Ryan Arvidson, Ramez Islambouli named Wittke Award winners for their undergraduate teaching efforts

Education is at the heart of Case Western Reserve University’s mission. Across disciplines, our faculty members take seriously their responsibility to support our students’ learning and expand their knowledge. 

Each year, the university recognizes two faculty members who have had an outsized impact in the classroom by bestowing the Carl F. Wittke Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

Established in honor of Carl Wittke in 1971, the award recognizes demonstrated excellence in undergraduate teaching. Wittke was a faculty member, dean and vice president of Western Reserve University.

Read more about this year’s winners below.

Photo of Ryan Arvidson.
Ryan Arvidson

Ryan Arvidson

Assistant Professor, Department of Biochemistry

Ryan Arvidson never expected to become an educator. In fact, the idea terrified him. It wasn’t until he started student teaching and developing good relationships with course directors and professors that he thought he might be cut out for it. It didn’t hurt that he was also receiving good reviews. 

“If you had told me 10 years ago this is where I’d be, I wouldn’t have believed it,” he said.

Since Arvidson is a scientist at heart, accepting the opportunity to teach and continue his research as an assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry at Case Western Reserve University was an easy choice. 

“The job description matched my expertise and interests so well that I got excited,” he said. “[CWRU] became my top priority.”

One of Arvidson’s favorite aspects of the university is the emphasis on high-quality undergraduate education—a focus his students value in his style of teaching. 

As one of his student nominators commented, “I really appreciate that he understands learning can be difficult and that students have lives and interests outside of his class. His teaching style accounts for these factors, and I cannot thank him enough for that.”

Arvidson’s dedication to his students has led him to being named a recipient of the Carl F. Wittke Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

When asked what receiving this award means to him, Arvidson said, “It’s humbling. This award is student-driven so it makes it a tremendous honor. It also gives me confidence that I’m doing the right thing; and to keep doing what I’m doing.”

His students would agree. 

“Excellence entails consistency; Dr. Arvidson has been amazing consistently, and I think that his teaching is at the level of excellence,” said another student nominator.

What drives Arvidson’s excellence is his students’ engagement. 

“Knowing that when I’m going to class they are engaged gives me motivation to put more passion in my teaching,” he said. 

Arvidson understands that each student is an individual and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to teaching; he views his job as being to give students all the tools possible for them to succeed.

“I consider myself a catalyst for their learning,” he said. “They’re the ones who have to learn it. My job is to make their job easier.”

Photo of Ramez Islambouli.
Ramez Islambouli

Ramez Islambouli

Lecturer and section head in Arabic, Department of Modern Languages and Literatures; Lecture, Department of Religious Studies; Adjunct professor, School of Law

One of Ramez Islambouli’s students remembers visiting his office to go over the names of colors in Arabic. The lesson turned out to be more than an exercise in memorization. 

“He explained the origins of those names,” the student recently wrote, “and their correlation to the objects they were named after.” 

In the classroom, too, Islambouli never confines his instruction to “bare-bones information.” For example, the student recalled, “he showed me the impact of the spread of Islam on the development of languages in the region and why there are multiple dialects of Arabic.”

Islambouli, who holds a master’s degree in bioethics and a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from Case Western Reserve, has been teaching at the university for almost 20 years. A full-time lecturer and section head in Arabic in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, he is also a part-time lecturer in the Department of Religious Studies and an adjunct professor at the School of Law. During commencement this spring, he will receive the Carl F. Wittke Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching for the second time since 2012.

Along with the rich intellectual content of his courses, Islambouli’s students praise the relaxed atmosphere he creates. 

“The pure joy and content that can be felt in the classroom when he teaches is truly amazing,” one student wrote. Another observed, “Professor Islambouli’s teaching style is very pleasant and captivating. He took the time to make sure that I learned to enjoy the material before I began to learn it.” 

 “I try to make sure everyone is getting the material,” Islambouli said. “I give them all the opportunities I can give so that they can succeed in my class.” 

When students tell him they want to take a course in Arabic or Islamic studies but can’t fit it into their schedules, he meets with them individually instead.

During his college years, Islambouli was a leader of the Muslim Student Association; today, he is the advisor both for that group and for the Middle Eastern Cultural Association. This is only one of the ways he interacts with students outside of class. Many come to him for advice about personal issues, and his relationships with them often endure long after they graduate. 

In several cases, he says, “I have even conducted their weddings.”