Retiring Faculty Members Look Back at Lessons Taught and Lessons Learned

Seven Trinity College Instructors Share Favorite Experiences and Teaching Philosophies

​Hartford, Connecticut, May 15, 2017 – Seven members of the Trinity College faculty are retiring during the 2016-2017 academic year. Below, they reflect on some of their favorite lessons and greatest memories.


E. Kathleen Archer, Associate Professor of Biology

During her time at Trinity, Archer has conducted research in two areas: the first focuses on algal chloroplasts living within the body of the sea slug Elysia crispata, an unusual relationship that allows the slug to survive without food as long as it receives light, and the second focuses on biology education, in particular on teaching techniques that are evidence based and on methods to objectively measure successful learning.

“Listening to students and reading their feedback played a huge role in helping me know what was true about their learning experiences and helped me identify teaching strategies that could make the learning experience better,” Archer said. “With teaching, I wanted to know what is true about what is hard to learn in biology and what is true about what facilitates learning those difficult concepts. One technique I like a lot is to give lots of simple, very short problems in class. Students write out their answers, and I collect them. Reading them right after class reveals if a teaching approach worked and also reveals when misunderstandings are persisting.”

Archer has incorporated much of what she has learned from her students into her massive open online course (MOOC) for Trinity, “Effective Teaching Strategies for Biology.”


Ellison Banks Findly, Scott M. Johnson ’97 Distinguished Professor of Religion

Findly was a visiting curator in South Asian art at the Worcester Art Museum before joining the Trinity faculty in 1980, as a member of both the Religious Studies Department and the International Studies Program. “Being at Trinity has allowed me to find my voice,” Findly said. “That voice is evolving as I’ve been able to follow many directions in my research.” In each class, she said, she is reminded of how important it is to render the materials she is entrusted with as faithfully and honestly as possible. One of the most challenging parts of teaching is opening up the richness of the traditions in ways that are accessible and meaningful to students, Findly said.

The projects that have stood out to her the most are a series of sand mandalas worked on by several students. For one mandala, in 1998, a student invited nuns from Kathmandu, Nepal, to Trinity. These nuns were some of the first women to learn how to create mandalas by using special funnels to lay down colored sand. The sand designs are enjoyed for some time before being dismantled. “The dismantling of the mandala is a very moving experience. The ceremony is meant to show that nothing is permanent,” Findly said. “It’s transformative for students in a different way from learning about them in the classroom. In addition, the mandala experience can reach well beyond the Trinity community to the Greater Hartford community.”


Joan Morrison, Professor of Biology

Morrison’s research involves studies of birds living in human-impacted landscapes, particularly birds of prey. Before coming to Trinity, Morrison worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service in Alaska, Colorado, Washington, and New Mexico. While at Trinity, her research projects included a study of red-tailed hawks living in Hartford, documenting the structure of avian communities in Hartford’s urban parks, and monitoring a population of crested caracaras in Florida.

Morrison taught in both the Biology Department and the Environmental Science Program. In her last semester, Morrison taught a biology senior seminar called “Avian Ecology and Conservation,” which quickly became one of her favorite teaching moments. “The students were totally engaged, and we had some great discussions and student presentations about all topics related to birds,” she said.

Morrison said that her “Global Biodiversity” course for nonmajors was one of the most important classes she has taught at Trinity. “The challenge was to encourage students to think about many things they might not have thought about before, like the values of biodiversity, ecosystem services, and conservation,” she said. “I think the class in which these students identified winter twigs from trees – no leaves! – was one of the most fun.”

During retirement, she plans to continue birdbanding and other educational programs with local students and conservationists and will conduct research in Florida and Arizona.


Robert F. Peltier IDP’91, M’92, Principal Lecturer in the Allan K. Smith Center for Writing and Rhetoric

Peltier, who earned a B.A. and M.A. in English from Trinity, came to the College as an Individualized Degree Program (IDP) student. By teaching an IDP seminar in his last semester, his time at Trinity has come full circle.

Peltier has taught courses that required research and argument and courses that asked students to engage with and write about the community beyond Trinity’s campus. Born and raised in the Hartford area, he has taught in many programs that connected Trinity to the surrounding neighborhoods and the Greater Hartford area.

