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 LLI Spotlight:  Avi Bernstein, Director, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (BOLLI) at Brandeis University, Waltham, Mass. 

By Peter Spiers

BOLLI at Brandeis University was founded in 2000 by Dr. Bernard Reisman, then a professor emeritus at Brandeis, as the Brandeis Adult Learning Institute.  Conceived from the beginning as “a small liberal arts college within a research university,” the Institute grew quickly and applied for and received an Osher endowment grant in 2006.  BOLLI is one of four programs that make up Brandeis’s Raab School of Continuing Studies, which also offers online Master’s Degree, Summer School, and Continuing Studies programs to non-traditional students.  Membership fluctuates seasonally between 500 and 600, and members choose from five membership levels, ranging in cost from $675 for the “Annual Comprehensive” plan to $265 for the “Snowbird” plan.  All members receive free parking, access to a distinguished lunch and learn speakers series, special interest groups, an exercise class, and discounted tickets to Brandeis faculty led intensive seminars.  BOLLI is managed by a full-time staff of three—a director, an assistant director, and a program coordinator—and governed informally by an Advisory Council comprised of standing committee chairs and member liaisons.  About a quarter of members have an affiliation with Brandeis, as alumni, retired faculty or staff, or the parent or grandparent of a current Brandeis student.  Avi Bernstein, in his sixth year as Director, says that during his tenure he’s watched the organization “explode in terms of diversity,” an accomplishment he’s very proud of.

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LLI Spotlight:  Marilyn Schorin, President, Veritas Society, Bellarmine University, Louisville, Ky.

By Peter Spiers

The Veritas Society at Bellarmine University was founded in 1995 by a group of Bellarmine alumni who wanted to bring the lifelong learning experience into their community.  They approached the university about the idea and found a receptive ear — Bellarmine strongly supported continuing education for people 55 and older.  Today Veritas has 400 members and reaches well beyond Bellarmine into the broader Louisville community and is non-denominational despite the university’s status as a Catholic institution.  Members pay dues of $40 per six-week semester ($20 for the shorter summer term) and $10 for each class they take.  Privileges of membership include on-campus parking, access to the library and the gym, and a weekly lunch and learn program featuring speakers from Louisville’s civic as well as academic communities.  Marilyn Schorin works as a corporate consultant and her role as president is a volunteer one, supported by two half-time administrative staff in the Bellarmine School of Continuing and Professional Studies.  Oversight at Veritas is provided by a Board of Directors with a president, vice president, secretary and representatives from standing committees that include Curriculum, Field Trips, Special Events, Volunteers, Lunch and Learn, Finance and Newsletter.

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LLI Spotlight: Jerilyn Logue, Program Manager, OLLI at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa

By Peter Spiers

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LLI Spotlight:  Rosemary Reinhardt, Executive Director, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Boise State University, Boise, Idaho

By Peter Spiers

Background:  The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Boise State University was founded 15 years ago by a small group of curious intellectuals committed to establishing a learning organization like those they’d seen at their alma maters back East and elsewhere.  The organization, originally called the Renaissance Institute, began with the support of then dean of the Division of Extended Studies Joyce Harvey Morgan. Classes were initially held in living rooms, theaters and anywhere else space could be found until dedicated space on campus could be arranged. In 2006 the Institute received its first grant from the Osher Foundation and became an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.  Since then it has received two $1 million endowments that have been instrumental in its growth. The OLLI is now home to over 1,400 members, drawn from retired university faculty and staff, alumni, longtime community residents, and retirees drawn to Boise’s growing stature as a desirable retirement destination.  Volunteers play a big part in the organization, providing council to the executive director through a 15-member advisory board, and serving on four subject-specific curriculum committees and other committees.  Members pay $70 for a full-year or $35 for a half-year membership which includes attendance at all lectures for no additional cost, a parking pass, and attendance at two seasonal events, but does not include short courses or special trips, for which varying fees apply.  Executive Director Rosemary Reinhardt directs an office that includes three other paid staff—a coordinator and an administrative assistant—and a part-time student office assistant.

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 LLI Spotlight:  Katie Compton, Director, Lifelong Learning Institute, Washington University in St. Louis

By Peter Spiers

The Lifelong Learning Institute at Washington University in St. Louis was founded in 1995 by a remarkable and dedicated group inspired by the LLI at Northwestern University and dedicated to the idea of peer learning.  With the strong backing of Mark Wrighton, the newly-appointed Washington University chancellor, the program began with three classes and about 20 participants and within five years, according to Director Katie Compton, was “cooking with gas.”  In 2002 the university granted the LLI dedicated classroom space in a campus building with adjacent covered parking, another spur to growth.  Today the LLI boasts 1,400 members, including 900 active in 2016-17.  Some members choose to pay an annual membership fee of $665, entitling them to enroll in three classes every semester, while others pay “a la carte.”  (More limited membership options are also available.)  The LLI’s calendar includes eight-week semesters in the fall, winter and spring, and a four-week summer semester; all classes have an academic focus and the majority of classes adhere to the founders’ vision of peer learning.  Under the wing of the university’s professional and continuing education division, the LLI is managed by Compton with the support of volunteers organized into an executive committee and other functional committees.  Perhaps the busiest group is the curriculum committee, comprising chairs of nine subject-specific subcommittees, which is constantly working to create new courses and mentor new facilitators.

