WESTVILLE — Imagine you're a college student in a technical early-morning class — still tired from the day before that was filled with part-time work, classes and research.

It's anatomy and physiology. You have to concentrate. You have to remember a hundred terms such as medulla oblongata, a portion of the brain stem between the spinal cord and the pons. Then there's the melanocyte, a specialized melanin-producing cell found in the deepest layer of epidermis. And the lacrimal gland, a tear-secreting gland on the superior lateral portion of the eyeball underneath the upper eyelid.

A Purdue University North Central professor has created — literally — a novel way to help students remember complicated terms and functions.

Professor Scott Simerlein writes a little ditty to help students — and he sings them to a popular tune students will remember. Simerlein's sister, Professor Mitzi Simerlein, who teaches anatomy and physiology at Ivy Tech Community College in Valparaiso, also sings the songs to her students.

For example, Simerlein used "Hakuna Matata" from Disney's "Lion King" to create a musical mnemonic for the medulla oblongata and the midbrain:

"Medulla oblongata! Pyramids are its thing. Medulla oblongata. It controls vomiting. It regulates your heartbeat, blood pressure and breathing."

He and his sister used "Jingle Bells" to help students remember the organelle, a minute living structure of a cell with a specific function in the body.

Some students say they wake up in the middle of the night humming a song. Sophomore Jamie Kutzer, of Valparaiso, said the songs help immensely.

"It's a multifaceted course. There are a lot of things to remember," she said.

"It's very complex, so it helps to understand it better and absorb it when you associate it with something you can relate to, like a song or something funny."

Kutzer said students can't sing aloud during tests, but she certainly thinks about it during the exams. "It's cool. It really helps me to remember certain things that are difficult to retain," she said.

Also LaPorte County's poet laureate, Scott Simerlein said that works well with creating lyrics.

"The hardest part is picking a song, one with a peppy tune and enough notes in it that you can get all of the syllables for the complex terms that will make up the song," he said.

Freshman Logan Castro, of Chesterton, a prenursing major, said the songs are "goofy" but they help. He said he studies a lot but will listen to the songs as part of his review.

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"He's a really great professor. I've seen his sister around Ivy Tech. I am also taking a microbiology class at Ivy Tech," Castro said.

Sophomore Jesenia Perez, a nursing major, said she especially remembers her favorite "Simersongs." She said the songs pop into her head during tests.

The Simerlein siblings are also both chiropractors, following in the footsteps of their grandfather, father and an uncle who have a practice in Porter County. Both profs practiced for about 10 years before getting into education.

Both also have taught in LaPorte County middle and high schools, and both have taught at Purdue North Central as well as Ivy Tech.

Scott Simerlein said he started teaching at PNC in 2005 on Saturdays. "It was a blast. The students in the class on Saturday had some life experience, and it was great," he said.

"The first semester I started teaching, I began creating the songs. Blood flow is always something that students struggle with."

"It took me years to come up with a song for blood flow," Simerlein said. "I wanted to do something with Sonny and Cher's, 'The Beat Goes On,' but there weren't enough syllables."

The Simerleins finally recorded it to the tune of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," made famous by the Andrews Sisters in 1941.

Mitzi Simerlein said her students have just as much fun with the songs.

"A lot of my students say they have me on alert so that when another Simersong is released, they look at it," she said.

Altogether, Simerlein said he has written about three dozen songs, and produced seven of them, along with five videos.

"We're up to about 2,000 views on the first four videos," he said. "In addition to Indiana and Illinois, we've had views from as far away as Canada, Mexico and South Africa."

Simerlein said they don't make money from the recordings and don't hold any copyrights. He said using the Disney songs is considered a "parody," and shouldn't cause any problems.

"We both adore Disney. It would be great, a dream come true, if they wanted to connect with us and do a CD together," he said. "We could have the Simerlein siblings Disney-style."


Southlake County Reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.