Case Western Reserve University recognizes excellence demonstrated by professors in the classroom annually with the Carl F. Wittke Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. This year, Donald Feke, chemical engineering professor, and Richard Osborne, professor for management policy practice, have been named Wittke Award recipients.
The Wittke Award was established in 1971 in honor of Carl Wittke, a professor, department chair, graduate school dean and university vice president during his tenure at Western Reserve University (1948-63).
Feke is a two-time recipient of the award, having also won the honor in 1995. He is just the third multiple winner in the award's 37-year history, an honor not lost on the Case Western Reserve double-alum and current vice provost.
"There are many excellent faculty members here at Case Western Reserve who are devoted to their students and their teaching," he said. "To be selected now for a second time is simply an awesome honor. It's very nice to know the students are appreciative of my efforts."
Student nominators said they particularly appreciate Feke 's ability to take a difficult subject, like transport phenomena, and make it understandable by relating it to the students' lives, using examples that have everyday, real world applications.
"I've met a lot of frustration with my engineering classes, but that wasn't the case with Dr. Feke's class," said one of his nominators, junior John Zamojski. "Dr. Feke is a student-first professor who genuinely wants us to learn everything we can about the subject. Because of the way he teaches, I was always able to understand what was going on."
Junior Bradley Keller added, "Dr. Feke is an amazing teacher. He has a very unique ability to make a really hard concept completely understandable."
Feke, who earned both his bachelor's and master's degree from Case Western Reserve, before earning advance degrees from Princeton University, believes in making complicated concepts real to students. He stresses the "real life" angle with in-class demonstrations like videos to illustrate the principles of the phenomena being studied.
"Seeing equations no a board, or reading a textbook, can only bring the learning of a student so far," Feke said. "Supplementing this learning with visual examples helps, I believe, to make the learning concrete and more memorable."
"He provides plenty of examples to make sure a topic is fully understood and walks us through every single problem to make sure we all understand how to proceed in any situation—and why we are doing it," said Zamojski.
Feke has spent a total of 32 years at the Case Western Reserve as a student, teacher and administrator. He joined the faculty in 1981 and has held administrative roles in some capacity since 1997, including his current tenure as vice provost for undergraduate education. His experiences here at Case Western Reserve, both in and out of the classroom, and familiarity with the challenges students face have shaped his relationships with his young scholars.
"Our students are highly talented and motivated, but they are also very busy," he said. "I try to be aware and respectful of the demands placed on them by their other courses and activities and try to be accommodating whenever possible. To be recognized by the students is certainly encouraging for me to continue doing what I have been doing in my courses."
Osborne has received multiple awards throughout his 30-plus years working with graduate students, but began teaching undergraduates just two years ago. In that short time, he and his students have made quite an impression on each other.
"The Wittke Award has special meaning," Osborne said. "I've only been teaching undergrads for two years now, and I love these young people. They are terrific and full of potential."
Nicknamed "The Gorilla" by his students for his energetic teaching style and gregarious classroom presence, Osborne is dedicated to seeing his students succeed not only in the classroom but also in life. Part of his research focuses on teaching effectiveness and explores how professors build a lifelong learning relationship with students.
In addition to his own nickname, Osborne requires each student to pick their own moniker.
"Professor Osborne really gives it his all in all of his classes. His personality and positive mental attitude get passed on to every member of the class," said senior Valbona Bushi. "He takes personal interest in all of his students and even went as far as to help me and another student for a project in another class."
Osborne believes students respond to the level of interaction and the action learning course design of his classes.
"My goals in every interaction are that they will take away a learning, big or small, and that they will feel stronger because they know me," he said. "I hope they will be better equipped to achieve a life of distinction and fulfillment, both professionally and personally."
Kevin Sudnik added, "Professor Osborne is truly one of the unique professors. He truly cares about his students, and he provides them with a wealth of relevant knowledge that will help them be successful both personally and professionally. He creates a classroom atmosphere that students absolutely look forward to being in every session."
Osborne applies his talents outside the classroom as well, spending several years on the boards of a number of privately and publicly held companies. He also has aided current and former students in starting or buying companies. He then takes those experiences back into the classroom as teaching tools.
"I have been teaching for a lifetime, 37 years, and I am so grateful to have had the chance to touch, however modestly, the lives of thousands of students," he said.
Osborne earned a bachelor's degree from Bowling Green State University and later earned his master's degree from Case Western Reserve, where he joined the faculty in 1971—the year the inaugural Wittke Award was presented.
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