Learning Institute Expands to Gulf Coast

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), a part of The University of Southern Mississippi, has maintained its program for 23 years on the Hattiesburg campus, but will now also implement its program on the Gulf Park campus in Long Beach.

The OLLI is designed for community members at least 50 years old, working or retired, to keep citizens actively involved in learning throughout their lifetimes.

One out of the 117 Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes in the nation, the Southern Miss OLLI  offers its members opportunities to travel, learn from the various topics taught, exercise, become involved with the community and socialize. With those opportunities comes convenience, as the program’s courses and seminars, taught by volunteering USM professors and community professionals, exclude the pressures of homework, tests, papers and grades.

As the OLLI fulfills its expansion to the Gulf Coast campus, classes will start on Feb. 9 with nearly 30 classes being offered in Hardy Hall this term.

On the Hattiesburg campus in the Peck House, the institute will offer 137 classes. “We’re just really excited about the opportunity to showcase USM on the Coast and to bring learning to all ages,” Interim Director of the OLLI Becky Vinzant said. According to Vinzant, there was a successful turnout at the Jan. 8 informational session for OLLI where people immediately signed up to be members.

Being an auxiliary unit, the OLLI on both campuses receives its funds through member dues.

“This program is run by the people who enroll. We don’t hire faculty to teach. We rely on volunteers, so I approach faculty members like Dr. Miller and ask them to teach,” said Vinzant.

Professors like Amy Miller and Mary Aquadro have taught classes in past semesters for OLLI, part of the five-week courses taught by six different professors who gain service hours, some teaching two hours a week. Members who have taken courses in the institute have shown great enthusiasm.

“Whats unique here are people who are passionate,” Vinzant said. “They’re here because they want to be. They come early to class and they’re the kind of kids who sits in the front of the classroom that can’t get enough of any professor.

They’re not here because their parents are making them. These are ideal students, so the professors enjoy being here.”

At a lecture, Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Letters Amy Miller spoke on the topic of the “Millennial Generation,” dealing with generational differences in American society. “The audience was terrific – very engaged and well-informed, and we had a great discussion,” Miller said.

Sharing her experience with the OLLI, instructor in Human Performance and Recreation Mary Aquadro spoke about the quality of life through leisure. “I invite a group of OLLI members to speak to my Recreation for Older Adults class each spring,” Aquadro said.

“They share with my students the benefits of retirement and how they finally have leisure time to participate in activities such as learning about interesting topics at OLLI. The students are amazed at the energy and excitement the OLLI members have regarding retirement.  It is always a highlight for the students to hear them speak. The members who attended my class were interested and interactive.”

The OLLI at USM regularly involves its members with the community in order to bring intergenerational work into the benefits. The Peck House has a garden, pond and gazebo which offer ways students can take advantage of the resources.

Events hosted by the OLLI like the ‘60s fashion show on Feb. 16 are ways students and faculty can get involved with the OLLI on campus.

“As the director here I’m trying to integrate more with the graduate and undergraduate students, opening it up more for them to teach classes, finding groups who want to volunteer, want to be cyber-buddies and help seniors learn how to Skype and work smart phones,” Vinzant said.

Many OLLI members are retired or experienced in different careers, giving benefits to undergraduate and graduate students, who may be searching for tips on interviews and work skills.

“OLLI is a unique organization which provides an excellent opportunity for older adults who have a desire to continue to learn and develop as they age,” Aquadro said. “Aging is a process and not a destination.  It can be a very positive adventure if individuals take advantage of opportunities to grow throughout life.”

Many expectations of positive reactions from members and facilitators to OLLI on the Coast are rising as the large population of older adults who live on the Coast would have learning opportunities presented to them through the program.

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