Heading back to school with Dr. Christina Clarkson
Profile: Dr. Christina Clarkson
Job Title: Associate Professor
BECOMING A TEACHER
Growing up in Prior Lake, Minnesota, Christina (Tina) Clarkson knew early on that she had a love for the kind of life that included wide open spaces, nature, and animals. With this foundation she developed a passion for veterinary medicine. She attended the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota (CVM) and after receiving a D.V.M. degree, went on to pursue an internship at Texas A&M University that sparked her quest to earn a Ph.D. degree there as well. Clarkson knew she had found her home in academia and thought she would never leave because she had fallen in love with the educational atmosphere that only a post-secondary institution could provide. However, life had other plans which included marriage, starting a family and enjoying all the ups and downs that come with veterinary clinical practice in small town America.
Fast forward fifteen years to a fortuitous visit with her veterinary school anatomy instructor, Dr. Alvin Weber, revealed an opportunity for a return to academia to teach gross anatomy. Tina confessed “Once I started, I loved it!” Al was influential at many stages in her career and she expressed huge appreciation for his continued friendship and influential, unwavering support. Initially, Clarkson envisioned that a return to academia would lead her into a research career, and for several years, she combined her teaching appointment with research collaborations directed toward the isolation and characterization of stem cells derived from canine bone marrow. But it eventually became clear that her true passion was to educate students, and after twenty years, teaching continues to be the most rewarding and enjoyable job she has ever had.
As a VBS faculty member, Tina has served as leader, developer and instructor for many veterinary courses that cover a wide range of subjects. These include gross anatomy, 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. Several years ago, she developed an undergraduate anatomy course, Companion Animal Anatomy (VBS 2100) that is open to all students, and to her delight, each year some of these students are accepted into the veterinary program. She states that the best reward of teaching is the “instant gratification” she receives from students and being there to witness ‘ah ha’ moments when they struggle with and then understand a difficult concept.
Dr. Clarkson explained that the recent re-engineering of the anatomy team to incorporate additional certified veterinary technicians (CVTs) has been monumental. For the past few years, anticipated anatomy faculty retirements loomed over the gross anatomy courses, and CVTs, serving as lab instructors, were a saving grace. These highly trained individuals contributed to the effectiveness of lab intensive courses. Clarkson now has a stellar anatomy team that is well-received by students. Tina feels that reconfiguring lab instruction in this way will be the ‘wave of the future and will provide more stability for our lab-based teaching mission.’
When she is not teaching, Clarkson has an active interest in optimizing the educational and personal experiences of the veterinary students through her involvement in college and university based committee work e.g., the CVM’s A Better Curriculum (ABC) Committee, a group that is “evaluating how effective the current CVM curriculum is in creating a competent Day 1 clinical veterinary practitioner,”; the Curriculum Committee and Educational Policy (CCEP) committee charged with continous evaluation of the educational soundness of course offerings in the curriculum; and the CVM Diversity and Inclusion Committee (DNIC), which strives to achieve equity and inclusion for all within the CVM.
When asked who or what was her biggest inspiration, Tina quickly stated, “anatomy enthusiasts,” meaning anyone who shares her love for the subject of anatomy, including students, fellow instructors, and researchers. As the past president (2017-19) and active member of the American Association of Veterinary Anatomy (AAVA), she is inspired by the research and teaching innovations that are presented at biannual AAVA meetings. Tina says connecting with this group inspires her and provides new ways to imagine anatomy and innovative approaches to the ‘advancement of veterinary anatomical science.’
Dr. Clarkson has many ongoing and envisioned educational projects, however, her current focus as the school year starts up, is ‘de-cluttering her life’ i.e., striving for a clean office, home, and clear mind so she can be ready to tackle her busy schedule and courseload. She feels that ‘housekeeping’ provides a path toward better concentration and focus on the things that are most important to her, including family and teaching.
WHAT YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW
Clarkson’s mother, father and two brothers traveled by boat from Germany to the United States with little money and an inability to speak English, but they were determined that America would be the land of opportunity and provide a better future for their children.
Tina draws and designs room layouts. She particularly enjoys drawing natural subjects such as grape vines in intricate detail, using pencil and ink as her media of choice.
Clarkson met her husband in Texas while pursuing her PhD degree. Their first date was watching a performance by his friend, Lyle Lovett, at a house turned into a hamburger restaurant in College Station. The then unknown Lovett (with trademark crazy hair) also played at their wedding.