Photo of Monica Gerrek

Going above and beyond: Bioethicist Monica Gerrek of School of Medicine receives Jackson Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Mentoring

The business world’s loss has been a significant gain for students at Case Western Reserve University and the School of Medicine.

Monica Gerrek, assistant professor of bioethics, had taken a philosophy course as an undergraduate but opted for the ostensibly safer choice of pursuing a business degree. “Once I completed my degree, I quickly recognized that my real interest was not in the world of business,” she recalls. That realization led to a life re-boot, beginning by casually taking three philosophy courses during a “gap year.” They resonated, and her love for philosophical ideas led to a PhD in philosophy from the University of Kansas.

Fast forward two decades and Gerrek, who joined the faculty in 2016, has been recognized with the 2019 J. Bruce Jackson, MD, Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Mentoring. 

In the words of a student who nominated her for the prize, “She is the professor in my life who is always going above and beyond for me, and in doing so, has helped reestablish my personal beliefs in myself and my abilities.”

Gerrek has strong, positive memories of her own mentors. “There are people who mentor you because your research interests match theirs. And there are people who mentor you because they believe in you as a person. The mentors I had believed in me as a person and that’s kind of mentor I want to be.”

Gerrek’s research and teaching interests lie primarily in the field that examines the moral dimensions underlying biological research and medical treatment. In addition to teaching undergraduate, graduate and medical students, she pursues research that examines ethical issues associated with burn care, correctional health care, substance use disorders, and food. She is the first clinical ethicist to serve on the American Burn Association’s Ethical Issues Committee and is its vice chair.

She summarizes her mentoring style as placing her students’ ideas above her own. “I’m fascinated by my students’ reactions to the material I’m teaching,” she said. “My mentors showed me that it was about the student—not the instructor getting his or her own ideas out there.”

In the words of her nominator: “I can step into her office on any given day and know I will get her full attention, no matter how long I am there. There is no better feeling than knowing that someone believes in you and wants you to succeed and will do whatever they can to help you get there. I see this nomination as one small thing I can do for Dr. Gerrek to thank her for the profound impact that she continues to have on my life.”

About the award

The Jackson Award honors outstanding advising and mentoring of undergraduate students by a current employee or emeriti faculty member. J. Bruce Jackson, a 1952 graduate of Adelbert College, established the award in 2003 to honor Wittke, who served as Jackson’s mentor as an undergraduate.