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Miami hosts international conference on education

Just less than 300 professors came to Miami for this year's Lilly Conference to learn about teaching and share their own research.
Just less than 300 professors came to Miami for this year's Lilly Conference to learn about teaching and share their own research.

Miami University’s Armstrong Student Center opened its doors to educators across the globe Nov. 18-20 for the 40th annual Lilly Conference, an event for professors and others with careers in higher education to share their research on learning.

Miami’s Lilly Conference, dubbed the Original Lilly Conference, began as a three-year program funded by the Lilly Pharmaceutical Company in 1979 to support early career professors. The original program included six universities, but as funding came to an end in 1981, faculty at Miami requested an extended endowment to expand the conference.

Milton Cox, founder and director emeritus of the Original Lilly Conference, said the company didn’t have the funds to continue supporting the program but allowed Miami to host the annual conference under the same name.

“Our first conference was in the Shriver Center,” Cox said. “There were maybe two or three people from Ball State and from Bowling Green who came, and the rest were Miami faculty.”

The following year, the Marcum Center had finished construction, and the Lilly Conference welcomed 35 faculty from other campuses.

Since then, the conference has expanded to an international scale, welcoming educators from Canada, England and Australia. The conference has also branched out to host events at other locations including San Diego, Austin, Texas, Asheville, North Carolina and even Hong Kong.

Cox said he hasn’t missed a conference since its inception.

“I’ve been to hundreds,” Cox said. “It’s really important for me to keep the connections with Miami, the original conference and all of the other conferences.”

This year, 275 educators made it to the conference, including one from Nigeria.

Lilly Conference attendees spend three days listening to lectures, learning about new publications on higher education, and presenting their own research and findings on teaching in college classrooms.

On Friday night, several dozen faculty members gathered in the Fritz Pavilion to learn about one another’s experiences in higher education and how to implement new techniques in their own teaching.

Professors Tracy Parson and Cheryl Shultz traveled to Oxford from Lorain County Community College in Ohio to present their findings on how virtual education during the pandemic has impacted nursing students.

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“We presented our work to our college last August for our faculty development days, and one of our colleagues encouraged us to bring it here to the Lilly Conference,” Parson said.

Shultz said in addition to providing plenty of food, from salads to chocolate bars, the conference also served as a good way to network with other educators from different disciplines and schools.

“We got to sit with a lot of nice people,” Shultz said. “That was nice because you have diversity in the amount of people you're talking with.”

Lamia Scherzinger, a senior lecturer from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, said she heard about the conference when she used to work at Miami in 2015. As an online educator, her experience was topical. She presented on how different types of learners function in online environments.

Despite the impact of COVID-19 — guests had to adhere to Miami’s mask policy, and international involvement was down from previous years — Scherzinger said her experience was still positive.

“This has been one of the best conferences I've been to,” Scherzinger said. “The topics have been very timely, very engaging, and the presenters have been very passionate as teachers and educators, not just researchers.”

The conference wasn’t all business, though. Gregg Wentzell, director of the Lilly Conference, said the three-day affair included multiple events beyond lectures and presentations, including a trivia night in Red Zone and live entertainment in the Shade Family Room.

“We've got … all kinds of categories from things like higher ed to science to a potpourri category, which is a lot of fun,” Wentzell said. “It makes for good bonding, a little friendly competition. We also have some musical entertainment by some Lilly folks.”

Even with the fun and games, the goal of the Lilly Conference remains the same as it was 40 years ago: to encourage interdisciplinary learning among faculty members so they can provide better education to their students.

“People don't just sit and listen to come and give a lecture,” Wentzell said. “It's very much more of an active learning kind of approach to sessions. They'll present the research … and then they'll engage the attendees in different kinds of activities and discussion.”

For attendee Megan Mefford of Ohio State University’s College of Pharmacy, the interaction with a range of faculty experts at the Lilly Conference paid off.

“Most of my focus has been on science, so it's very science-heavy conferences, and you hear really cool talks, but it's not something you can apply,” Mefford said. “[These are] immediately applicable things you can go back and implement tomorrow. It's the most useful conference I've ever been to.”