’ book to share with the entire class. Anatomical drawings in the book were confusing for the students; depictions of the heart and lungs, for example, looked like one unified organ. In using the MANIKEN® model, the teachers said it was the first time that students could visually grasp that the two organs are distinct—and separate.

Hellier has long seen the benefit of bringing art into the classroom, especially in teaching with Anatomy In Clay® models. “You don’t have to be a perfect artist,” she says. Yet, when students have finished building a model, they have created nothing less than a work of art.

This upcoming fall at the University of Denver, she is teaching a course for first-year students called the Art of Health Care. Behind it is the idea that health care is not merely about providing medicine to patients. “Every person needs something different… and that’s where the art comes in,” says Hellier. In her course, students will learn how to identify disease through patients’ body language, and then depict that understanding in an art project. Let it be known: Hellier has “first dibs” on the university’s collection of MANIKEN® models, and she is excited to incorporate them in the course.

Whether via presentations, readings, laboratory work or hands-on activities, teachers rely on a combination of modalities in plying their trade. Hellier recalls taking her students to the Cadaver Lab at University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus for dissection. Working on MANIKEN® models before the visit, the professor says, “made a difference… [the students] weren’t as scared.” Indeed, there’s nothing to fear with Anatomy in Clay® models. “If you make a mistake, you see what you did wrong. You make another cut, and you fix it.”

For some students in AHEC programming, walking into a medical profession can be intimidating. Getting one’s hands on some clay eases that tension and builds a learning foundation. Some of Hellier’s favorite emails to receive are from past AHEC students, who, months or years later, write the professor to express just how useful the program was in furthering their anatomy education.

Students are grateful for Dr. Hellier, and she, praising their “wonderful gumption,” is grateful for them. After all, she says, “I’m going to be old someday, and I want to have good doctors.”

Listen to the full podcast episode with Dr. Hellier here.








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