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Marjorie Shaw, Ph.D.
June 2014


Dr. Marjorie Shaw is not just an Assistant Professor of Anatomy; she is a storyteller.  To make learning enjoyable and memorable, she tells her students dramatic stories in which the main characters are molecules, muscles, and nerves.

Having studied biochemistry in National Science Foundation programs, psychology at Harvard, and neuroscience at Case Western Reserve, Dr. Shaw derives her stories from her broad knowledge of the sciences.  To compose her stories, she also draws upon a wide range of professional experiences: conducting postdoctoral research in physiology and pharmacology labs at New York University, teaching in the anatomy department at Fairleigh Dickinson’s dental school, volunteering at international schools and schools for the gifted, and serving as a docent at the National Museum of Health and Medicine. Now she teaches all aspects of the anatomical sciences to medical, dental, and allied health students at Howard.

But why tell stories?  “Stories,” Dr. Shaw observes, “are the way humans learn most naturally and an effective way to enhance retention.”  For students struggling with the information overload that can come from studying anatomy, her stories with their funny mnemonic titles and names have proven to be excellent study aids.  Dr. Shaw explains:

What do people remember most easily?  Stories.  Especially stories about people. So I try  to personalize the nerves, molecules and tissues whenever I can.  One can memorize the anterior and posterior Circumflex Humeral arteries, or one can do the CHA-CHA.  One can  memorize the convoluted course of the radial nerve down the arm, or one can remember the story of the Bad Boy Radial Nerve, “the boy your mother always warned you about.”  The students put down their tools, look up from their computers, and really listen when I tell a story. They tell me they used that “Sad, Sad Story of VII and IX” to help answer three different exam questions.  How to make sense of the inhibition of the basal ganglia? The story of “Grumpy Grandpa Globus Pallidus” helps them to understand and remember the complicated circuits.

Dr. Shaw’s creative teaching style is one of the reasons the first-year class in the College of Medicine singled her out for the Degennes Award for Outstanding Teaching in the spring of 2013.  Calling her “amazing” and “awesome,” “effective” and “enthusiastic,” or “passionate” and “phenomenal” on scores of anonymous course evaluations, her students tell the story behind the award: 

Indeed, on the course evaluations, numerous students beg for Dr. Shaw to deliver more lectures and to tell more stories.  Thus, one student speaks for many when she writes, “Could we have more stories like the one about the deep petrosal nerve?"  Of course.  Click here to read one.

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