Photo of David Kazdan

David Kazdan honored with Wittke Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching

After three decades of practicing medicine, David Kazdan, who has a PhD in biomedical engineering from CWRU and is a musician, birder, cyclist, photographer and licensed pilot of manned airplanes and of drones, returned to Case Western Reserve University to teach a SAGES course based on his passion for amateur radio.

After three semesters of encouraging and helping students pursue virtually anything that interests them within and beyond the requirements of his course, Kazdan has received a 2017 Carl F. Wittke Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. He will be recognized along with other award winners during commencement ceremonies May 21.

“I’m really honored and proud, and there’s one specific aspect that makes me happy: Ken Loparo (the Nord Professor and chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) got to see one of his graduate students of yore do this,” said Kazdan, now an adjunct assistant professor in the department. “He’s one of the best chalkboard teachers I’ve ever seen.”

“I have had excellent teachers here and elsewhere, so I know what good teaching is,” he said.

Kazdan’s students have expressed similar regard. His first class unanimously graded him an “excellent” instructor.

The retired anesthesiologist and his student collaborators use amateur radio to frame his SAGES course, exploring distance communication and how it has shrunk the world.

A student who nominated him for the Wittke Award wrote that Kazdan’s infectious enthusiasm—whether teaching mundane federal regulations for amateur radio, the growth and spread of newspapers under Benjamin Franklin’s term as the country’s first postmaster, or censorship and obscenity—made the student want to go beyond the required material and learn as much as possible about the many peripheral topics that arise in class.

When students seek follow-up reading for questions and discussions in class, they’re often impressed by the list he offers from off the top of his head. And he takes notes on readings they offer.

As part of the course, all his students must earn an amateur radio license and use the radio on campus, run by the Case Amateur Radio Club. Kazdan, who earned his first license at age 11, is a club advisor and administers the licensing test to any student.

For his and all of their classes, Kazdan recommends students take on as many extracurricular opportunities as possible.

“The curricular material is the accreditation requirement for the degree, but it’s going to be the application of that material to life that matters,” Kazdan said. “Extracurriculars, including research, are that application.”

Kazdan has since been asked to teach a new electrical engineering course on issues of radio communication—another class he’s looking forward to on the subject.

“The material, I enjoy,” he said. “I can’t think of anything more fun than being around young people who are good at it and think about it and do it.”

The Wittke Award, established in 1971 to honor the former faculty member, dean and vice president of Western Reserve University, is presented annually to two Case Western Reserve faculty members who have demonstrated excellence in undergraduate teaching.