A Class of Its Own

Seniors attend a class on the battles of the American Revolution, which is one of several non-credit courses offered for adults aged 50-plus by The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at NC State.

When asked why seniors should continue their pursuit of knowledge following retirement, Michelle Guy, a member of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at NC State, doesn’t pull any punches.

“Well, first of all, if you want to keep your brain, you’re supposed to use it,” said Guy, laughing. “I’m not any less interested in the world because I’m 73 than I was at 23.”

NC State’s OLLI, formerly the Encore Program for Lifelong Enrichment, has been an important part of the community for the past 30 years.

“We eventually became part of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute network because we received an endowment from the Bernard Osher Foundation,” said Eliza Kiser, director of NC State’s OLLI program. “So we’re one of 125 OLLIs across the United States, all affiliated with different colleges. We all operate differently, but we share the same mission — to support curiosity in older adults.”

OLLI at NC State offers non-credit short courses, study trips, and special events to members aged 50+. From one-time lectures to six-week courses, participants have the opportunity to explore their interests in arts and architecture, science and technology, literature, business economics and politics, and much more.

Class participant Wendy Elliott attends a non-credit course offered for adults aged 50-plus by The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at NC State.

“OLLI is not expensive,” said Guy. “It’s a really easy way to walk through the door and sit down and be taught by experts and learn things that I frankly didn’t know, even in history as a history major. I love to learn, and this is a great format to be able to do that.”

All OLLI instructors, whether they’re professors at NC State, retired faculty, or experts within the community, volunteer their time — as well as the members themselves.

“The thing that’s really exciting about OLLI is that we are very much member-led. We have a really strong volunteer program with over 200 volunteers, and many of them serve on our program committee. So basically what those folks do is they help create the OLLI that they want to participate in,” said Kiser.

A yearly membership fee of $50 covers enrollment for fall, spring, and summer semesters. Membership cycles begin August 1, and as the year moves forward, the membership price is prorated. Members purchase classes a la carte, with a typical class ranging anywhere from $15 to $55. Registration for OLLI offerings is ongoing. The majority of classes are held at the McKimmon Conference and Training Center, with free and plentiful parking. Post Covid, study trips have been limited to drivable distances and include destinations such as historic sites, gardens, and museums.

“One of the delightful things about the membership here is these are a bunch of intellectually curious people who tend to be very widely traveled,” said Guy. “There is never homework; there are never tests. They love to tell us that we’re going to have a quiz, but we never do. If there’s reading, it’s suggested.”

Dave Milidonis teaches Battles of the American Revolution 1781 to a group of OLLI students.

Social opportunities include holiday parties, picnics, coffee meet-and-greets, volunteer opportunities, and special interest groups.

“When several members identify a common interest and one of them is willing to be the leader, they can form a special interest group,” said Sherrill Stanley, chair of the membership development and marketing committee. “Current ones range from a family history group to a paddling group. There are opportunities to volunteer both inside OLLI (on committees, as class hosts) and outside (Note in the Pocket and other community projects selected by our volunteer coordinators).”

Guy, who serves on the hospitality committee and has participated in OLLIs at other universities, says the one thing that really sets NC State’s OLLI apart is its emphasis on social interaction.

“What’s different here — and everyone’s heard me say this — is that this is a much more social OLLI. They put a high value on recognizing that older people need to still maintain connections and to be out meeting other people and doing things.”

Interested in membership? Visit mckimmoncenter.ncsu.edu/olli/ for more information.

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