OLLI lets older dogs learn new tricks

Marjorie McWilliams, Staff Writer

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When typical college students enroll in a class, the doom of an impending exam looms on the horizon. Often, it’s impossible to relax and enjoy the content of the class.

While this is not a reality for most UVM students, it is for some older adults who are committed to continuing to learn.

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UVM is a program targeting adults over the age of 50. It includes taking classes, going on trips and providing stimulating learning activities at an affordable price without exams or credit. 

OLLI has been implemented at 119 different universities and colleges in the nation, including UVM since 2010, according to OLLI’s website.

Former professor Mark Kessler, age 78, taught psychology at UVM while also being a member of OLLI. Although his busy schedule didn’t allow him to take many full-semester classes, he took advantage of the trips offered through OLLI.

“I stumbled upon the announcement that OLLI was sponsoring a trip to Alaska,” he said. “That was my first encounter with OLLI. Since then I have taken a number of classes, and I have been on a number of other trips that OLLI has sponsored.” 

Kessler went on trips to New Orleans, Turkey and Cuba with OLLI and will be taking a trip to Croatia in the spring. 

Kessler took one summer photography class, a continuing education class, with undergraduate students. Despite his higher level of education, Kessler expressed the benefits of taking classes with younger, less experienced students.

 “I was very impressed with them, with their knowledge and outlook,” Kessler said. “I found that their vision and ideas were well informed, and I learned from them as well as from the professor.” 

Cathi Codi-Hudson, OLLI’s director since 2014, said that continuing to learn has widespread gains. 

“Research has shown that participating in lifelong learning enhances brain health, provides opportunity for connecting socially with others and helps people stay active,” Hudson said. 

Gladwyn Leiman, a member of OLLI, has experienced the impact of social and mental stimulation through continued education. Now retired, she used to be the director of cytopathology at UVM Medical Center. 

Leiman said she took an OLLI class in Mah Jongg, a Chinese tile game, early on in her retirement. 

“I am now an avid Mah Jongg player and enjoy the cerebral challenge of the game as much as the social aspects,” Leiman said.

While most students take classes to fulfill the requirements for a specific degree, Kessler enjoys his freedom from the straight and narrow path as a member of OLLI.

“I can pursue side tracks without feeling that I am sidetracked or even go off on tangents without feeling like I am wasting time,” he said. “I have the time to learn about stuff that I missed learning earlier in my life.”

OLLI Leadership Council member Patsie Jamieson, age 69, said she agrees with the idea that the nature of learning changes as you progress through life. She hopes to gain intellectual stimulation by remaining engaged in learning.

“Now it is for personal enrichment,” she said. 

Jamieson works as a freelance food writer and recipe editor for Tufts University Health & Nutrition but has taken a variety of classes through OLLI including Spanish, tango dancing and Photoshop. She also volunteers at OLLI, bringing her talents to the table. 

 “I teach cooking classes and lead tours to Quebec,” she said. “I enjoy being part of the OLLI community.” 

Jamieson isn’t the only one to enjoy her role within OLLI. Codi-Hudson said the satisfaction of working with like-minded adults in a learning environment.

“The most rewarding aspect of my role is hearing from our members about how OLLI has enriched their lives,” Codi-Hudon said.