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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    ‘Older learners’ follow peers’ educational lead

    The older you get, the wiser you get.

    Just ask members of the UA’s chapter of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, a group dedicated to stimulating intellectual discussions and a love of learning for people age 50 and older.

    “”We’re all older learners,”” said Sandee Binyon, president of the UA chapter. “”We’re curious, we still have a lot of capacity to learn, but we don’t want the traditional college classes.””

    OLLI is a membership-driven organization, with classes moderated by their peers, said Penny Schmitt, OLLI administrative associate.

    “”We bring in outside speakers and professionals on various occasions, but mainly they are led by their own peers,”” she said.

    OLLI is affiliated with the UA through the Continuing Education and Academic Outreach program and costs $225 per year for unlimited classes, Schmitt said.

    “”We have various classes, various topics, and they change every semester,”” Schmitt said. “”We run pretty much consecutive with the UA schedule.””

    The entire concept of OLLI is member participation, she said.

    “”We do not hire anybody; this is all voluntary and unpaid,”” she added.

    Through OLLI, members can volunteer to become group leaders and teach a class of their choosing.

    “”It repels Alzheimer’s,”” said Sol Littman, a five-year OLLI member. “”People are thinking, people are engrossed, people take initiatives, people learn a lot. It beats doing crossword puzzles.””

    Littman teaches a Monday night class on the Holocaust, which relies heavily on peer participation.

    “”Nobody is just sitting there with their hands folded,”” he said, adding that instruction and learning from one another is enriching. “”Seniors giving their own courses – using their background and specialties from their previous professional life, sharing it with others – is great.””

    Like traditional college courses, OLLI also provides social connections outside of the classroom setting, Littman said.

    “”I even suspect there are some geriatric romances taking place,”” he said with a smile. “”I know two couples that have met here at OLLI.””

    OLLI currently has 280 members and between 27 and 32 different classes a semester, each meeting once a week, Schmitt said. Enrollment numbers are expected to rise to about 300 in the spring.

    OLLI started in 1989 and was called Senior Achievement and Growth through Education until two years ago, when it received a Bernard Osher Foundation grant and changed its name, as did the other 112 OLLI programs in the U.S.

    The Osher Foundation grant gives the recipient organization $100,000 a year for three years, Schmidt said. The UA chapter is currently in its second year.

    Part of that money was used last summer to move the program from its old, crowded home on the third floor of the University Services Building, 888 N. Euclid Ave., to the spacious ground floor of the University Services Annex East building, 220 W. Sixth Street, Schmitt said.

    “”We now have our own lounge, we have our own conference room, and we have our two classrooms down here,”” she said. “”We’re really excited about having our own space.””

    Simi Aziz, 77, has been an OLLI member since January 1990. She’s a former bookkeeper and accountant, yet never went to college.

    “”They (OLLI members) are warm, intelligent, personable and fun,”” she said. “”The contact with the people has been very satisfying.””

    OLLI is looking at spending its grant money this year on bigger TVs for the visually impaired, a “”looping system”” for members with hearing aids and possibly summer classes, she added.

    Aziz said she hopes to take classes for as long as she can.

    “”I look forward to the fall when classes start, and I’m sorry to see classes end,”” she said. “”For me, this has been very big.””

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