“We make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give.”
Stephanie Harris often reflects on this quote attributed to Winston Churchill as defining her teaching and mentoring philosophy. For the associate professor in Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine’s Department of Nutrition, teaching students is about more than just doing the basics of lectures, assignments and exams. It’s about giving students an environment that sparks enthusiasm and builds a foundation for lifelong learning.
“I challenge students to actively engage in the learning process by applying knowledge and new skills in creative and meaningful ways,” said Harris, whose teaching, research and practice specialties are in wellness and culinary/lifestyle medicine approaches to health.
Her commitment to creating a learning environment that is both rigorous and collegial led to Harris being named a recipient of the Carl F. Wittke Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, an honor she will officially receive during the university’s commencement ceremonies on Sunday, May 15.
Time spent empowering her students—encouraging them to succeed when they thought the subject matter was initially too difficult, or pursuing an area of study in which they were previously uninterested—is what Harris finds most fulfilling as an educator.
She strives to make complex material accessible and personally relevant to her students—and, according to her students, succeeds in doing so.
One student nominator realized during an exam that Harris’ teaching style had made their undergraduate nutrition studies “click.” They found themselves fully prepared to answer difficult questions about complex concepts, thanks to their deep understanding of the material.
“I started to realize why certain compounds in food did what they did and why certain foods are beneficial for aspects of health,” they wrote in the nominating materials. “It’s something I will always come back to throughout my career.”
Helping students find these “eureka” moments when they realize how the course content intersects with their passions—and how it will help them drive change as future healthcare providers, educators and scholars—is what energizes Harris.
“It’s … a profession where I get to do exactly what I love—teaching at this world-class academic institution with some of the brightest students and most supportive and creative colleagues,” she said. “At the end of the day, I owe my success in teaching to a lot of people, and I draw inspiration from my students on a daily basis.”
About the award
Created in 1964, the Wittke Award for Undergraduate Teaching 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. Faculty members who teach undergraduates are eligible for the award, which recognizes excellence in their efforts. Undergraduates nominate candidates; a committee of students interviews nominated faculty members and recommends winners. Two faculty members receive the award each year.