Psychology’s Heath Demaree one of two 2012 Wittke Award winners

For Case Western Reserve University psychologist Heath Demaree, being a professor is much like being an actor who gives his all to an award-winning show each night. Even though he may have taught the course many times before, Demaree knows if he is not enthusiastic and engaged, his students—the audience—won’t be either.

This always-enthusiastic approach, which draws from his research on emotions, personality and behavior, earned Demaree the Carl F. Wittke Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

The Wittke Award, established in 1971, honors Carl Wittke, a former faculty member, dean and vice president of Western Reserve University. Each year, two Case Western Reserve University faculty members receive the award for their excellence in undergraduate teaching; the other winner will be profiled in tomorrow’s edition of The Daily.

To better connect his teaching to his students’ interests, Demaree usually arrives to class early and gets to know them by asking about current events or their favorite activities, interests and hobbies. He then finds stories or examples from newspapers, magazines and books that are familiar to his students and have a connection to psychological concepts he is teaching.

He said students best remember stories—especially emotional ones—and master the course material easier when it’s integrated into stories. “You always have to be vigilant for new things to incorporate in the classroom,” he said.

What do students say about his teaching? One commented: “He is so animated and enthusiastic that I want to learn. He engages all the students and is always available, no matter what. This award was meant for him.”

Another student added: “Professor Demaree has so much enthusiasm for what he teaches. It makes me excited to go to class every day. I feel completely engaged in class and never lack the desire to get fully engrossed in the material. It is a privilege to have him as a professor this semester; his eagerness and outstanding ability to teach deserves recognition.”

That enthusiasm has earned him several honors over the years, and his friends in campus teaching circles just might call him the Triple Crown winner. He won the J. Bruce Jackson, M.D., Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Mentoring in 2005, the John S. Diekhoff Award for Graduate Teaching and Mentoring in 2008, and now the 2012 Wittke Award.

“I was so surprised and honored,” said the associate professor of psychology, known to his students as “Dr. D.”

Demaree also is the principal investigator and director of the Affective Neuroscience Laboratory in the Department of Psychological Sciences, where emotional processing is the primary interest.

Outside the lab, Demaree teaches the undergraduate courses “Personality Psychology,” “Emotion and Emotion Regulation” and “Physiological Psychology.” For several years, he taught a SAGES first-year seminar on the brain. He also teaches the graduate level seminar “Physiological Foundations of Behavior.”

After spending a few minutes with Demaree, there’s no doubt he loves teaching. His face lights up and breaks into a smile as he talks about what works for him in the classroom.

“I’ve developed my own personal style of teaching,” he said, explaining that he motivates his students with his enthusiasm, engages them in discussions, and encourages them to have fun while learning.

He too needs to keep that same sense of fun and excitement, so each day, he looks back on his first day of teaching 11 years ago. “I was so excited and eager to have students learn. The students responded,” he said. Besides teaching during doctoral studies at Virginia Tech, Case Western Reserve has been the place where he expanded his research and teaching skills.

And at the end of the day, what makes teaching memorable? “I have so many great memories about teaching, it’s hard to pick one. What always makes me feel good is when students come back years later and tell me they remember the stories I told them and what they learned from those stories,” he said.