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LLI Spotlight:  Sarah Anderson, Director, OLLI at Penn State, University Park

By Peter Spiers

The Community Academy for Lifelong Learning (CALL) at The Pennsylvania State University was founded in 1996 after the University’s College of Health and Human Development received a small grant to benefit the education of older people in the community. The college’s dean asked staff members to study ways the grantor’s purpose might be implemented, and they learned about the Lifelong Learning Institute movement. Coincidentally, the director of Continuing Education was exploring the potential for bringing a Lifelong Learning Institute to Penn State, and out of these parallel efforts a task force came together that included local retirees with university connections.

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LLI Spotlight: Beverlee Koutny, Coordinator, Chemeketa Center for Learning in Retirement, Woodburn, Ore.

By Peter Spiers

Woodburn is a small town of approximately 25,000 in the Willamette Valley between Portland and Salem, Oregon, and is the home of a branch of Salem-based Chemeketa Community College. In the late 1990s a 55+ residential community—Woodburn Estates—was built in the town, and the college’s president was determined to draw these older residents into its learning community. Since many of the Estates residents were new to the area they expressed interest in learning more about the history of the Willamette Valley, and in the summer of 1999 the community college began offering day trips to local historical sites. As people participating in these trips forged bonds of friendship, they decided that classes would also be enjoyable and enriching, and Beverlee Koutny, a teacher by training, a native of the area, and a passionate local historian, became involved. With about 30 paid members each semester, the Chemeketa Center for Learning in Retirement is a small but vibrant organization, offering a handful of classes each semester and continuing with the summer field trips where the organization began 17 years ago. Members pay $35 a year, and summer trips are open to everyone.

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LLI Spotlight:  Linda Shook, Director, OLLI at Auburn

By Peter Spiers

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Auburn University began as the Auburn University Academy for Lifelong Learning (AUall) in 1990.  Founder Mary Burkhart, who worked in continuing education at Auburn, guided growth from an initial membership of 30 people to 200 in 2007.  That year the organization received its initial Osher Foundation grant, became an OLLI, and hired Linda Shook as its first full-time, paid employee.  OLLI at Auburn now boasts more than 900 members at three separate campuses — Auburn University, Auburn University at Montgomery, and at the Chambers County Library in nearby Valley, Alabama.  An annual fee of $25 entitles members to audit Auburn University courses, access books and online resources from the University’s library system, ride university shuttle buses and register for OLLI courses.  Course fees — for as many courses as you want — are $115 per semester, or $200 for the entire year, and summer courses are free.  In addition to Linda, full-time staff includes OLLI Coordinator Barbara Daron and, for the fall semester, an intern paid by the university assigned to OLLI to undertake a comprehensive membership survey to better understand the learning needs and interests of retiring Baby Boomers. OLLI at Auburn also hires Auburn University students as AV Assistants to coordinate technology during OLLI classes, which is a great way to create interaction with Auburn students and OLLI students.       

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LLI Spotlight:  Ara Rogers, Director, OLLI-USF

By Peter Spiers

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at USF (The University of Southern Florida) was founded in 1993—with support from what was previously called the Elderhostel Institute Network—as the USF Division of Senior Programs.  The organization became an OLLI in 2005 and received $1 million grants from the Bernard Osher Foundation in both 2007 and 2008.  Entering its 23rd year, OLLI-USF has 1,500 members who pay annual dues of $40 and additional course fees ranging from $20 to $85 depending on the number of class sessions, the venue, and the cost of class materials.  While generally membership is required for class enrollment, exceptions exist where a partnership can be created and access to an appropriate venue can be secured; in a cooperative arrangement with the Tampa Bay History Center, for example, that organization’s members are able to enroll in OLLI courses offered there.  Ara Rogers describes the prototypical OLLI-USF member as a “67-year-old woman with a master’s degree.”  Unlike many parts of Florida, Tampa isn’t a retirement destination; most members are originally from somewhere else but moved to the area for work or to be near family.  Ara leads a staff of five — three of whom are full-time employees.  In addition to Ara, the other full-time staff includes Joseph McAuliffe, who coordinates liberal arts programming, and Charise Dixie, hired recently as registrar after the division of Continuing Education could no longer accommodate OLLI registration with its small staff. 

