USC News

Menu Search

The fine art of human anatomy

Joel Schecter points out structures of a human elbow to students (from left to right) Jennifer Kim, Carol Mendoza, Lisa Lee and Ronald Kurniawan. Schecter: “I believe the best way to help minority kids in their education and career development is to help them while they’re young.”


Hesitant at first, she followed her mentor’s instructions – slicing into the knee to isolate a strip of muscle and then identifying it. Gaining confidence, she repeated the process with other muscles, tendons and nerves, and finally surveyed her work with a smile.

“When I first came in and saw the body parts, I was thinking, ‘How can I dissect a human?’ And the smell [of the embalming chemicals] started getting to me a little. But after we started cutting, it was just like a normal class. It was fun,” she said.

Jennifer is one of six students from Bravo Biomedical Magnet High School participating in a one-of-a-kind pilot program that mixes instruction in medical sciences with art classes.

The goal of the three-month program is to offer high school students who are interested in health or medical careers an opportunity to get hands-on experience in human anatomy and to reinforce that experience with art classes focusing on medical illustration.

Program creator Joel E. Schechter, professor of cell and neurobiology, said he has been thrilled at the students’ initial response. “You can feel their energy and excitement. Their enthusiasm has just jazzed me,” he said.

The program, which began in February, is split into two parts – one taught by Schechter at the Health Sciences Campus’ Gross Anatomy Lab, and the other taught at the high school by Marjorie Rydberg, a Bravo art teacher.

At first, student Jennifer Kim was worried about the art portion of the program because she had no training in illustration.

“I didn’t think I had any talent for art,” she said. “But Ms. Rydberg encouraged us, saying that everyone has artistic ability. I got confidence from hearing those words,” Jennifer said.

Another student, Carol Mendoza, said she was impressed with how the two seemingly unrelated fields of art and science can complement each other. For example, in studying human anatomy through dissection, “you remember more of what you are looking at because you have to draw it later. You have to look at it in more detail and pay more attention to color and shading,” she said.u0000

Schechter’s background is unusual. With a master’s degree in medical illustration from Johns Hopkins University and a Ph.D. in anatomy from UCLA, he describes himself as “a research scientist who teaches medical students, but who also has roots as an artist.”

Schechter started the program as a way to offer unique educational opportunities to youngsters, especially minority students.

“I like teaching and giving something back to society. I believe the best way to help minority kids in their education and career development is to help them while they’re young,” he said.

To that end, the program also provides four of the students with $500 scholarships

toward college expenses. The other two students are alternates, who receive no money but who wanted to join the program just for the experience. Other students who wanted to join this project could not do so because of limited funds.

The Studio City-based Plum Foundation made the program possible by providing a $10,000 grant, which pays for art supplies, the students’ scholarships and stipends for Schechter and Rydberg.

Schechter said he hopes to expand the program’s scope and offer it once a year if funding can be secured.

The innovative program’s value is vividly tangible.

For 16-year-old Ronald Kurniawan, being able to work in a university lab is an education in itself: “I’m a lot more interested in the medical field. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”u0000u0000

The fine art of human anatomy

Top stories on USC News