Michael Lestz Named Director of Endowment for Asian Engagement

Associate Professor of History Michael Lestz ’68 has been named faculty director of the O’Neill Asia Cum Laude Endowment, which was established last spring through a generous gift from Michael and Trish O’Neill, parents of Michael “Ted” O’Neill ’08. The endowment is designed to promote student engagement with Asia and is expected to bolster the College’s position as a major center for the study of Asian cultures.

“Over time Trinity has built a remarkable Asian Studies program,” explains Lestz. “Both the East and South Asian worlds are covered by faculty specialists in various fields, and there has been a good deal of cross-fertilization. We have learned from each other and constructed a curricular program within which courses do not stand in splendid isolation but are fitted together in a template that encourages exploration beyond the boundaries of regions or national narratives.”

Professor Lestz, a member of the Trinity faculty since 1980, has served as director of international studies, chair of the history department, and director of Asian programs—where he oversaw the development of collaborative relationships with several Asian universities including Qinghua University in Beijing, and Vietnam National University in Hanoi. He has twice been awarded National Endowment for the Humanities teaching grants and was a founder of the Trinity Himalayas Global Learning Site. In addition, he has led Trinity students, alumni, and friends of the College on study tours or to pursue course work in China, Cambodia, Tibet, and Nepal.

The first initiative under the umbrella of the O’Neill Endowment was launched this summer as 16 Trinity students and three faculty members took part in a four week credit-bearing summer program that culminated in a journey to Tibet. Lestz and Laura Harrington, visiting assistant professor of religion, introduced courses on Buddhism and China’s interaction with Tibet while Anne Parmenter, head field hockey coach, served as the group’s co-leader in the field. The participants came to understand the “cityscape” of Lhasa and made visits to famous monastic communities such as Sera, Samye, and Reting. In summers to come, similar programs will take groups of students to other parts of Asia so that Asian studies majors and students working in other fields can strengthen their understanding of Asian peoples and cultures.

Says Lestz, “The O’Neill Endowment will allow us to nurture an already innovative program and propel it many steps forward by creating unique opportunities for study and research within the Asian world. It will also provide funding to support students who otherwise might not be able to enhance their education with first-hand experience. The endowment appreciably strengthens Asian studies at Trinity College.”

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