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LLI Spotlight: Sheila Rocker Heppe, Director of Extended Education & OLLI Programs, Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA

By Peter Spiers

OLLI @ Humboldt State University, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, is based at Humboldt State University (HSU) in Arcata, C.A., but holds most of its classes across Humboldt Bay in Eureka. The Redwood Coast of Northern California is isolated — a five-hour drive north of San Francisco and equally far south of Eugene, Ore. When you talk to Sheila Rocker Heppe, who has served as Director of Extended Education & OLLI Programs at HSU for seven years, you sense that it’s a vibrant community of committed, active citizens who have learned to make the most of this isolation by leveraging community resources to their utmost. OLLI-HSU has grown to 1,300 members — larger, Sheila says, than you might expect in a community of this size — and members are a mix of lifelong area residents, retired HSU alumni, staff, and faculty, and newcomers drawn to the area for its natural beauty and outdoorsy ethos. 

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LLI Spotlight:  Vickie Heffner, Executive Director, PILLAR Institute for Lifelong Learning, Colorado Springs, CO 

By Peter Spiers

The PILLAR Institute for Lifelong Learning, founded in 1998 under the auspices of Pikes Peak Community College and spun off a year later as an independent 501(c)(3) organization, prides itself on being the only independent Llifelong Learning Organization in the Pikes Peak region.  Four hundred members pay an annual membership fee of $65, entitling them to a $10 discount from the standard carte course cost of $30.  (For the insatiable learner, there’s a fee category called UCC—“Unlimited Classes and Courses”—at a cost of $250 per trimester.)  Membership is a healthy mix of highly educated people who take classes on subjects they didn’t study in college, and others who never went to college and who are making up for it in retirement.  The curriculum is focused primarily on liberal arts and the sciences, and many courses are taught by retired or current faculty members from Colorado College, the United States Air Force Academy, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak Community College.  Colorado Technical University, with mostly evening classes for working people, provides classroom space for PILLAR during the day and classes are also taught in ten or twelve venues around Colorado Springs, including four retirement centers and three churches.  PILLAR produces over 300 classes and three catalogs each year.

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LLI Spotlight:  Amy Diamond, Executive Director, DavidsonLearns, Davidson, NC

By Peter Spiers

DavidsonLearns in Davidson, N.C., finished its fourth year of operation this spring. Amy Diamond has been the organization’s executive director from the beginning, when she was asked to take the position by a group of Davidson citizens who had been meeting to discuss the idea of forming a Lifelong Learning institute. Davidson is also the home of an outstanding, small liberal arts institution, Davidson College (known to NBA fans as where Golden State Warrior Steph Curry played college basketball). Amy initially approached the college to explore an affiliation but was told by college officials that learning in retirement wasn’t at the time a high priority, nor was there classroom space available.

Amy and the citizen group instead formed a 501(3)(c) and, in the fall of 2012, launched DavidsonLearns with a slate of three classes. Amy recalls great trepidation in the weeks leading up to the launch; she had posted flyers all over town but had the normal anxiety that no one would come to the party. When the first class met, she was gratified to see only five familiar faces in a room of 25 people, and knew at that moment that her outreach efforts had worked and that Davidson was home to a real community of lifelong learners. 

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LLI Spotlight: Scherry Barra, Director, Christopher Wren Association, William & Mary, Williamsburg, Va.

By Peter Spiers

The Christopher Wren Association (CWA) at William & Mary was founded in 1991 by retired educators Wayne and Ruth Kernodle. While part of the school’s University Advancement department, CWA is self-funding and self-operating—William & Mary provides office and classroom space, but all out-of-pocket expenses, including staff salaries, are covered by member fees. Two full- and two part-time staff members keep the program running, and a third full-time staff member has just been hired. Some classes and events are held off campus at nearby retirement communities or in the Williamsburg Regional Library’s theater space.

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LLI Spotlight: Janna Overstreet, Executive Director, Lifelong Learning Academy of Sarasota, FL

By Peter Spiers

The Lifelong Learning Academy (LLA) of Sarasota, FL, was founded in 1994. While the Academy has had a long relationship with the University of South Florida (USF) and has been housed at USF’s Sarasota-Manatee campus, it is an independent 501(c)(3) organization. That’s about to change. On June 1, 2016, LLA will complete a merger with the Ringling College of Art and Design and move further toward its twin goals of being the lifelong learning program of choice in Sarasota County and contributing to the county’s economic development by helping attract retirees to the area. LLA will take a new name—the Ringling College Lifelong Learning Academy—and will be incorporated into the college’s Continuing Studies and Special Programs unit. While the Academy will initially occupy temporary space, it will eventually take up residence alongside the Sarasota Museum of Art in the rehabbed historic Sarasota High School, a classic Collegiate-Gothic style building erected in 1926. In addition to solving LLA’s space needs, the merger will enable it to expand its outreach to working boomers and its intergenerational programming.

