Marshall brings heart to Hematology/Oncology

Benjamin Beck had done all he could do. He was wrapping up his doctorate research and preparing his public presentation for critique. He was doing this as he was bringing a newborn baby home. Low on money, energy and time, Beck was going to have to skip hosting a reception after his presentation — a common practice where students provide finger foods, answer questions and engage in general chit-chat.

We can all use somebody in our corner. For those in Hematology/Oncology, that person is Gwen Marshall. Co-workers and students alike say kindness radiates from her daily. Add efficiency, knowledge and a positive attitude and you have October’s Employee of the Month.
Gwen Marshall wasn't going to let that happen. Marshall, program coordinator in the Division of Hematology/Oncology, heard about Beck's difficulties and planned, hosted and arranged for payment for a reception after his dissertation defense.

"Words can't describe how grateful I was," Beck says. "This is the exact selflessness and caring that embodies UAB."

Co-workers echo those sentiments, saying Marshall is knowledgeable, efficient, extremely positive and someone who can be relied upon to complete any task before her - all traits that make her October's Employee of the Month.

Marshall says her gesture toward Beck was just a way to say congratulations to an excellent student who had worked hard to achieve his goal.

"We don't have that loving kindness that we had years ago," Marshall says. "We all need someone in our corner who's going to be kind and gentle. That was my thought in that for Ben. He was an excellent student, a great person and such an intelligent man. It was just that generosity that comes forth when you care for people. That's all."

Co-workers say that generosity shines forth from Marshall daily. Her lists of responsibilities are numerous. She assists five principal investigators, ordering supplies for their labs and assisting with research documentation and budgets. Marshall also manages the Shared Resources Facility for common equipment, which requires maintenance of contracts and service calls, preparation and maintenance of Shared Equipment Invoices and Accounts and billing the PIs for shared costs. She coordinates the Hematology/Oncology Research Conferences that bring together clinicians, principal investigators, staff and guest to hear presentations on current cancer treatments and cell biology-related research. Then there is the grant writing with which she assists investigators, wrapping up the detailed budgets, preparing required grant-specific documentations and ensuring each is submitted on time. That doesn't include the other tasks she willingly undertakes, whether or not they are part of her job description.

"Gwen is always my first choice to call for assistance because I felt I could rely on her to get the job done, and I knew of her amazing attitude to always help beyond her job description because she is the ultimate team player," says Linda Irwin, business officer in Hematology/Oncology.

Many co-workers point to the Division's move from Wallace Tumor to the Shelby Building as an example of Marshall's dependability.

The move was necessary because of the renovation of Wallace Tumor. The majority of the division's researchers moved to the Shelby Building in December 2008, which meant equipment and chemicals had to be packed and moved. Because the chemicals are controlled, they had to be packaged according to Occupational Health and Safety guidelines and everything had to be checked to make sure it was safe to transport. Marshall stepped up to coordinate the move.

"Gwen has taken on many additional duties that no one else wants to do out of her love for people and a desire to serve," says Susan Ruppert, associate professor in the department of medicine. "She is always cheerful, kind and compassionate, and she has touched the lives of people in many different departments outside her own."

One of those people is Majd Zayzafoon, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of pathology. He says Marshall immediately stepped up when overcrowding issues arose in the Shelby Building and agreed to take on the responsibility of common equipment maintenance and billing for multiple departments even though the responsibility was not hers. She worked closely with other administrative personnel and has kept a database of active account numbers to split the cost of equipment upkeep and maintenance - all while keeping the shared equipment running efficiently for more than a year.

"Gwen continuously builds and maintains collaborative bridges across department lines, nourishing an atmosphere of unity and cooperation," Zayzafoon says. "Always smiling, she is the epitome of a person who appreciates others and one who enjoys serving. It will be unfortunate to see her go once West Pavilion facilities are renovated, since she has become a friend and a positive mainstay of Shelby."

Many co-workers mention Marshall's desire to serve others, and it's not by coincidence.

"I consider myself a customer service specialist," Marshall says. "The one thing I really dislike is to call someone and get an answering machine where there is an electronic voice. When people call me, they will hear a real human being. They can talk to me about their problems and their needs and I'll do whatever I can as quick as I can to take care of it. That's what I do. I help."
She extends that help to her PIs and beyond, as LaVerne Croom, an administrative assistant in Hematology/Oncology learned after transferring into the division.

Marshall was one of the first people she met, and she volunteered to give her a tour of the area where she worked, introducing her to the staff.

"I could tell immediately that she loved what she did and that she cared for the people that she worked with," Croom says. "She encouraged me to contact her if I had any questions or needed any information about the Division, and she would often check in to make sure I was doing well in my job. She went out of her way to make sure I felt comfortable."

Taking on tasks like managing the upkeep of equipment, guiding Croom through the early days of a new job or assisting one of her PIs in the lab comes partly from the 30 years Marshall spent on the bench herself in Clinical Toxicology, conducting research in the areas of virology, cancer and immunology with a focus on AIDS research. She knows what it's like to have to rely on others for help, and she wants her co-workers to know she is someone they can count on.

"I have been on the dark-side where I worked in the lab and I had to beg for pens and pencils and beg others to order supplies and assist me - I can turn that around," she says. "I've been in that position where I had to have others help me. I know how it feels when you can't do an experiment because you can't get an antibody in. When my PIs give me an order, I get it done that day. And if I have to expedite it or track it, I will do that.

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," Marshall says. "That's really the bottom line. What I do, I want it to be for real. I don't want to be seen for show."

Know someone who should be Employee of the Month? If you know of a great employee and would like to nominate them for this recognition, just send at least three e-mails or letters of support to cwp@uab.edu.