Institute offers lifelong education

V. Paul

When Virginia Roach graduated from college in 1957, she had to pick one of two options: build a career or start a family.
A woman could not do both in those days, she said. She chose her family.
When the youngest of her six children entered first grade in 1980, Roach decided it was time to revisit that decision. She went back to school to become a nurse, leading to a 17-year career in her childhood dream.
Roach retired in 1997. But never one to sit idly and let life pass her by, Roach again opted to return to the classroom. For the past four years, she has been taking courses at the University’s ElderLearning Institute, a set of courses taught by retired University and community experts geared toward retired individuals.
“I find that I’m a perennial student. I’m grateful there are opportunities to learn my entire life,” Roach said. “As life went on, I saw the value and joy of developing other aspects of who I was.”
It’s not a new idea for retired individuals and senior citizens take college-level courses in their spare time — at the University this year, there are 87 enrolled students above 65 years old.
However, the ElderLearning Institute is designed to provide classes at the fraction of the cost of tuition for those interested in learning for recreation, without the pressures normally associated with upper-level course work.
Roach is one of more than 500 students in the institute, taking noncredit classes on subjects ranging from Plato’s “Republic” and bioethics to “Birds in Springtime” and “Drawing from Fresh Ideas.” Most students are retired individuals looking for a way to keep active and social.
“There’s always a kind of learning component and a social component,” said Steve Benson, the institute’s director and founder.
For others, like Roach and her husband, Charles, the institute provides a second chance to learn things they missed out on when they were younger. Ed Ferlauto, a retired chemist of 42 years, was a sailing enthusiast who developed an interest in astronomy after learning celestial navigation.
For the past three years, he has led the astronomy course, armed with slides and images from the Internet. The course is as much an education for him as it is for his students.
“When I retired, I was interested in pursuing studies in philosophy, sciences, all the things I hadn’t been able to get to in many years,” Ferlauto said.
In the its five-year history, the institute has lived up to expectations of volunteerism and giving back to the community. All of the course leaders and the institute’s staff are volunteers. And because many classes are held at 11 libraries and senior citizens homes around the Twin Cities, they are open to the public.
“One of the things most gratifying to me is to see so many people meeting like-minded people that they wouldn’t have met in other circumstances but for ELI,” Benson said.
Such is the environment Joseph Uemura creates in his “Plato’s Republic” course. Bantering and sometimes badgering his 20 students, Uemura, a retired Hamline University professor, has been a volunteer course leader for the last four years, doing as recreation what he did during his 42-year career as a philosopher.
“The thing about elders is you don’t need to work very hard to get them to express themselves,” Uemura said. “They’re very forthcoming and they’re very experienced. They’re a lot of fun to talk to.”

Continued growing
In 1995, Benson attended a workshop where he was introduced to institutes for learning in retirement. There he explored programs on learning, traveling and volunteering geared toward those at and above the 55-year-old age bracket.
He brought the concept back to the University and with the support of Melvin George, former vice president for institutional relations, Benson founded the ElderLearning Institute.
In its first year, it was given $32,000 as seed money by the University. During its second and third years, that financial support was reduced until the institute became financially independent by its fourth year, relying on member fees of $175 per year and a $6,000 operational grant from the Minnesota Humanities Commission.
The program started with about 100 members and a dozen courses. Today, it boasts 40 courses, 516 members and nearly 150 course leaders. Next year, program officials expect to offer 120 courses.
“People are not retiring in any traditional way anymore. Lifelong learning, whether credit or noncredit, is going to be a major part of people’s lives. We want to reach out to those people,” Benson said.
Similar to ElderLearning are the elder hostelling programs at the University’s Morris and Crookston campuses. Elder hostelling is a travel and learning program normally geared toward the 55-year-old and above crowd. There are more than 300 such groups in the nation.

Closing the generation gap
Matt Borgen, a graduate art student at the University, is one of six other students who take turns to lead the “Drawing from Fresh Ideas” art course for the institute. He spent the first half of spring semester in his art teaching seminar creating a lesson plan. Now, he gets to test run it.
“The actual experience of teaching will uncover many pitfalls that you don’t ever anticipate in a theoretical manner,” Borgen said. “I think this interaction is important to educate graduate students who are planning to teach.”
This program is new to the University. Previously, graduate art students would sit in on 10 classes taught by a professor, write a report on what they observed, and then lead one class session toward the end of the term.
However, the experience was not always successful for the graduate students since in most cases their lessons plans were not part of the professor’s syllabus and hence were not taken seriously by undergraduates. Also some professors felt there was not enough time to add in the graduate students lessons in the final weeks of the term, said David Feinberg, the University art professor supervising the graduate students.
“At most universities, graduate students are assistants. They don’t get to teach their own classes,” Feinberg said. “These are the new ideas from the people who will be in charge 20 years from now.
The ElderLearning art class gives the graduate and elder students the experiences they both desire. The graduate students find that the older students are much more attentive and are not afraid to interact and ask questions, giving the graduate students challenges for their teaching skills.
“This is the best class they’re ever going to teach. You know, us seniors, who are very cooperative,” said Corinne Larson, an ElderLearning member from St. Paul. “I’ve been wanting to bring cookies to class, to feed those skinny kids.”