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LLI Spotlight: Julie Martenson, Ph.D., OLLI Director, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, University of Texas at Austin

By Peter Spiers

Julie Martenson joined OLLI at The University of Texas in 2015. The OLLI @ UT has 1,914 total members and uniquely among OLLIs and LLIs has five separate and distinct programs —each with its own membership — under the larger OLLI umbrella.
What do you consider your top 3-5 responsibilities at OLLI? The advantage of our decentralized program structure is that our members can find more intimate social engagement and make strong friendships in a small group that would be more difficult if we were one large program with nearly 2,000 members. Each of our five programs not only has its own membership but also its own personality and culture, and members are so fiercely loyal to their program that there’s even a little competition between them. From an administrative point of view it’s unwieldy, and so far I’ve been focusing on working to introduce more universal processes that go beyond just encouraging each program to follow a set of best practices. We’ve pulled together volunteer leadership from each program to draft a “foundation document” containing rules for the governance and use of each program’s Excellence Fund — member-raised funds for expenses not covered by regular operational funds like grants awarded to university departments or buying wine for guests at social events. That document has been completed and submitted to the membership for comment.

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LLI Spotlight: Heather Jasmin, Program Coordinator, Cheshire Academy for Lifelong Learning (CALL), Keene State College, Keene, New Hampshire

By Peter Spiers

The Cheshire Academy for Lifelong Learning (CALL) was founded in 1994 at Keene State College in the southwestern corner of New Hampshire. (Keene State was one of the five college campuses in New Hampshire that hosted Elderhostel programs during its founding summer in 1975.) Unlike many LLIs, CALL is administered and run by the college from its Office of Continuing Education rather than by a cadre of volunteer members. Heather Jasmin has served as CALL’s program coordinator for 11 years and has additional responsibilities for children’s programming, summer conferencing, and assists with teacher professional development programming. About half of CALL’s 450 members were drawn to southwest New Hampshire in retirement, in part because of the state’s favorable tax environment for retirees, while other members are longtime residents. With the exception of a small satellite location offering Thursday programs in a neighboring town, all programs are offered on Fridays, on campus.

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LLI Spotlight: Susan Hoffman, Director, OLLI, University of California, Berkeley 

By Peter Spiers

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, was founded twice. Funded initially by the Osher Foundation in 2003, the OLLI’s first life lasted until 2005, when the University suspended operations to consider more thoroughly which lifelong learning model was best aligned with university objectives and principles, and how it could take a leadership role in lifelong learning. The two-year hiatus involved deliberations at the highest levels of university leadership and, as a result of this process, when relaunched in 2007 the OLLI had both a solid plan and the emotional investment of the University Academic Senate, the body that represents faculty in University governance. Membership grew to 600 in the first year of renewed operations, and has since grown to 2,000. Susan Hoffman has been OLLI at Berkeley’s director since 2007.

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LLI Spotlight: Cate O’Hara, Program Director, OLLI, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio

By Peter Spiers

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Cincinnati was founded in 1990, offering fewer than 20 courses to 130 founding members that year; twenty-five years later, 1,700 learners chose from 400 courses. The OLLI is just one of the ways host University of Cincinnati OLLI supports community learning. The OLLI’s sister organization—Communiversity—offers learning programs to Cincinnatians of all ages, with an abundance of vocational programs in test preparation, job skills, and certificate programs for professional development, as well as a wide range of courses for hobbyists and more. Cate O’Hara has served as the OLLI’s Program Director since January, 2013. 

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LLI Spotlight: Jeff Shinaman, Executive Director, Academy for Lifelong Learning (ALL), SUNY Empire State College

By Peter Spiers

The Academy for Lifelong Learning at SUNY Empire State College was founded by volunteers in 1992 and has since grown to 375 members, with a 40% spike in membership in the last year alone. Jeff Shinaman, ALL’s Executive Director, attributes the recent growth to a change in membership dues and the class fee structure. Formerly a flat annual fee of $250 for all the courses you wanted at no extra charge, the model now combines $50 annual membership dues with a per-semester fee of $50 for the first course and $25 for each additional course. Each spring and fall eight-week term features about 30 classes (or “study groups” as they’re called at this lifelong learning institute) led by volunteer facilitators who are a mix of ALL members and local community representatives. In addition to multi-week classes, ALL offers several one-time lectures each semester, free to members and their guests, featuring speakers such as Memory Athlete Brad Zupp. ALL is located in Saratoga Springs, NY, home to the famous Saratoga Race Course and close to prime vacation destinations Lake George and Adirondack Park. Saratoga Springs has become a retirement destination with a growing 60+ population.

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