Anatomy of a beloved teacher

June 1, 2022
Clarkson, Christina anatomy lab

After 23 years working as a teacher, researcher, and advocate for the veterinary curriculum and instruction in the Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences and College of Veterinary Medicine, VBS Associate Professor Christina Clarkson retired on June 1. Clarkson is best known for teaching Gross Anatomy, but she also had research collaborations directed towards the isolation and characterization of stem cells derived from canine bone marrow.

In addition to gross anatomy, Clarkson has taught microscopic anatomy, avian anatomy, applied communication, inter-professional education and a Year One orientation course focused on creating community and mentorship for new veterinary students, and a few years ago, she developed an undergraduate anatomy course, Companion Animal Anatomy (VBS 2100) that is open to both undergraduate and graduate students. To her delight, every year some of those students were accepted into the veterinary program.

When asked about her best memories during her time working at the University of Minnesota Clarkson stated, "Students are the reason I have been at the UMN for twenty-three years, they have made my job fun! There have been many entertaining surprises along the way e.g., one student could actually squirt saliva out of the ducts under his tongue. Why? I don’t know - but it was certainly entertaining for the group of dissectors at his table! There have also been some very weighty, life-changing opportunities that I have had with student trips abroad, made possible by our dear, late Larissa Minicucci. On a South African safari, I was amazed by the antelopes, zebras, rhinos, elephants, giraffes… and frightened on a particular night safari where I was positioned on the coveted Jeep’s hood seat. I was out front and well-armed with a flashlight! We drove rapidly over terrain and then into a dried riverbed – tall weeds to either side, turned off the engine and waited very quietly. Did I mention I was in the very front, easy prey for any approaching wild animal - but was well armed with my flashlight? We waited for what seemed like a long time, then I caught whif of a musky smell. I still couldn’t see or hear any movements – but the smell was getting more intense. When I thought it was close enough, I turned the light on – just a few feet away was a scary-looking hyena! He froze for a moment under the glare of the flashlight and then ran away – luckily! And, during a Thailand student trip, we visited an elephant sanctuary. One particularly sad sight was an elephant with the end of its forelimb missing – blown off by a landmine in northern Thailand. It was painful to watch as devoted workers medicated and rewrapped the limb, euthanasia would never be an option. I was also privileged to work on a two-headed fawn with the DNR. Fox news picked up the story of this rare occurence: Two-headed-fawn-found-in-minnesota-forest. Take a look at the images in this publication - two-headed fawn - pretty amazing! I will forever have fond memories for the anatomy faculty and staff - especially the faculty who taught me anatomy in vet school – Drs. Weber, Fletcher and Cox. In particular, the late Dr. Weber was influential throughout my veterinary career. He was a wonderful, kind professor – loved by the students he taught. I have no doubt that amazing memories will be created between our remarkable new anatomy teachers coming on board, staff and students yet to enter our program." 

Clarkson shared that there are no immediate plans for life after retirement however she 'hopes to catch up on domestic duties and pursue interests, some of which are professional.' Clarkson parting words and advice for future students, researchers, and veterinarians is to "Be present. Life is short."

Dr. Clarkson’s work has allowed her to connect with many people, and she has said her teaching is what was the most rewarding. We reached out to her past students, teaching peers, and mentors to share their favorite memories and here is what they had to say:

