Developing a Growth Mindset: AAA Member Lisa Lee Takes an Interactive Approach to Teaching

By Sheryll Poe | May 11, 2022

While AAA member Lisa Lee attended this year’s Experimental Biology conference as a presenter for the American Physiological Society, she admits she kept seeking out her AAA friends, colleagues and collaborators throughout the conference.

Dr. Lisa Lee

“Anatomists are just the most encouraging, accepting, empathetic and compassionate people,” said Lee, an associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine (CUSOM), Department of Cell and Developmental Biology.

Lee said she really came to appreciate the anatomy friends she made via Twitter, where she was a frequent contributor before taking a bit of a “Twitter pause” at the beginning of the pandemic when harassment towards Asian Americans was on the rise. “There was just a lot of gaslighting that was happening. A lot of hate-filled vitriol,” explained Lee, who was born in Korea.

Add to that the overnight transition to virtual teaching, the stress of teaching four different courses in one semester and being isolated from family and friends, all of which was bound to take a toll. “Luckily, I was surrounded by a community of people who were very supportive during that whole Asian hate period,” Lee noted. “I remember feeling, ‘Oh my god. They care.’ That was so meaningful to me.”

Going from Korea to Nebraska and Teaching

Lee moved to the U.S. with her brother when she was 14 to live with her aunt’s family in Lincoln, Nebraska. “My aunt’s family ran the only Chinese restaurant in Lincoln,” she said with a laugh. The original plan was to stay for six months and learn English. But Lee and her brother adapted so well, they ended up staying. “The new environment was wonderful, despite the stereotype of a small town in the Midwest. The people were wonderful. They were really curious and wanting to know more about us.”

“To see the sparks in students and bond over their passion of a topic that I’m super passionate about was so much fun and gratifying.”

Lisa Lee

At the University of Nebraska, Lee jumped right into anatomy, taking a gross anatomy course designed for undergrad and nursing students. “This course was unique in that it had prosected cadavers to study,” Lee explained. That experience—tying together what she was learning in her textbooks and in lectures with learning from a donor, is when she really fell in love with anatomy. “Learning about the body-organ adaptation and translating it to function was transformational.”

She loved the class so much she ended up getting the eight highest grade in the class and served as the TA for the remainder of her undergrad college career. And set Lee on the path to teaching. “To see the sparks in students and bond over their passion of a topic that I’m super passionate about was so much fun and gratifying. I wanted to pursue more,” she said.

Lee with students and alumni of the Modern Human Anatomy program at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus during this year’s AAA Welcome Reception at EB 2022.

Refining Her Teaching Style

After getting her PhD from the University of Iowa, Lee became a teaching fellow at a small liberal arts college. “Going from a TA where a faculty member tells you what to do and how to being responsible for the whole administration of the course, that was quite a transition and that’s when I realized I needed more pedagogical training,” Lee said.

Dr. Lee and students at the AAA Annual Meeting.

After much trial and error, Lee has landed on an interactive teaching process that works for her and her students. “I don’t like to stand in front of the lecture hall and lecture them for an hour,” she explained. “Rather, I try asking them questions to arrive at problem solving or to apply what they learned from the reading or give them opportunities to recall what they’ve read in the textbook and make the links,” Lee said, while noting that she does set expectations on the importance of doing the pre-work before they come to class. “It’s a lot of fun, and sometimes they just want to sit back and relax and listen, but I don’t let them do that, so that can be scary sometimes.”

Lee had a similar all-in approach to her membership at AAA. “I joined AAA in 2008 or 2009, and as soon as I joined, I was invited to join the Professional Development Committee,” she said. “As a new person, I thought it was so nice to be asked.”

She then served on the Educational Affairs Committee for two years. Lee also applied for and won AAA’s first Innovation Program grant, and along with Michael Hortsch and Haviva M. Goldman developed the Virtual Microscopy Database (VMD). Lee is also is co-administrator of the Digital Histology Interest Group and oversees the University of Colorado Virtual Histology Lab. “It’s amazing to have this one place where I can find colleagues from all over the world, and communicate and find ways to collaborate,” she said.

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