First-year Medical Student Callen Morrison Receives 14th Annual Marilyn J. Koering Award

April 21, 2023
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Callen Morrison receiving the 14th Annual Marilyn J. Koering Award standing with Bass, Stepp, and Peusner

Students and faculty at the George Washington University (GW) School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) gathered April 11 for the 14th Annual Marilyn J. Koering Award, presented this year to Callen Morrison, MSI.

Named in honor of Marilyn Koering, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Anatomy and Cell Biology, who taught at GW for 34 years — the Koering award presented each year to a first-year medical student for their outstanding work in the combined anatomical classes.

Kenna Peusner, PhD, professor of neurology and rehabilitation medicine at GW SMHS, led the event and welcomed this year’s speakers, MaryAnn Stepp, PhD, professor of anatomy and cell biology at GW SMHS; Barbara L. Bass, MD, RESD ’86, vice president for health affairs and dean of GW SMHS and CEO of The GW Medical Faculty Associates.

“Marilyn Koering brought to this discipline an infectious drive to share the bliss she found in anatomy and her love for science and advancing science and knowledge,” said Dean Bass. “Today we get to celebrate that passion for excellence in anatomy.”

In her remarks, Stepp described Koering as both a dedicated research scientist and teacher. When she first arrived at SMHS, Stepp recalled, she was tasked with teaching histology. Armed with a PhD in biochemistry and training as an undergraduate in nutrition and chemistry, rather than years as a seasoned histologist, Stepp felt under prepared for the new role teaching the microscopic structure of tissue. Koering, she said, “became my mentor and my teacher.”

Stepp recalls slipping into Koering’s classroom, blending in with the students to soak in Koering’s enthusiasm for her discipline. “I learned everything I know about histology from Marilyn, but I also learned a lot about teaching from her,” she said.

One lesson in particular, crystallized in her memory. Koering, Stepp said, taught each of her classes how to establish a sense of scale when viewing slides, telling them to “look for red blood cells and then make that into their histologist’s ruler.” A red blood cell, Stepp explained, is about eight microns in diameter. “With that you could tell the size of anything.”

“It was just mind-blowing at the time,” Stepp said. “I had never really thought about it.”

A microscopic anatomy specialist, Koering earned her master’s degree and PhD at the University of Wisconsin before joining the GW SMHS faculty in 1969, where she remained on faculty until her retirement in 2003. She continued to teach despite a malignant melanoma diagnosis in 1986, regularly incorporating her own case history into her anatomy lectures. Koering  was one of 30 patients to join an experimental treatment group at Mayo Clinic and was the last survivor of the group, battling cancer for 21 years before she passed in May 2008.

“It’s an honor to receive this award in Dr. Koering’s name,” said Morrison. “It’s incredibly inspiring to hear about her passion not only for teaching, but also for research in the face of all the adversity. I’d like to thank the Koering family, as well as my family, friends, and classmates.”

Koering’s sister, Susan Koering, wasn’t able to attend in person this year, but passed along her congratulations through Peusner. “I congratulate all the students present today for pursuing an education in the medical field to help in the betterment of the lives of others,” she said. “It is with appreciation and joy, that we are here today to present the 14th Annual Marilyn Koering Award. [She was] my role model in my career in health information management. She loved to learn, investigate, and share her knowledge with others.”

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