The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) named a new director in August. The program is designed for older adults who share a love for learning throughout their lifetimes. Classes, which started Sept. 8, provide an environment for like-minded people over the age of 50 to continue their education in a wide range of topics like art, current events, history and fitness.
As he is transitioning into the position, new director Brett Harris actively participates in many of the activities and classes provided by OLLI.
“I’m asking a lot of questions and learning from as many people as possible who have been a part of OLLI much longer than I have, so we can direct our goal setting and planning appropriately and in line with our mission,” Harris said. “I firmly believe that OLLI at The University of Southern Mississippi can be the most engaged, passionate and diverse institute in the Osher Network.”
Harris has previously been involved in Teach for America- Mississippi and worked as a self- employed grant writer.
Faculty and members are looking forward to what Harris will bring to the table. Vice President for Academic Steven Moser noted that Harris has many experiences that make him ideal for the position.
“Harris’ work with Teach for America in the Mississippi Delta, background in servant leadership and creative and collaborative leadership style were among the many factors that led to his appointment,” Moser said. “His extensive experience with volunteer and nonprofit organizations, as well as grant writing, are crucial skills for leading the USM Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.”
Southern Miss is the only university that offers the program in Mississippi. Some members have specifically retired in Hattiesburg in order to be a part of the institute.
Donald Hegwood, a previous president of OLLI and a retired agriculture professor, explained that this educational opportunity was one of deciding factors when they chose to move to Hattiesburg.
“The Reason why we became members is to find a place to be intellectually active after retirement and be surrounded by people with a similar purpose. Not all classes are taught by formal instructors. Some teach from life experience. The point is to learn not be tested. It’s a fun thing.” – Hegwood
Hegwood has taught some art classes for OLLI. He noted that people never stop wanting to learn, and that it is crucial that people stay intellectually active. The Hegwoods have been members of OLLI for over 10 years, and they remain dedicated to the experience.
Hegwood also supports Brett Harris as the new director.
“He’s going to be a great director,” Hegwood said. “He is being active and interested in the operation of OLLI. He has attended classes and has certainly shown great leadership. I think he’s going to make a great director, he has a lot of positive support.”
Wayne Archer, a professional photographer and former board member of the Hattiesburg Arts Council, says he would love to join a program like OLLI now that he is retired.
“In a lot of cases, if you quit learning, your brain goes stagnant, so you keep mentally healthy by continuing to learn,” Archer said. “The Learning Institute is something I could benefit from. I have friendships with some people involved, and I would be interested in looking into it further.”
The institute currently serves over 700 members and continues to reach further into the community. A new chapter was recently founded on the USM Gulf Coast campus. Harris has a big responsibility to the community, and the vast support he has received so far indicates that he will do a great job as the new director.