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K-State Today

January 5, 2012

For the love of teaching: Townsend preparing both Wildcats and Jayhawks for health professional careers

Submitted by Communications and Marketing

It's what working professionals dream: when their hard work is so highly regarded that their reputation precedes them. That's the case for Kansas State University's Dana Townsend, instructor in the Division of Biology.

For 15 years Townsend has taught Structure and Function of the Human Body, an in-depth course she developed on human anatomy and physiology. The course has gained the reputation for effectively preparing students for the challenges of medical school. Administrators at the University of Kansas caught wind of Townsend's talents, and recruited her to teach the anatomy lab to first-year medical students at the school's new satellite campus in Salina. The job is in addition to her position at K-State.

"The way Dana Townsend prepares our K-State students for the health professional programs is legendary," said Pat Bosco, vice president of student life and dean of students. "Generations of doctors, nurses and most importantly, patients, have directly benefited from this incredible teacher."

With the consent of her supervisors in the Division of Biology, Townsend will balance a full teaching load for Kansas State University's human body course while also teaching quarter time at KU in Salina starting in the upcoming spring semester.

The fall semester gave Townsend the opportunity to prepare the new lab in Salina and shadow the current anatomy instructor at the KU School of Medicine in Kansas City so that she can match her teaching to create identical programs between the two locations.

"I wanted to give it a try because for the first time I feel like I have anatomist colleagues whom I can learn from," Townsend said. "These are people who have been teaching in a medical school for 12-15 years and I have access to all of their medical resources. KU has said that I can use anything from there for class at K-State, so I have already started incorporating more clinical things into my K-State class."

Townsend views this as an opportunity to not only improve her own knowledge of the human body, but also that of her students at Kansas State, which is part of her effort to constantly improve the course. Her efforts and hard work are evident to many individuals, including faculty, students and health professionals across the state of Kansas.

"Because of her unwavering, tireless work and dedication, the Structure and Function of the Human Body course is known across the state of Kansas as one of the best courses, if not the best course, to take in preparation for academic success in anatomy and physiology at professional programs in the health professions," said Susan Watt, K-State health professions adviser. "I know this from talking with prospective students, their parents, former students who are in professional school and admissions representatives at professional schools across the state."

"I'm so impressed with the way that she generally wants to help us," said Melanie Lee, senior in pre-nursing, about Townsend. "She gave us a speech before a cadaver dissection exam where she told us she shows her love the most when she challenges us because she wants us to be learning."

Townsend's grueling eight-credit-hour course at Kansas State University requires undergraduate students to spend 15 hours in class every week and an additional 25-30 hours a week studying the material to keep up with the difficult agenda. Some students even opt for additional workload by serving on the course's Cadaver Dissection Team. Despite the added work, students are grateful for the challenge of serving on the team because of the knowledge they gain, Townsend said.

"Dana's course is extremely demanding, requiring students to manage their time well, prioritize studying, learn and retain an enormous amount of information, and to think critically when applying the information on examinations," Watt said.

"I feel it is part of my responsibility to not send students out to be your nurse or doctor if they are not ready," Townsend said. "I want this course be the cutoff line that says to a professional school, 'This is a person you can count on to be able to handle the workload you are going to give them, or this person is not ready.'"

In addition to common review sessions, Townsend has created peer tutoring groups, which are practicum-led groups in which nearly every student in the class participates. She personally seeks out students who are excelling in the class to tutor struggling students, and she is also a firm believer in teaching her students how to study difficult and time demanding material effectively.

"I've seen through the years that what separates the good from the excellent student is often not intellect -- it's habits and academic skills," Townsend said.

Even though the class is not required for all pre-health students, some take the course because they have heard that it will teach them more than anatomy; it will push them to succeed, Townsend said. The class consists of 160 students, yet the average course grade for the past three years is between 80-82 percent.

"I always envision that the two things that I am best at are that I push my students hard but I am always underneath to lift them up," Townsend said. "I am a challenger but I also support really strongly."

Townsend has been recognized for her teaching by her colleagues in the Division of Biology, the College of Arts and Sciences, the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, Mortar Board Senior Honor Society and Blue Key Student Honor Society. Her many awards include the William L. Stamey Award for Excellence in Teaching from the College of Arts and Sciences in 2001 and the Women in Engineering and Science Making a Difference Award in 2005 and 2008.

"Dana has a sincere concern for her students' success in the classroom, in their pursuit of a career in the health professions and in their lives in general, an uncompromising rigor and fairness in teaching and evaluation, and a work ethic second to none," Watt said.