Over his many years of teaching, “it has always been the students that I remember most,” he said. Peltier has invited both traditional and IDP students to his house for dinner and worked to form lasting connections with them. “I once had a student reach out to me a few years after graduation. He told me he had won a prize for his writing,” Peltier said. “His high school teacher had told him he would never be a writer; look where he is now.”

Peltier was a recipient of Trinity’s Dean Arthur H. Hughes Award for Achievement in Teaching. The themes that extend through all of his classes are that writing creates knowledge and that writing and reading make life enjoyable and meaningful.


Livio Pestilli, Director of Trinity College Rome Campus

Pestilli served as the resident director of the Trinity College Rome campus from the fall of 1979 through September 2016. Pestilli is an accomplished art historian who has published numerous articles in international journals, a monograph on Paolo de Matteis: Neapolitan Painting and Cultural History in Baroque Europe, and an interdisciplinary book, Picturing the Lame in Italian Art from Antiquity to the Modern Era.

The Rome campus has seen many logistical improvements through the years, he said, including wireless connectivity. “The courses primarily focus, then as now, on the liberal arts, with other courses added along the way so as to be in tune with the times,” he said.

Pestilli added, “What I love most about the program is to be able to share my passions with young people: art, history, food, coffee (not necessarily in that order).” He continues to serve as a special adviser to the Rome program while teaching one course per term. He said, “My hope is that the program will continue to prosper and excel, as it has in the past, for the next 47 years so as to allow many more young people to widen their horizons by studying abroad. That, in and of itself, is fundamental to complement the liberal arts education our students receive at their home institutions.”


Milla Cozart Riggio, James J. Goodwin Professor of English

Riggio’s passion for Shakespeare led her to become a professional dramaturg. “At Trinity, I staged plays – most notably the medieval Play of Wisdom (1984), directed by Roger Shoemaker, and Othello (1992) under the direction of former Royal Shakespeare actor Charles Keating,” she said. In her Shakespeare classes, she developed a performance exercise called “The Playing Game,” which pushed non-theater students to think of Shakespeare plays as dialogues between characters, rather than texts. “My mantra: If you want to really learn, you must move the knowledge from your head to your lived experience,” Riggio said. She also trained herself to teach film courses, a central part of the last half of her career.

Her love for Trinidad Carnival and culture began when she went to Trinidad for a Shi‘ite festival known as Hosay. Riggio has focused since 1995 on Trinidad Carnival and culture. “As a result of this focus, I started the Trinity in Trinidad study-away program,” she said. Riggio co-founded Guided Studies, now known as the Humanities Gateway Program: European Cultures, and co-organized the international Turning Tides Conference (2016).

“I honor all my students, those who have won prizes, such as a MacArthur Genius Fellowship (Joanna Scott ’83), or become professors themselves, and those whose prize is living productive lives. However, perhaps my proudest moment came when, unexpectedly, I was invited to teach Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice to a group of severely disadvantaged, inner-city Trinidad students,” she said. “If anything I said in that hour – or in any other hour of my teaching – has made a difference in the lives of even one student, I have done my job.”


(Guanzhong) James Wen, Professor of Economics and International Studies

Wen specializes in development economics, globalization, and the economies of East Asia, particularly China. He believes in availing students of different perspectives and balancing mathematics with an institutional and historical approach. His teaching exemplifies his premise that economics can be learned more effectively if students are challenged to think more deeply and to connect theories with realities. Wen’s research interests include China’s total factor productivity in agriculture, the Great Leap Famine, and the Needham Puzzle.

Wen has always strived to impart to his students a specific way of thinking about economics. “I want to demonstrate to the students using the success and failure from some nations that economic development and growth could be accelerated or delayed by good institutions or bad institutions, respectively,” he said. “Many good institutional arrangements that students from a highly developed nation such as the U.S. take for granted could be nonexistent in a typical developing nation. Therefore, a typical developing nation not only needs to struggle for economic development and growth but also for the establishment of good economic institutes.”

Wen’s recent research interest focuses on revealing why China’s current collective land tenure system and hukou system are constraining China from bridging its deep rural-urban divide into an integrated and equitable society through modernization, urbanization, and globalization.


Also retiring:

John Rose, the John Rose College Organist-and-Directorship Distinguished Chair of Chapel Music at Trinity College, will retire in December 2017. Trinity alumnus Christopher Houlihan ’09, renowned organist and artist-in-residence at Trinity since 2013, has been named to succeed him.

Written by Eleanor Worsley ’17 and Bhumika Choudhary ’18