For others, like Roach and her husband, Charles, the institute provides a second chance to learn things they missed out on when they were younger. Ed Ferlauto, a retired chemist of 42 years, was a sailing enthusiast who developed an interest in astronomy after learning celestial navigation.
For the past three years, he has led the astronomy course, armed with slides and images from the Internet. The course is as much an education for him as it is for his students.
“When I retired, I was interested in pursuing studies in philosophy, sciences, all the things I hadn’t been able to get to in many years,” Ferlauto said.
In the its five-year history, the institute has lived up to expectations of volunteerism and giving back to the community. All of the course leaders and the institute’s staff are volunteers. And because many classes are held at 11 libraries and senior citizens homes around the Twin Cities, they are open to the public.
“One of the things most gratifying to me is to see so many people meeting like-minded people that they wouldn’t have met in other circumstances but for ELI,” Benson said.
Such is the environment Joseph Uemura creates in his “Plato’s Republic” course. Bantering and sometimes badgering his 20 students, Uemura, a retired Hamline University professor, has been a volunteer course leader for the last four years, doing as recreation what he did during his 42-year career as a philosopher.
“The thing about elders is you don’t need to work very hard to get them to express themselves,” Uemura said. “They’re very forthcoming and they’re very experienced. They’re a lot of fun to talk to.”
Continued growth
In 1995, Benson attended a workshop where he was introduced to institutes for learning in retirement. There he explored programs on learning, traveling and volunteering geared toward those at and above the 55-year-old age bracket.
He brought the concept back to the University and with the support of Melvin George, former vice president for institutional relations, Benson founded the ElderLearning Institute.
In its first year, it was given $32,000 as seed money by the University. During its second and third years, that financial support was reduced until the institute became financially independent by its fourth year, relying on member fees of $175 per year and a $6,000 operational grant from the Minnesota Humanities Commission.
The program started with about 100 members and a dozen courses. Today, it boasts 40 courses, 516 members and nearly 150 course leaders. Next year, program officials expect to offer 120 courses.
“People are not retiring in any traditional way anymore. Lifelong learning, whether credit or noncredit, is going to be a major part of people’s lives. We want to reach out to those people,” Benson said.
Similar to ElderLearning are the elder hostelling programs at the University’s Morris and Crookston campuses. Elder hostelling is a travel and learning program normally geared toward the 55-year-old and above crowd. There are more than 300 such groups in the nation.

Closing the generation gap
Matt Borgen, a graduate art student at the University, is one of six other students who take turns leading the “Drawing from Fresh Ideas” art course for the institute. He spent the first half of spring semester in his art teaching seminar creating a lesson plan. Now, he gets to give it a test run.
“The actual experience of teaching will uncover many pitfalls that you don’t ever anticipate in a theoretical manner,” Borgen said. “I think this interaction is important to educate graduate students who are planning to teach.”
This program is new to the University. Previously, graduate art students would sit in on 10 classes taught by a professor, write a report on what they observed, and then lead one class session toward the end of the term.
However, the experience was not always successful for the graduate students since in most cases their lessons plans were not part of the professor’s syllabus and hence were not taken seriously by undergraduates. Also, some professors felt there was not enough time to add in the graduate students lessons in the final weeks of the term, said David Feinberg, the University art professor supervising the graduate students.
“At most universities, graduate students are assistants. They don’t get to teach their own classes,” Feinberg said. “These are the new ideas from the people who will be in charge 20 years from now.”
The ElderLearning art class gives the graduate and elder students the experiences they both desire. The graduate students find that the older students are much more attentive and are not afraid to interact and ask questions, giving the graduate students challenges for their teaching skills.
“This is the best class they’re ever going to teach. You know, us seniors, who are very cooperative,” said Corinne Larson, an ElderLearning member from St. Paul. “I’ve been wanting to bring cookies to class, to feed those skinny kids.”

V. Paul Virtucio welcomes comments at [email protected]