50+-year-olds head back to campus with UW's Osher Institute

50+-year-olds head back to campus with UW's Osher Institute

50+-year-olds head back to campus with UW's Osher Institute

   Since when was college just for kids? While we can agree to scratch the all-night cramming sessions, beer-pong parties and endless dorm-roommate drama sagas, the fact of the matter is college is for everyone, regardless of age.

Which is why the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Washington (OLLI-UW) offers adults age 50 and older the opportunity to take courses from UW faculty and community experts. OLLI-UW courses are noncredit, with no tests, grades or papers.

Courses cover a variety of topics, including science, art, history, literature, physics and poetry. Each course is four weeks long. 

“We have people who are very passionate about their learning — people who want to keep learning for the joy of learning,” said OLLI-UW manager Natalie Lecher.


Relating to the topic

The program, which began in 2006, now has approximately 500 members. The annual membership fee is $85, with an additional fee of $35 per course. Membership provides access to more than 50 classes per year. 

OLLI-UW also facilitates opportunities for members to socialize with adults age 50 and older. Members also have access to the UW libraries.

Classes are held at the UW campus in Seattle, at Trilogy at Redmond Ridge and in downtown Everett. Courses are also held at other locations in the Greater Seattle area, including Horizon House on First Hill and University House, Wallingford.

Lecher said that some members prefer taking classes in topics they already had an interest in, while others enjoy classes in which they had little previous knowledge.

The courses are designed for the general public but often offer additional resources for people who want to study the topic further. 

Lecher said that the OLLI-UW faculty enjoys teaching courses, partly because members can often provide a historical context that other student populations cannot.

“An instructor will say, ‘Back in the 1940s…,’ and our members will personally know what they’re talking about. [The faculty] likes that,” she said.

Four-year OLLI-UW member Bernard Silbernagel said he appreciates how he is able to take classes on topics he did not know much about previously.

“I’m a scientist by training, so I try to take classes that aren’t in my area,” he said. 

Silbernagel has taken classes on the 2008 stock-market crash, the history of the U.S. presidency and old English literature. 

“You have on average eight hours of instruction, which is a short course,” he said, “but what the instructors have done with it gives you a feeling for a particular area. And they give you references for future reading if you’re really into a subject.”

Silbernagel also taught courses himself, including classes on physics, poetry and energy.

“It’s wonderful to teach because this group of 50-plus has a lot of life experience, and they bring valuable information which we could share,” he said. “For example, when I was teaching a course on energy and climate change, a person who works at NOAA was able to make very interesting comments on what NOAA was doing and how that fit in the picture of climate change.”

Helen Oppenheim, an OLLI-UW student since 2006, has taken classes in nearly every subject: politics, art, literature, science, infectious diseases, presidencies and Supreme Court cases.

Oppenheim also started OLLI-UW’s Lunch and Learn program, in which a community expert is brought in to give a presentation while members eat their lunches and then socialize after the talk.

“I consider Osher courses as a health club for the mind,” she said. “It’s an interesting way to spend extra time, it’s very informative and people who attend these classes are always very interesting themselves.”


Registration now open

This past summer, OLLI-UW received a $1 million endowment from the Bernard Osher Foundation. The foundation provides startup money for the 117 Osher Institutes in the country for the first several years, after which the particular institute can apply for an endowment. The foundation bases its award decision on the quality of programming, the size of its membership, the involvement of member volunteers and the support of its host university.

Spring courses are now open for registration. Classes beginning in April include “Meteorites, Comets and the Origin of Life” at the Seattle UW campus, “Clarence Darrow – Famous Trials” at Horizon House, “Writing Your Life Story: Getting Started” at University House, “Nature in Great Literature” at Trilogy at Redmond Ridge and “How a Major Motion Picture is Created” at the Carl Gipson Center, Lombard Avenue in Everett.

Additionally, OLLI-UW is holding a study group on the first Wednesday of every month on “Election 2012: Identity Politics or the Economy?” where students gain an understanding of “identity politics,” how current events and the media influence voting and the impact of fund-raising. The class is held at Horizon House. The group began in February and will continue until November.

To become a member or to register, visit osher.washington.edu or call (206) 685-7372.

OLLI-UW relies heavily on volunteers to help with course programing, recruiting new members and suggesting new course offerings. To learn more about how you can volunteer, call (206) 685-7372.

OLLI-UW is also interested in recruiting new instructors. To learn more, email OLLI-UW at staff@pce.uw.edu or call (206) 221-7771.

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