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Former medical school dean offers helping hand to BHSU science students

It was the quality of the science program and a chance to get involved once again in a vocation that he loved, that brought George Rinker back to the classroom after 16 years of retirement.

Rinker, 78, a former associate dean of the University of South Dakota medical school in Vermillion, is volunteering his expertise and experience as a lab assistant. He attends class lectures taught by BHSU professors and then helps students with their laboratory work. He is in the lab twice a week and is also available evenings before finals week.

“I needed something to do and I missed teaching,” he said. “I realized I could fill somewhat of a void; they don't have enough assistant staff here. I let it be known that I was available.”

Last fall he began assisting Dr. Brian Smith, assistant professor of biology, with his mammals class and this spring he has been working with Dr. Charles Lamb, associate professor of biology, with his vertebrate anatomy class.

“Dr. Rinker is a tremendous asset to Black Hills State,” said Lamb. “I am always learning about anatomy and about teaching science from watching him in the lab. He represents a resource in the community that we are actively seeking to utilize more effectively. I just wish I had his help in all of my classes.”

The former medical school dean still thinks of himself as a mammalogist turned anatomist. Prior to completing his Ph.D at the University of Michigan, he took a number of anatomy courses. As he was finishing his course work, university officials offered him a job teaching human gross anatomy. He taught in the UM medical school from 1950 to 1962 and served the next 12 years as associate dean at USD.

Helping students at BHSU is his first experience teaching undergraduate students.

“I've never dealt with undergraduates before,” he said. “They run the gamut (of ability and interest). Some are every bit as good as the medical students I have taught. I find it very refreshing, and I find the students very courteous. They're appreciative. I just plain like them.”

Being a volunteer and not having the overall responsibility for the classes has its benefits.

“It's been a delightful discovery, by not having responsibility for their grades, I can relate to them in a way that I would never relate to them if I were in charge of the course. I can get down with them and joke and have a one-to-one exchange of ideas ... kind of as a friend.”

He said most of the students get right into their projects. They are eager to study and they have a desire to learn. He described it as the “old fashioned work ethic.”

“They're not squeamish about it (dissecting animals). Some of the girls are the best dissectors I've seen in a long time.”

Rinker seems to truly enjoy working with the students. He says, “at my stage of the game, it's nice to make a contribution, even if it's a small one.”

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The students seem to like and appreciate Rinker's help in the lab. They are aware of his dedication and love of science.

Natashia Cushman, a junior wellness-management major from Casper, Wyo., said, “I think he really loves what he does. He's willing to share it. ... He's willing to teach and the students are thankful. We take advantage of what he can do for us.”

Cushman was impressed that he would spend the time necessary to assist students in their lab work. “He really goes in to depth about things and tells you everything you need to know. He's been a life saver to a lot of students.”

The lab work is Rinker's favorite aspect of volunteering. He would, however, like to get involved with research. He is currently collecting mammal specimens and presents his collection to area elementary school children. Because of that effort, he is helping to build a mammal teaching collection at BHSU to assist Smith with his mammals class. He also gives animal tissue samples to Dr. Shane Sarver, assistant professor of biology, who recently wrote a grant acquiring a genetic analyzer for the school's new molecular genetics laboratory.

“I would like to do whatever I could do without getting too committed,” said Rinker.

The former medical school dean said he was impressed with many of the non-traditional students at BH. They are really making an effort to get on with their lives.

“I have the greatest respect for them,” he said. “They are making sacrifices to get themselves ahead at a stage when a lot of people are twiddling their thumbs on relief. ... There are people around here who like them and want to help them.”

With the school term coming to a close, Rinker says he will leave his Spearfish apartment and head out to his cabin near O'Neil Pass for the summer. He and his wife fell in love with the Black Hills and purchased some land in 1975. They had been spending summers there since 1984. She passed away nearly three years ago and he moved from Vermillion to Spearfish in 1998.

He plans to continue assisting students with their lab work as long as he can. He even offered to allow students to do field research on his 160 acres in the hills.

“My whole life has involved contact with students,” he said. “It's fun to deal with students who want to learn.”