Faculty Reflections

Memories of the Lilly Teaching Conference
Shape My Career Development

By Pete Giordano
Professor, Psychological Science

2017 Lilly Conference Attendees (left to right): Jessica Mueller, Nathan Webb, Jennifer Thomas, Lucyellen Dahlgren, Mike Pinter, Marnie Vanden Noven, Pete Giordano, Brad Schleben, and Julie Hunt; Not pictured: Barb Padovich

I never thought I would be a college professor. Early on, I was not even sure I would get my bachelor’s degree.  Neither of my parents have a college degree, and one of my older brothers had flunked out of Wake Forest about the time I was starting high school. Dave threw the javelin at Wake and, by his own report, that’s all he did – throw the javelin and, well, party. He was my idol and “role model,” so his brief stint at Wake put some doubt in my mind about my own ability to succeed in college. So I was proud of myself (and relieved) when I earned my undergraduate degree.  Then a few years later, I applied to PhD programs in clinical psychology and by some miracle of the universe got in.  But I never thought I would be a professor.  Then I started to teach as a third year grad student and slowly my career interests began to shift.  Through another stroke of luck, I had a wonderful major professor who started to point me in the direction of university positions that valued teaching and mentoring undergraduates.

As I look back on my 28 years at Belmont, two things stand out about my career path.  First, my departmental colleagues are the best, and I am lucky to have landed with this group. Second, and this is the focus of this blog post, it is memories of the Lilly Conference on College Teaching that have shaped my career as a teaching professor. I’ve lost count of how many times I have attended this conference (the one at Miami University in Oxford, OH), but it is a lot. Below are three reasons why this conference has been important in my development as a teacher.

First, it is one of the best conferences on the planet if you want to develop your teaching abilities.  I’d be lying if I said all the sessions at Lilly are spectacular. Some of them are boring, and I’m sure I’ve presented some of those sessions.  If you’ve not read Richard Light’s Making the Most of College (2001, Harvard University Press), you should. There are many important lessons in this book.  Here’s one of them. Where do students say their most important learning experiences happen?  Guess what?  Not in our classrooms.  Many important learning experiences occur when our students are talking to their peers – outside of our classrooms when you and I are nowhere to be found.  The same principle applies to the Lilly conference.  I have learned a great deal from the talks and workshops but, like the students interviewed for Light’s book, I have learned so much from Belmont colleagues in the van drive to and from the conference, in conversations during the meals, at the receptions prior to dinner, and during “after hours” events with Belmont friends.  The memories of these moments are a deep reservoir of inspiration that continue to mold my development as a teacher.

My second point relates to the first.  There are a lot of faculty on our campus whom you do not know.  But, like you, they care deeply about teaching and want to get better at it.  The Lilly conference is a marvelous venue to get to know them. These new connections happen every year.  While at Lilly, you meet Belmont colleagues from across campus and you develop new friendships.  And ideally these friendships get renewed each year at Lilly, as they did this year.

Finally, I have learned a tremendous amount about teaching by making presentations at Lilly.  I was terrified the first time I presented in front of a Lilly group, but I quickly learned these folks are just like me – they care a lot about becoming better teachers, and we are all on the learning curve together. At Lilly, the line between presenter and audience is blurry. The Lilly conference does not have a lot of pomp and circumstance.  It is a delightfully quirky collection of academics who love teaching and want to talk about it. As a later career faculty member, it is also exciting to see the creative and interesting teaching projects that some of Belmont’s younger faculty are doing – this group keeps my teaching heart young.

So that’s a thumbnail sketch of how memories from the Lilly conference have shaped and will continue to direct my career development.  That’s what memories do – they connect our past and future in a way that drives development forward.

You can read more about Lilly Conferences here and about Belmont’s participation in the 2017 Lilly Conference on College Teaching here.