Barry McNamara  |  Published December 12, 2023

A Unique Learning Tool

‘It’s going to give me an advantage,’ said student Nicole Hoyer of access to the College’s cadaver.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – It turns out that even cadavers have a lifespan.

That’s just one of the lessons that Monmouth College students are gaining from the rare learning tool on campus.

A UNIQUE LEARNING TOOL: Monmouth biology professor Kevin Baldwin examines the College's new cadaver, which was just rec... A UNIQUE LEARNING TOOL: Monmouth biology professor Kevin Baldwin examines the College's new cadaver, which was just received last month from the Anatomical Gift Association of Illinois.Since Monmouth’s Center for Science and Business opened in 2013, students have had access to a cadaver – a human corpse – which is housed in the anatomy and physiology lab. Although the pandemic slowed the most recent cycle by a few months, biology professor Kevin Baldwin said the College acquires a new cadaver every two years from the Anatomical Gift Association of Illinois, which is made up of eight medical schools in the state.

“Apparently, the pandemic took a number of people who would ordinarily be passing now,” said Baldwin, who said each outgoing cadaver is cremated at Monmouth’s McGuire & Davies Funeral Home and returned to the AGA. “Low supply and strong demand have created what can only be described as a textbook case of ‘stiff competition.’”


‘It’s going to give me an advantage’

The demand for cadavers may be high, but not necessarily at residential liberal arts colleges. Monmouth is in the minority when it comes to offering that type of learning tool for its students.

“For schools that don’t have a nursing program, it’s kind of unusual,” said Baldwin.

“It’s going to give me an advantage over other med school applicants, and it’s also going to help me going into med school because I will have a better understanding of what I have to do.” – Nicole Hoyer


“It helps a lot that I get this experience as an undergrad, especially with a lot of other schools not having a cadaver,” said Nicole Hoyer ’24, a neuroscience major from Montgomery, Illinois, who’s worked with the College’s cadaver once a week for the past year-and-a-half. “It’s going to give me an advantage over other med school applicants, and it’s also going to help me going into med school because I will have a better understanding of what I have to do.”

Sean Schumm, who chairs Monmouth’s kinesiology department, also utilizes the cadaver in his program.

“I use the cadaver for curious students who want a deeper understanding of anatomy, no matter what class they’re in,” he said. “Some of the advantages for our students include a deeper understanding of the three-dimensional aspect of the human body and dissection experience prior to graduate or professional school.”

“Some of the advantages for our students include a deeper understanding of the three-dimensional aspect of the human body and dissection experience prior to graduate or professional school.” – Sean Schumm


Another benefit of a student getting hands-on experience with a cadaver as an undergrad, said Baldwin, is simply learning if they’re “cut out” for that type of work.

“It’s better to find out now if you can handle it than if you’re already enrolled in med school,” he said.

Teachable moments with the cadaver are not limited to students in science courses.

“Death is part of the human experience,” said Baldwin. “In the past, I’ve given my ‘Introduction to Liberal Arts’ students an option to view the cadaver. We’ve had art students draw anatomical figures and ‘Death and Dying’ students visit the cadaver lab to discuss end-of-life care. I’ve seen students who lived on the Dionysian end of the spectrum sober up after seeing the effects of alcoholism on the liver, and others who ate poorly make changes to their diets after seeing actual atherosclerosis.”

It was working with a cadaver in graduate school that brought death into focus for Baldwin.

“I had never been to a funeral before, and I’d never seen death,” he said, “but I was told I’d be teaching an anatomy class and working with a cadaver. It was a big deal. I thought, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ It was a chance for me to confront that reality.”

There’s even a lesson about history that can be learned through cadavers, said Baldwin.

“Death is part of the human experience. In the past, I’ve given my ‘Introduction to Liberal Arts’ students an option to view the cadaver. We’ve had art students draw anatomical figures and ‘Death and Dying’ students visit the cadaver lab to discuss end-of-life care.” – Kevin Baldwin


“In the Western world, they started working with cadavers in the 16th century, and they risked excommunication for doing that,” he said. “But the study of cadavers was the prelude to modern medicine and science. It was an opportunity to see for yourself about the human body and not rely on what the Bible told you or a bishop. It helped get us out of the Middle Ages.”

By the 18th century, cadaver dissection had become an essential component of medical education.


What life was like

Each cadaver provides clues to what its life was like, even if, in some cases, Baldwin and his students have to make an educated guess.

“They’re like the line from Forrest Gump – ‘Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get,’” he said. “And they can tell a story. Even if it’s not a true story, the students can put things together.”

One cadaver, said Baldwin, had “a military-style tattoo, and what appeared to be an old gunshot wound. There was lots of scar tissue, which was consistent with being shot in the field and repaired in the field. Now, we don’t know for certain, but we surmised he was probably a veteran who had been wounded in combat.”

“The study of cadavers was the prelude to modern medicine and science. … It helped get us out of the Middle Ages.” – Kevin Baldwin


Another cadaver arrived with its cause of death listed as pneumonia. But through the work done in Monmouth’s lab, what resembled a tumor – but was soon discerned to be a pool of coagulated blood – was discovered, leading Baldwin to guess that “an artery had ruptured and the person had slowly bled out.”

Other cadavers have presented a double hernia and “a heart enlarged to three times its normal size.”

The Forrest Gump line also applies to where the cadaver is in its two-year cycle on campus.

“As things get uncovered, the students get to see different stuff,” said Baldwin.

The latest cadaver, which the College received in early November, was embalmed using a new technique.

“It’s less toxic – there are fewer fumes – and the tissue is in a more lifelike state, with better texture and color,” said Baldwin.

With the increased demand for cadavers, the price has risen about 50% from two years ago. Fortunately, the College’s Office of Development and College Relations staff connected with retired cardiologist Bob Litchfield ’71, who was willing to help with the extra cost.

“I never cease to be amazed at the loyalty and generosity of our alumni,” said Baldwin.

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