Several days each week, a group of local Birmingham area seniors can be found in a classroom enjoying the opportunity to learn new skills or gain knowledge on a particular topic.
The teacher is knowledgeable and, typically, enthusiastic and entertaining. The “students” are attentive, actively engaged and having fun. They are members of the The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) of Greater Birmingham, which was started more than three years ago. It is one of about 120 OLLI chapters that span all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia. Each of the chapters is affiliated with a university.
OLLI of Greater Birmingham, with approximately 200 members, is under the College of Continuing Studies at the University of Alabama. The university supports chapters in Tuscaloosa and Gadsden, as well as Greensboro and Pickens County, with approximately 1,300 total members. In addition, Auburn University also supports an OLLI chapter in the state.
Nationally, OLLI was started in 2001 through an educational grant from the Bernard Osher Foundation with the goal of supporting lifelong learning for mature adults. Numerous studies have demonstrated benefits to seniors who continue to be adult learners and stay mentally active and socially engaged.
“Osher Institutes fulfill the promise of education in its best sense: To develop the mind and spirit for a lifetime of purpose and human flourishing,” according to the Osher National Resource Center, based at Northwestern University.
With this in mind, the OLLI chapters strive to provide members the opportunity to learn, travel and embrace life in a fun and engaging manner. No tests, no grades, no stress ― just learning for the joy of learning.
Just like college, each semester brings the opportunity for members to enroll in new courses that each individual is interested in. The choices of topics are wide ranging.
Some courses from the Birmingham chapter include: What Archaeology Teaches Us About Our Religions and Ourselves; American Policies on Economics, Tax, Budget and Social Welfare; Chefs and Foods From Other Nations; Hands-on Training in Smartphone and Tablet Use; and The Rise and Fall of Napoleon Bonaparte. These are just some examples of the 15 courses offered in the spring semester.
Although there is individual course variability, the courses typically meet once a week for four sessions, each lasting an hour and a half or two hours. OLLI members choose whatever course or courses they want to attend.
In addition to courses, each semester offers new opportunities for single session “bonus” programs. There are 14 of these programs offered in Birmingham for the spring. Some of the topics are “Tuskegee Airmen,” “Ask a Vet About Your Pet,” “Go Wild for Native Plants” and “Liver Eating Jeremiah Johnson.” Courses and bonus programs help develop new talents, such a flower arranging or learning a new skill such as chess.
Field trip opportunities are also part of the OLLI offerings for members. These can be half-day trips (“Backstage Tour of the Alabama Theatre”) or overnight (“Birds, Beach and Bellingrath”), with more than 20 trips available in the spring semester.
The OLLI educational courses and bonus programs are taught by individuals highly knowledgeable on the topic, and many OLLI members end up volunteering to teach based on their work experience or personal interests.
OLLI is a member-driven program, led by volunteer members, and provides opportunities for learning and rich collaboration with other adults. OLLI members often choose to serve on committees to arrange social events, establish curriculum and promote awareness of OLLI to the community.
Because of the financial support from the Bernard Osher Foundation, annual OLLI membership is only $25, which includes participation in any or all of the bonus programs and socials offered throughout the year. For OLLI chapters of UA, the single semester fee also allows a member to register for courses at the other chapters, including Tuscaloosa, where there are 80 courses offered in the spring semester.
OLLI of GB cordially invites and welcomes any interested senior adult in the area to come and participate in a bonus program or a class session.
Please take a look at our website, olli.ua.edu, for a complete list of bonus programs and classes, including locations and times.
– Submitted by Glenn Morgan, OLLI.