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BYU professor has passion for teaching, life

Human anatomy allowed Tomco to fully adore and appreciate herself and God

Dead bodies are usually carefully avoided by most people. Then again, BYU professor Rachel Tomco, tall and brunette, is not like most people.

A strong fondness for travel and freedom does not sound like typical qualities sought in an human anatomy faculty member.

However, that is part of what makes Tomco “an exceptional teacher,” according to William Winder, department chair of physiology and developmental biology.

Besides teaching human anatomy to seven lecture sections, she is responsible for training 75 teacher assistants each semester and is lab coordinator for almost 100 anatomy lab sections.

Her efforts have been recognized.

Last August, Tomco received a College of Life Sciences part-time faculty award.

David Busath, a fellow physiology and developmental biology faculty member, remarked amusingly on her penchant to place her hand up a fresh cadaver’s thorax to manipulate the lungs and the heart.“She has a certain way of grossing students out,” Busath said.

“She keeps the lessons in the students’ memory and gets them excited.” However, she was not always so zealous.

When Rachel Tomco, the second of nine siblings, first arrived at Brigham Young University from Woodinville, Wash., she was an elementary education major.

Tomco switched to exercise physiology during her sophomore year.

Students and fans of this popular professor would not have guessed her choice to take human anatomy was on a whim.

The unit of working with cadavers arrived around the time of her uncle’s death.

Her fear of death prevented her from continuing and Tomco withdrew from the class.

But the “W” on her transcript bothered her. She wanted to get rid of it, just like she wanted to remove the emotional turmoil that held her back. So Tomco registered for the class once again.

“It was a real emotional and psychological struggle,” she says. “I had to spend a lot of time confronting very real fears. Eventually, I fell in love with these cadavers,” she said.

Human anatomy allowed Tomco to fully adore and appreciate herself and God.“I had a glimpse into the grand plan,” Tomco said. “What our bodies mean, our spirits, how they interact.”

She loved it to the point of turning her fear into a career.

During her undergraduate career, Tomco was not only an anatomy TA and the anatomy lab coordinator, she was also a part-time teacher at Provo College, American Institute for Medical Technology and Utah College of Massage Therapy.

“I’m good at organizing my time,” Tomco said.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 2001, Tomco moved back to Washington and started attending University of Washington as a graduate student. Meanwhile, she also taught full-time at the Lake Washington Technical College.

Nevertheless, success has not gone to her head. James Barrett, one of the TAs, said she is an approachable teacher.

“Rachel Tomco perfectly balances the professional and the casual in a way that maximizes productivity of all the TAs,” Barrett said. “She’s very knowledgeable and a pleasure to work under.”

According to cousin and former student Pete Hoyt, Tomco enjoys sleeping outside -— sometimes in the snow. Kayaking, wandering and building ice caves are other activities she relishes.

And when school is not in session, Tomco loves to capitalize on her freedom and travel. She has been to Asia, Europe and across the United States. In contrast to most travelers, she hitchhikes.

Tomco's students working with TAs in the lab

“I really love humanity, interacting with people and connecting with strangers,” Tomco said.

In terms of the dangers of hitchhiking, she is very aware of them. Tomco said she has declined numerous potential rides for no apparent reason besides her feelings.

Her hobbies may seem eccentric, but they are all based on faith in God.

It is in her correspondence with people, dead and alive, and nature where Tomco said she feels God’s presence and appreciates his power.

“Studying and talking about the human body are the only passions that rival my love of being outside,” Tomco said.

Later on, she hopes to share her passions with a family of her own.

Dreaming of living in a small house surrounded by trees with a workable yard, Tomco also hopes to continue teaching university classes and meeting interesting people.“

I’d like someday to finish, get a Ph.D,” she said. “It’s one of those things that is enticing to me.”


Original article from the Daily Universe.