UMKC Students Remember Professor Douglas Law

Longtime School of Biological Sciences Professor Douglas Law died unexpectedly March 27. He was 52. Law was working out at a gym when he had a cardiac arrest. He is survived by his wife, daughter and son.

Law joined the faculty of SBS in 1993. He taught undergraduate- and graduate-level anatomy and histology—the study of the structure of cells and tissues in plants and animals—in lecture classes and labs to students from schools of Biological Sciences, Medicine, Dentistry and Pharmacy.

UMKC students remember Law for his passion for sciences, his compassion toward his students, and his sense of humor.

“I first met Dr. Law as a first-year medical student at UMKC in his anatomy course,” said Sheeba Kunnel, UMKC student. “Dr. Law would do anything to clarify concepts to his students. My favorite memory of Dr. Law is his so-called ‘fetus dance.’ To explain the correct embryological positioning of an organism, Dr. Law humorously jumped on the table during class and danced himself into a curled position. I had never laughed so hard. Even today, as I prepare for my medical school board exams and get an embryology question, I think of Dr. Law!”

Michael Ivers, a fourth-year student at the UMKC School of Medicine, said Law stood out as an educator because he made time for students who needed extra help or just wanted to chat about life. Law was an unforgettable mentor to hundreds of students.

“I met Dr. Law as a medical student in his freshman anatomy course,” Ivers said. “I enjoyed his sense of humor and ended up attending all of his lectures that semester. I got a lot out of his class, but my relationship with him truly started after the course was over.”

After the course ended, Ivers felt comfortable approaching Law with questions about science and faith. On one winter afternoon they sat down at the Roasterie in Brookside and talked for hours about education, science, evolution, spirituality and many other subjects.

“I waited for him to tell me whether he still believed in God,” Ivers said. “He eventually told me that he would choose not to share his conclusions with me to better allow me to make my own. We exchanged a few emails over the next year, but I don't think I saw him again until next winter break when he agreed to meet again at the Roasterie to catch up. We spent a couple more afternoons like that, once a year or so. I have always been thankful for his approachability and willingness to spend time with me and allow me to pick his brain on various issues.”

Leanne Szerszen, research assistant at SBS, worked closely with Law, who introduced her to her first position at SBS.

“I was so grateful that he was willing to train me in many areas and trusted me on my own and kept me motivated and excited about our research,” Szerszen said. “He was a great boss and also a great colleague and friend. He was very light hearted and a comedian at times. He has impacted many lives at UMKC, and he will be greatly missed.”

Law was an optimist, and he did not shy from showing it. But it was not just his sense of humor that students found approachable about Law. Students respected his genuine and always open invitation to ask questions and his positive and patient encouragement to reach their potential.

“Dr. Law's course was one of the first classes I took at UMKC,” said Brooks Kimmis, first-year students at the UMKC School of Medicine. “As the semester progressed, his lab and lecture classes became my favorite classes…Dr. Law motivated me every single day of the class. It was obvious he was happy to be teaching the class even if he may have had an off day. I have never learned so much so efficiently in any other class.

Although many students took only one course with Law, the impressions he made were long-lasting.

“I knew Dr. Law for a short time, and yet he has had a profound impact on my life,” Kimmis said. “I think this speaks a great deal about the incredible person Dr. Law was. Frankly, the world could use more people like Dr. Law—the type of people who make others strive to be better.”

For some students Law was an inspiration, for others a confidant and a friend, and for some others he was both.

“To someone who never met Dr Law, I could describe a warm and friendly man whose interest in and passion for the study of life guided him into academics,” Ivers said. “There, besides pursuing his own research interests, he was instrumental in laying a strong foundation of anatomy knowledge in the education of hundreds of future healthcare professionals. He was one of the first people who set me on a path to success in medical school, and I'm happy to say that he also became a friend.”

Kunnel said, “He was the ideal person with whom to start my college career, and I feel beyond blessed to have gotten the opportunity to meet and build a friendship with him.”

Law received a bachelor’s degree in zoology and a doctoral degree in anatomy and cell biology, both from Duke University. Law was a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Physiological Science at University of California at Los Angeles before he came to UMKC.