OLLI on the Rise

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at OU Outreach held an overwhelmingly successful fall kick-off event last month. MemberMania! initiated a membership drive to reach an all-time high of 1,000 members during 2014-15.

OLLI offers a variety of noncredit courses to promote lifelong learning and personal growth in older adults. These courses include one-time offerings such as Mornings with the Professor and longer courses such as the Senior Seminar series. Students learn about subjects ranging from iPhone Basics to Shakespeare and Charles Dickens.

The membership drive occurred in a room that holds 184 people—but more than 250 attended.

“People were spilling out into the hallway,” said OLLI director Chris Elliott. “I’m still getting emails and phone calls from people who are interested in the program.”

The event included refreshments and four of the top five OLLI faculty spoke, giving condensed summaries and a real sampling of OLLI courses.

OLLI has more than 600 members at present, which is 200 more than this time last year, said Elliott. For the first time, OLLI has 15 classes completely sold out and four classes with more than 100 people enrolled. “What’s wonderful is that we have a staff that can handle the growth.”

The OLLI faculty comes from music, art, science, journalism and religion among many other disciplines, and they offer challenging courses but also courses that are just fun to take, said Elliott. “Typically, once a student has taken one class, they’re hooked.”

OU Book and Poetry Clubs

David Anderson, assistant professor of English, is leading a Poetry Club, which is somewhat replacing OU Book Club, said Elliott. Poetry Club gathers each month to discuss a specific poet from English literary history, and Anderson guides the group through an analysis of the poems.

The late Rufus Fears was an active supporter of OU Outreach and led OLLI’s OU Book Club for many semesters. OU Book Club, itself, has been put on hold right now, said Elliott. “Rufus was here for a long time, and it is hard to replace him.”

Intergenerational Politics

For the first time, David Ray, dean of the OU Honors College, is offering credit to traditional Honors students who take the intergenerational class, Perspectives on the American Experience: Generational Politics in America. The course is offered also to OLLI students on a noncredit basis.

The class has 12 OLLI students and 12 Honors College students, and the course length has been extended from six weeks to a full semester, said Elliott.

“Many of the OLLI students are OU alumni and were affected by the Great Depression. The Honors College students gain from seeing history differently as they sit with people who have experienced it firsthand, and the OLLI students get to learn what it’s like to be a college student today and to discard any millennial generation stereotypes they might have held,” said Elliott. “Each of these generations come away with a better understanding of where the other is coming from.”

Elliott said that several OLLI students have left class saying, “I am so optimistic now about the future of the United States, and that’s saying a lot because that generation is typically far more patriotic than the younger generations.”

 “Shad Satterthwaite has taught OLLI courses many times, and he will often divide the room up between Republicans and Democrats and then just watch it unfold,” said Elliott. “They’re respectful, of course, but they are not afraid to speak their minds—that’s for sure.”

Speaking Up

In addition to course evaluations, OLLI learns about what the participants want straight from their own mouths. When participants want to learn about a subject that is not offered as a course by OLLI yet, they often approach Elliott with their ideas, he said.

“Believe me, that generation is not shy,” Elliott said. “They are very eager to learn, and they have really taught me that ”

OLLI courses are open to anyone age 50 and older, and annual membership is $40. To learn more about OLLI, visit its website at http://www.ou.edu/outreach/olli/.

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