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DCE Magazine

Education That Lasts a Lifetime

Spring 2020

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UCI is keeping the Classic Rock generation active, interested and engaged.

Sherri Nussbaum was thinking about leaving her job at Western Digital when she got a mailer from the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at UCI, an organization devoted to fun and recreational education for active adults. She liked the idea of exploring new skills sets and expanding horizons, studying whatever interested her.

Tired of being stressed at work, Sherri was intrigued and wanted to explore the possibility of devoting some time to OLLI. So she left her 25-year marketing career in 2006, became a dedicated OLLI member and is currently treasurer of the board, taking courses when she's not helping run the family's Audible Rush bicycle speaker business.

“One day I get this cool flyer in the mail and it really sparked my interest,” she said. “There were so many classes in the arts, history and literature. It was so exhilarating to see an organization that allows you to explore whatever interests you with no limits. I tried getting my husband Marc involved but he wasn't so sure at first. It took me a year, but I finally lured him in.”

This happy couple is accustomed to working, and playing, together. Formerly Senior VP Engineering at Western Digital, Marc signed up and never looked back. He's now curriculum director for STEM programs at OLLI at UCI, as well as the go-to guy when any IT issues arise. He and Sherri — known to friends as the “Make it Happen Chick” — are also on the new marketing committee.

Marc and Sherri see the volunteer-based organization as especially relevant to their generation, an older but vibrant demographic that helped change the world. Who better to reinvent lifelong education?

“After all, we're the classic rock generation,” Marc said. “We invented personal computers, the Internet, and now we're reinventing education.

I really feel that OLLI represents the future, exploring whatever interests you without worrying about grades and credits — these are the best years of your life. At OLLI you pay one low fee and take as many courses as you like, all you can eat. And OLLI offers lots of day trips and group events. There was a private tour of Dodger Stadium, for instance, that was a lot of fun.”

It's a great way to pursue your curiosities and get mental exercise, he added. “OLLI offers benefits that go beyond learning. It's about staying active and involved. It's incredibly important to stay engaged and curious at any age. People spend too much time on the couch.”

Marc takes about 20 courses a semester, going in-depth on subjects like NASA's return to the moon, Mars exploration and medicine. Sherri is active with OLLI groups that visit museums and hold wine tastings. She also belongs to a gastronomy group that gets together to sample interesting restaurants.

The group features a unique refugee chef program in which chefs prepare dishes from their native countries, discuss the culinary scene, and speak on their experiences as refugees.

“We've had chefs from Venezuela and Afghanistan talk about their experiences,” Sherri said. “Short day trips also are very popular with OLLI members. We go on food-tasting tours, visit art museums, take walking tours around L.A. to learn about the architecture. We hop on a bus and spend the whole day.”

It's easy to explore as many topics as their busy schedules allow, without any admission hassles. Classes are easy to digest, short 1-4 session each in subjects spanning the social sciences, arts and science. And although OLLI is aimed at members 50 years and older, with most members 65-plus, they really have no age restrictions.

It's all part of the “60-year Curriculum” push proposed by Gary Matkin, Dean of UCI Division of Continuing Education — a commitment to learning and growth that lasts a lifetime.

The future of lifelong learning

OLLI at UCI is a burgeoning organization of lifelong learners, mostly retired and semi-retired, dedicated to enhancing their lives through education, forming a community of like-minded individuals. It's part of a national network of 125 OLLI programs founded 20 years ago by the Bernard Osher Foundation, an attempt to target mature students who had few continuing education options.

It continues to grow and thrive, fed by an aging population that craves activity and engagement. UCI alone has more than 700 members, with overflowing classes drawing a minimum 40 members, sometimes more than 100, covering a wealth of subjects from writing and music to wellness, current events and history. The annual membership fee of $235 ($160 for one semester) gives unlimited access.

The instruction is world-class, drawing from UCI faculty as well as retired instructors and local professionals who are experts in their fields. Having access to UCI professors and resources is one of the factors that makes OLLI at UCI so special, giving it a strong academic identity.

In fact, every OLLI program is somewhat unique, reflecting its school as well as the community, said Robert Smith, president of the board for OLLI at UCI and former Chairman and CEO of The Futures Group International and President and CEO of Global Resources Information Group.

“We're university-based so our course offerings tend to be more academic,” Smith said. “Some of the other OLLI programs go in a different direction. The OLLI at Long Beach State offers yoga at the beach, for instance. We don't because the Irvine area has so many social opportunities like that, so we fill a different niche.”

The growth of OLLI at UCI is fueled by two major factors: People are living longer and staying healthier, allowing them to keep an active lifestyle well past retirement, Smith said. And the future looks brighter than ever, with ambitious plans to reach underserved communities.

Classes are held at their conveniently located state-of-the-art classroom near the Irvine Train Station, and parking is free to all members. The only prerequisite is a passion for learning.

Learn more about the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UCI.