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March 9, 2021

Donald F. Koch Quality in Undergraduate Teaching Award

Erica A. Wehrwein

Erica A. Wehrwein

Associate Professor 
Department of Physiology
College of Natural Science

Erica A. Wehrwein is a model educator who significantly strengthens MSU’s mission, nationally and internationally, through her commitment to exemplary undergraduate teaching and major contributions to curricular reform in physiology education as well as graduate and medical education. 

Wehrwein methodically plans her courses to support well-organized, progressive learning that moves from instructor-led studies to student independent projects. With the exception of an introductory lecture, the majority of class time involves students working together, collecting data, using white boards to draw hypotheses and predict data, and solving patient cases. To ensure students engage in active, hands-on participation, laboratory experiences, weekly and semester-long research projects, and active discussion of clinical data occur nearly every class meeting. Further, as the developer and course director of the capstone laboratory for undergraduate physiology students, Wehrwein coordinates sixty-plus undergraduate research projects each semester that represent best practices and inquiry-based learning.

Knowing that some physiology misconceptions are common among students, Wehrwein conducted extensive student surveys her first year at MSU to determine these areas of misunderstanding and content confusion. She then designed lab topics to break down silos of learning to directly address — and correct — these erroneous impressions. She even organized an entire lab to tackle a major misunderstanding about the function of two main branches of the nervous system that textbooks often perpetuate, so students could detect the problem through their own observations to arrive at the correct understanding of content.

Basing some of her teaching on clinical work she conducted at the Mayo Clinic, Wehrwein incorporates her clinical training, research data and patient case studies into classroom material to support student learning. Her innovative work with endocrine research utilizing a glucose clamp allows her to offer the only undergraduate course in the nation incorporating this cutting-edge research technique, which her students greatly appreciate.

The Donald F. Koch Quality in Undergraduate Teaching Award celebrates educators who engage undergraduate students through innovative teaching techniques, compelling research activities, and ongoing involvement in education. For her excellent work preparing future generations of physiologists as both clinical practitioners and research scientists, Erica A. Wehrwein is most deserving of the Donald F. Koch Quality in Undergraduate Teaching Award.

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