May 13, 2009

Physicist, Biologist Named Wittke Award Recipients

Case Western Reserve University recognizes excellence demonstrated by professors in the classroom with the annual Carl F. Wittke Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

Two teachers from the College of Arts and Sciences are this year's recipients: Corbin Covault, associate professor of physics, and Nancy DiIulio, instructor of biology.

Corbin Covault

Associate Professor, Department of Physics

Corbin Covault and his research group

Corbin Covault's physics classes usually have more than 200 students enrolled. Even with such large classes, Covault tries to find unique ways to connect with his students.

"I tend to do different things. Whatever you're trying to use or convey to help students learn the information, I try to recognize the fact that there are different learning styles for different students," he says. As a result, he goes over the same material several times by blending different teaching styles, including lectures, demonstrations and interactive methods.

His efforts have not gone unnoticed by his students. "His enthusiasm during teaching is hard to miss. He loves the subject and loves sharing his knowledge with students. He makes time for each individual student and pushes them to do their best. I have enjoyed every lecture he has taught," a nominator wrote. Other nominators pointed out Covault's sense of humor and genuine concern for his students.

"Physics is a linear subject. You start with certain principles and then add things," says Covault, who has been with Case Western Reserve since 2001. "The goal is to do something that is valuable to all of the students at any given point."

An astrophysicist, Covault and his research group are part of an international collaboration that has built the world's largest cosmic ray observatory in Argentina. In 2007, the collaboration reported a major discovery that apparently tracked the origins of near speed-of-light cosmic ray particles to a special type of massive black hole in some nearby galaxies.

Covault earned his bachelor's degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and his doctorate degree from Harvard University.

Nancy DiIulio

Instructor, Department of Biology


Nancy DiIulio knows the value of time.

"I might have 50 minutes, three times per week, and that time is really precious. I try to set conditions in the classroom for students to learn," she explains. Her class includes a traditional lecture, but she also sets aside time for students to work on case studies and problem solving, followed by a discussion.

DiIulio's courses range from lectures with more than 200 students to a smaller microbiology lab. "You have to approach it a little differently than if you had 20 students," she says. "You have to decide what your goal is for them. What do you want the students to be able to do at the end of the class?"

In addition to charting how she teaches her classes, DiIulio makes sure the material is meaningful to students. "One of the important things in helping students to learn is that the information must be relevant. You have the technical information, and you want the students to understand that. But by being able to place it into a wider context you help them learn even more," she explains.

Her efforts have paid off. Several nominators wrote about DiIulio's unique way of connecting with her students. "Professor DiIulio manages to make every lesson interesting. She works to tie in personal stories and real-life examples into every presentation, which demonstrates her immense understanding and vast experience in her field," one nominator wrote.

"She never puts down silly questions. She pays full attention to the student and makes you feel like you're the most important person in the room when you talk to her," said another nominator.

DiIulio, who has been at Case Western Reserve since 1999, is working on a research program that will gather data to assess teaching practices, student engagement and impacts on student learning. She earned her bachelor's degree from Carnegie Mellon University, and her doctorate degree in biochemistry from The Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine.

About the Wittke Award:

The Wittke Award is named for Carl Frederick Wittke, who, from 1948 to 1963, was professor of history, chair of the Department of History and vice president of Western Reserve University. All faculty members who teach undergraduates are eligible. Two faculty members receive this award each year.

Posted by: Kimyette Finley, May 13, 2009 01:51 PM | News Topics: College of Arts and Sciences, Commencement, Provost Initiatives, news

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