  • “Dr. Clarkson, I still have fond memories of you and the classes you taught almost ten years later. You made a subject I struggled with interesting and exciting! Thank you for all the hard work you did to help make vet school a bit more wonderful.”-Dr. Camille McAloney, class of 2017
  • “Dr. CLARKSON! It was an honor to learn from you in my undergraduate and veterinary school years. Thank you for always making anatomy interesting and fun! There was never a dull moment in your classes. You will be missed dearly but I’m so glad I was fortunate enough to learn from you” –Rachel Ganske
  • “Dr. Clarkson, Thank you for your years of dedication! You had such an impact on my academic career through GOALE and A&P and more. You truly wanted to help us succeed and cared so much and I will never forget it.” –Alicia Butler
  • Dr. Clarkson, I will always remember your anatomy lectures and labs. I appreciate your fun sense of humor. One time you used the camera projector and rolled your "old lady" veins around on your hand so we could see the pliability and elasticity of vessels. It was a pretty quirky thing to do, but it's still exactly what I picture when I am doing venipuncture and see that vessel rolling away from my needle under the fur. Vet School wouldn't have been the same without you!” -Deela Dicello c/o 2021
  • “You made Anatomy a fun and interesting class. I remember you as a patient teacher with a gentle voice :) I always felt comfortable asking you for help. I wish you the best! Thank you for being such a caring teacher.” -Helen Sobczynski, class of 2017
  • “Anatomy was a much better class with such a caring and engaged professor! Thank you for helping create so many veterinarians and best wishes for all your future endeavors!” -Beth Clasen, class of 2014
  • “Dr. Clarkson, It will be in incredibly sad to see you go! I still remember seeing you in Target after anatomy one day. What a time. I hope you enjoy retirement and find yourself some fun hobbies and relax!” -Sabina Ponicki, Class of 2023
  • “Thank you for everything Dr. Clarkson and helping me so many times in anatomy! You were one of my favorite professors.” –Geri Mortenson
  • I will always remember you fondly for how at ease you helped me feel during pre-orientation as my group leader and all throughout my first year of vet school. It really shows how much you care for your students. I really appreciated all your extra kind help with a subject I found difficult. Wishing you the happiest of retirement you will be sorely missed!” –Andrea Birkeland
  • “Dr. Clarkson, Thank you for all you've done for us students, and the vet program as a whole. Cheers to a wonderful new chapter!” -Emma Lohse (C/O 2023)
  • I will always remember how kind and patient you were when you taught me in the lab. I wish you all the best!” -Melissa Pascucci , Class of 2021
  • You are one of the nicest professors I have ever met! You made anatomy very fun and I learned a lot from you. I’m very thankful to have had you as my teacher and GOALE coach!” -Dawn Daugherty, DVM C/O 2021
  • Dr. Clarkson, Thank you so much for the enthusiastic way you shared your immense knowledge - it made me excited to learn the nitty-gritty details and you were always there to answer every single one of my overly-detailed questions!! Thank you, you have done so much to help students learn and improve our education!” -Kiva Rudd (2023)
  • Dr. Clarkson, Thank you so much for all your wonderful teaching, advising, and encouragement. Your patience and kindness has always made you stand out to us students.” -Eliza Theis
  • “Tina, Thanks for all you do and have done! No other way to say "you are awesome" and I appreciate always all of your help and cheerful attitude and smile.”-John Collister
  • “Tina, Thank you for sharing your love of anatomy (and teaching) with me over the past 17 years. It has been an honor to work alongside such a dedicated educator throughout my career here at the University of Minnesota. Anatomists are becoming a rare breed these days, so I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to learn so much from you over the years - thank you! I wish you all the very best as you begin the next chapter of your adventure. I hope retirement brings you time to relax and rejuvenate by doing things that bring you joy. Warmest wishes! -Abby Brown
  • "Tina is an awesome mentor! Working with her for the past two years has been an absolute pleasure. Her kindness and dedication to staff, junior faculty and students will be sorely missed. Thank you for sharing your gifts and talents with us Tina! Congratulations!" -Sarah Brown
  • "Congratulations on your retirement! I'm so glad I had the opportunity to work with you over the past year - thank you for your mentorship! Best wishes for your next chapter." -Emily Truckenbrod
  •  “It has been such an honor and a pleasure to work alongside you as well as learn from you. I hope you enjoy your much deserved retirement!”-Hannah (Gytri) Morrone
  • “Countless hours of anatomy discussions, CCEP meetings and general education. So glad I was able to spend them with you. I wish you all the best and many fun and relaxing hours ahead. Miss us but just a little!” -Erin Malone
  • “Thank you for all the mentoring and support! You'll be missed in the anatomy courses :) Best wishes for your retirement!” -Roxanne Larsen
  • "Congrats on your retirement, Tina! Thank you for all the memories and mentorship over the years! My favorite memory is during my interview. You were the last person I was scheduled to meet with and you sat down and said to me, "You look like you could use a Coke. Can I grab one for you?" It was such a relief to end with a kind person that day that recognized I was human too. You are one of the main reasons I decided that this was the place for me." -Erin Burton
  • “I had the good fortune to be Tina’s gross anatomy colleague for many years. On a number of occasions we would walk together for a distance though the College or across campus. Although my legs were considerably longer than hers, I could barely keep up the pace she’d set. No matter our destination she always moved with an energy that implied … have to get there and do that! In fact, assuming responsibility & getting it done has typified Tina’s career. Even as a junior faculty person Tina took responsibility for anatomy dissection lab instruction, including personnel supervision and specimen procurement & preparation. Later, when VBS encouraged course offerings for non-veterinary students, Tina augmented her existing responsibilities by developing and teaching a successful comparative anatomy dissection course. Finally Tina assumed sole responsibility for the entire gross anatomy teaching program, undertaken with a flair for technology and teaching innovation. Add integrity and congeniality to such competence and drive! Then you can imagine how fortunate we were to be Tina’s anatomy colleagues. Best wishes Tina, for the retirement you so richly deserve!” -Tom Fletcher

The VBS Department would like to thank Tina for her dedication and service to teaching and her research. We wish her the best of luck as she enters this new chapter of her life, and we look forward to her insights as she transitions to VBS Ad Honorem Professor.

For more about Dr. Clarkson and her career, please check out the write up, “Heading back to school with Dr. Christina Clarkson