Learning for the Joy of It
There are no exams, no grades, and no requirements for an academic degree. In fact, no previous experience or degree is necessary, just a desire to learn for the joy of it. It’s open to all Rhode Islanders age 50 and older who want to participate in a community of fellow learners.
The University of Rhode Island’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), founded in 2009 as part of a national network of Osher Institutes, is where 600 members are finding a place to exchange ideas, learn from each other, foster their creativity, and develop new friendships.
Learn more about URI’s OLLI program
Learn more about how private gifts, like the one featured here from The Bernard Osher Foundation, are having an impact on URI.
OLLI COURSE SAMPLER
• Rhode Island Salt Pond Ecology
• Pathways into Poetry
• Introduction to Philosophy for Adults
• History of Modern China
• The Craft of Writing Memoir & Creative Nonfiction
• Digital Photography
• Three Jazz Styles: Dixieland, Swing, and Cool
• Introduction to Watercolor
• Scoping the Skies
• Current Events
• Literature of the Holocaust
• American Civil War
• Renaissance Sculpture
The Bernard Osher Foundation recently made a $1 million gift to the program for having exceeded the 500-member plateau and meeting other benchmarks in each of the past four years. The gift established an endowment, administered by the URI Foundation, to provide ongoing support for OLLI. The Osher Foundation also made a bridge donation of $50,000, which will support the program until the endowment can begin generating funds.
“The pursuit of scholarship, discovery, and understanding does not stop upon the attainment of a degree,” said URI President David M. Dooley. “Our institution is a resource for all Rhode Islanders who seek new opportunities to learn and engage with others in a variety of ways. We appreciate the opportunity to partner with the Osher Foundation to inspire lifelong learning within our state and encourage more adult learners to get involved in our dynamic and diverse campus community.”
Professor Phillip G. Clark, director of URI’s Program in Gerontology and the Rhode Island Geriatric Education Center, spearheaded the founding of OLLI at URI as well as the application process that resulted in the recent gift. He worked closely with the URI Foundation and its Corporate and Foundation Relations staff. A $425,000, four-year grant from the Osher Foundation led to the establishment of the program four years ago.
“The progress the program has made since receiving its initial grant in 2009 has been outstanding,” said Osher Foundation President Mary Bitterman. “We salute the Institute’s dedicated volunteers and staff—as well as the leadership of the University of Rhode Island—for developing such an exceptional educational program. We are delighted to provide this permanent support.”
Housed at 210 Flagg Road on the Kingston Campus, OLLI provides three- to six-week courses, one-time lectures, self-directed workshops, and opportunities to volunteer. In 2012, the program offered 84 classes, lectures and activities. During the fall session alone, it had 550 class participants. During the spring semester of 2013, the Institute offered 35 courses and 10 lectures. In the first semester of 2009, the program offered just five classes.
OLLI members play a key role in shaping, managing, and leading the organization. Members can take classes, teach classes, plan and coordinate activities, organize volunteer projects, serve on committees, act as class assistants, help with program promotion and data management, and volunteer for other tasks that keep OLLI going.
“I quickly found myself teaching a class, serving on the volunteer committee, and attending many enriching classes and joyful social events,” said Julie M. Yingling ’70, who with her husband, Richard C. Davids ’71, joined OLLI in 2009 after moving back to Rhode Island from California. “I was thrilled to rediscover the campus I had left in 1970,” Yingling said, “and even more enthusiastic about meeting people who never want to stop learning! As a retired professor [from Humboldt State University], I am particularly interested in a new initiative to connect with URI students.”
“Our faculty and presenters possess compassion and commitment,” said Beth Leconte, executive director of URI’s OLLI program. “They come early and they leave late. They are also generous in giving time to our members outside of class.”
John C. Eastman II ’62 called OLLI “a great tool for me to keep my mind active, have fun learning new things, and meet new people.” Eastman retired in 1993 after 31 years with New England Electric. “Luckily they were a company that believed strongly in continuing education for their employees,” he said. “I’ve never lost my sense of curiosity and desire to learn, so when OLLI came along, I jumped at the chance to have something close to home to stimulate and further my knowledge of the world.”
Besides classes, OLLI provides meeting space to its members for a book club and other gatherings. “We also offer our members student rates at URI theater, music events, and some sporting events, as well as convenient, free parking,” Leconte said. “After all, our members are part of the University.”
On a recent Thursday afternoon, while classes like “Chaos and Fractals—Beyond the Butterfly” and “Learning to See Through Drawing” met upstairs, more than a dozen OLLI members gathered in a conference room on the first floor of 210 Flagg Road to watch (or re-watch) the first episode of Downton Abbey. As photos here attest, many wore costumes, high tea was poured, and participants distributed handouts, such as “The Roles of English Servants,” reflecting their research on the social, political, and historical background of the popular TV series.
“Our members are here for the joy of learning and community,” Leconte said. “They take classes they never would have dared to take when they were younger and in college.”
Polly Eddy, Hon. ’87, widow of URI President Edward D. Eddy, enrolled this past spring in a Tuesday evening class, “Applied Physics for Daily Living,” taught by retired South Kingstown High School teacher Crandall W. Dimock ’71, M.S. ’75. Eddy summed up OLLI perfectly: “It’s a combination of fascinating topics and delightful, interesting people—a great way to learn.”
—Dave Lavallee ’79, M.P.A.’87 and Gigi Edwards