Erica Wehrwein named Distinguished Educator of the Year
Erica Wehrwein will be the first to tell you how much she enjoys attending commencement ceremonies.
The associate professor in the Michigan State University Department of Physiology said seeing the joy and smiles on the faces of her students and their families on graduation day is a validating moment as an educator.
“It’s inspiring to see how excited everyone is,” Wehrwein said. “It’s always emotional for me when the graduates stand at the end of the ceremony and give a round of applause as a ‘thank you’ to their professors and family that has helped them on their journey.”
Praises for Wehrwein’s passion for teaching was recently recognized last month when she was awarded the Arthur C. Guyton Distinguished Educator Award by the Teaching Section of the American Physiological Society (APS) during the annual Experimental Biology meeting.
To be eligible for the internationally recognized award, faculty members are to be nominated by a member of the APS, provide summaries of their student course evaluations, have letters of support from their colleagues and students and show a strong dedication to the physiology education field within the classroom and community.
“Erica’s been a long-term advocate with her research in physiology,” said Jeffrey Osborn, who served as the Chair of the APS Physiology Educators Committee during the selection process. “She’s a huge advocate for undergraduate physiology education and is always pushing for students to study medicine at a young age.”
True to her advocacy work, the Michigan native started out as a pre-med student during her undergraduate studies at Western Michigan University. However, during her sophomore year, her perspective started to change. She was passionate about helping others but knew that becoming a medical doctor would not be fulfilling to her.
“I was able to do some research work and teach while taking my pre-med courses and was really drawn to it,” Wehrwein recalled. “I come from a family of teachers so there’s always been a little bit of that in my nature. Plus, there’s something very tangible about helping students in real time. I like the immediacy of the interaction and impact it has on them.”
Lee Cox, professor and Department of Physiology chair said that Wehrwein’s dedication to teaching continues to be an inspiration for students and the surrounding communities.
“Dr. Wehrwein has developed a capstone experiential laboratory course that continues to be the highlight of our physiology students year after year,” Cox said. “She has tirelessly promoted physiology education in our local communities via annual events such as ‘Physiology Understanding Day’ at Impression 5 Museum, as well as extensive outreach into local elementary schools providing the opportunity for our MSU students to share knowledge and excitement of physiology to our next generation.”
Cox added that Wehrwein was a founding member of the Physiology Majors Interest Group, which is made up of national and international university faculty members involved in physiology education. The group created a set of recommended curriculum guidelines for undergraduate physiology majors which did not exist at the time. The group has been a major part of a new APS strategic initiative to launch a national Center for Physiology Education (CPE).
Wehrwein was invited to serve as a co-chair of the CPE developmental task force which worked to develop the mission and goals of the center. She begins her term on the inaugural CPE advisory board this month leading into its official launch later this summer.
“The work on the Center for Physiology Education is very important to me since it is truly transformative,” Wehrwein said. “It is an aspiration and visionary effort to improve physiology education around the world. I see it as a watershed moment for our field.”
Despite never becoming a medical doctor, it is moments like these that the Star Wars fanatic says she has no regrets following her heart.
“Because I’m teaching applied and clinically relevant human physiology, I can still get a flavor of working in human medicine,” said Wehrwein, adding that she continues to draw experiences from her clinical work with patient care as an undergrad and her postdoctoral fellowship in clinical research at the Mayo Clinic. “I think a big part of my teaching approach is to help people believe in themselves, to support them as they struggle in learning or choosing their career path, and to make the classroom welcoming.”
Banner image: Erica Wehrwein was presented with the Arthur C. Guyton Distinguished Educator Award by the Teaching Section of the American Physiological Society during the 2022 Experimental Biology meeting last month in Philadelphia. Credit: Tyler Lee