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 that want to participate in a community of fellow learners.
The University of Rhode Island’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), founded in 2009 and part of a national network of Osher Institutes, is where 600 members are finding a place where people can exchange ideas, learn from each other, foster their creativity, and develop new friendships.
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 will establish an endowment to provide ongoing support for OLLI, it was announced today by the University and the URI Foundation. 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 David M. Dooley, president of the University of Rhode Island. “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 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, the institute 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. This semester, the institute is offering 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.
“The volunteers are the lifeblood of our organization, and our small staff, which is common to the other 116 OLLIs,” Clark said. “They are so welcoming and interested in making this community stronger.”
“Our members are here for the joy of learning and community,” said Beth Leconte, executive director. “They enjoy all aspects of the program, the intellectual discussions, the physical aspects. They take classes they never would have dared to take when they were younger and in college.”
One member commented on the “Justice: What’s the Right thing to do?” class, saying, “Fantastic, outstanding, (the instructor’s) enthusiasm is contagious, infectious, gifted. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.”
Another had high praise for the “Power of a Butterfly” class. “Excellent presentation of a difficult subject. Professor is knowledgeable and charming. I appreciated having my mind stretched trying to follow and understand.”
In commenting about the course, “Literature of the Holocaust,” another member said, “An excellent experience from substance to directive discussion.”
“Our faculty and presenters possess compassion and commitment,” Leconte said. “They come early and they leave late. They are also generous in giving time to our members outside of class.”
The program also provides meeting space to its members for a book club and other non-class 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.”
“We have gotten great support from the University for this program,” Clark said. “Now, we are working hard to integrate the program into daily life at URI.”
To become a member or for further information, click here. Membership is $50 for 2013.
For more information on how private gifts, like the one featured here from The Bernard Osher Foundation, are impacting the University of Rhode Island, visit www.urifoundation.org.