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

By Peter Spiers

The roots of the OLLI at Iowa State University go back to 1992, when the ISU Retirees Committee founded and then began offering classes as the College for Seniors under the auspices of the university’s human resources department.  The first classes (four total) were offered in the fall of 1993. In 2007, the College for Seniors became a constituent program of the alumni office and then a full program in January 2008, under the wing of the Office of the President, and in July of 2008 it received its first Osher Foundation grant and became an OLLI.

Now the organization boasts approximately 750 members who pay annual dues of $25 that entitles them to a host of benefits:  a monthly newsletter; admission to at least seven “members-only” lectures each year; a complimentary ticket to the Central Iowa Symphony, and a “buy-one-get-one-free” voucher for selected performances at the university’s main performance venue; and other discounts and offers from local businesses.  The members-only lecture series is an especially popular benefit.  Lectures in the series typically are given by distinguished scholars — this fall’s series, for example, includes a lecture titled “Several ‘Huge’ Constitutional Law Mistakes by the Modern U.S. Supreme Court” by a professor from the Drake University Constitutional Law Center.  Individual course fees depend on course length, and are typically $44 for four-week courses and $63 for eight-week courses.  Oversight at the OLLI is provided by a Board of Directors comprising officers and chairs of the six standing committees — Curriculum, Evaluation, Finance, Long-Range Planning, Marketing, and Volunteer.  The largest committee is Curriculum, but Jerilyn Logue says she would like to see that committee grow to stimulate an influx of new course ideas.  Most OLLI members — 82% — are from Ames, with 71-80-year-olds and 61-70-year-olds representing, respectively, the two largest member groups by age.  Jerilyn says she doesn’t track university affiliation in her member surveys because she wants members to feel comfortable if they don’t have any connection to ISU.  She’s proud that members come from diverse educational backgrounds.

What do you consider your major responsibilities at OLLI ISU?  My most important job is to work with our committees and make their plans and dreams a reality, whether it’s putting the catalog together, ensuring we have space for classes to be held, or making sure we have the required classroom technology.  I’m also the face of OLLI to the members, and I take every opportunity to communicate informally with them.  A few years ago I told everyone there was no such thing as a complaint — only concerns.  That language change gave people permission to come forward and talk to me.  When classes are in session I feel like the principal.  I like to be around members when they’re headed into the classroom and again on their way out to see their faces, see if they’re smiling, and talk to them.  It’s the best customer research there is!  Not every interaction is pleasant; I did a few years ago have to tell an instructor that he couldn’t teach anymore because his evaluations were so poor.  Having a great evaluation system helped a lot because I could really let the rating and comments tell the story.  

How is your relationship with ISU?  Very good.  We’re fortunate to be a program of the alumni association, which in turn is part of the Office of the President.  Iowa State University is currently searching for a new president, and we’re preparing a briefing book on OLLI so we can get him or her on board as soon as possible.  We also have a great connection to and reputation with faculty.  They like to teach some our classes because our members are attentive and have a passion for learning and level of curiosity they don’t always see in their undergraduate students.

What are some favorite courses you offer?  We do have teachers with a real following; people tell me, for example, that anything Jorgen Rasmussen teaches they will take.  He has deep knowledge of political science and law but also teaches about baseball and all kinds of subjects.  Sam Wormley is another popular teacher who has carved out a niche helping people get the most out of their Macs and other devices but also science in general.  And V.V. Raman, an emeritus professor from the Rochester Institute of Technology, is a philosopher-physicist who teaches on a wide range of subjects from religion and philosophy to comedy.  Music and history are perennial favorites, with WWII a popular topic right now.  Another long-running favorite that’s always packed is “What in the World?!? An Examination of World Events as they Happen,” a five-week course where the class discusses whatever is in the news that week.  Members want more than academic courses, so we have courses like tai chi, a course on the electric grid that includes a field trip to an electricity substation, writing courses, cooking classes at a kitchen store with a demo kitchen complete with overhead mirrors, and lots more.  We’ve also been offering a few evening classes in early fall and late spring.  We started with courses later in the evening but learned that 5:30 p.m. was the perfect time because people who are still working can take the class on their way home from work.  Finally, we offer single-day trips in the fall and spring on a variety of subjects. For example we are offering a tour of barn quilts this fall. Plans are in place for an upcoming tour trip to Springfield, Illinois, to visit Lincoln sites.

Is there another LLI you have a close relationship with or have learned from?  Dee Aguilar from the OLLI at the University of Nebraska has been a great resource.  The Osher conference that’s held every 18 months has also been a great venue for networking, and I appreciate that the Osher Foundation pays for one staff member and one volunteer to attend the conferences.  I gravitate toward other LLI leadership from the Midwest because our membership bases seem to have more in common.  But I also like that the Osher Foundation recognizes that every OLLI is different and allows a lot of leeway on how our programs are structured.

What developments do you see in the future for your LLI or for the Lifelong Learning Movement more broadly?  We’re making a big push to attract the 50+ age group so that they’ll be primed to be involved in a bigger way when they retire.  We are wanting to partner with the HR departments of larger companies in the area to get their help communicating to employees who might be close to retirement.  We’ve also been into distance learning for quite a while here.  In 2009, the Osher Foundation gave OLLIs $25,000 to fund special projects beyond the operating budget and we used some of that money to fund a team of graduate students who looked into distance-learning options for us.  They did a very thorough job and came back with a recommendation that we use Adobe Connect Pro as our platform need and it’s been a great way to keep people who live a little farther away or are dealing with health issues to take classes.  It’s fully interactive — distance learners can type in questions and get a pretty complete classroom experience.  [You can read more about their OLLI Online program in their fall catalog.]  It’s also helped with our 50+ membership strategy because members who are still working can view the class as a recording in the evening.  I was resistant at first because I believe so much in the value of face-to-face socialization, but I’m a convert now because I’ve seen what it has made possible for members who truly can’t get here in person.  Dee Aguilar and I even did a session on distance learning at the last OLLI conference. 

What did you do before you came to ISU?  I’m a native Iowan, I have my degree in elementary education, and had a 22-year career with an organization called Mainstream Living, helping people with mental disabilities integrate into their communities.  I started at OLLI in 2009 as Program Coordinator and moved up to Program Manager a year later when my predecessor retired.   

Where would you most like to travel to that you haven’t visited already?  I’d love to go to Ireland.  I’m involved in genealogy, and my husband and I have been to England to explore my English heritage.  Now it’s time to explore the roots of his side of the family.

Tell me about a book you’ve read or podcast you’ve listened to that you would recommend to others?  I’m reading Patricia Cornwell’s “Scarpetta Factor.” I’m behind in the series, but was able to read most of this one over the Labor Day weekend. I love the problem-solving aspect of mysteries.