KINGSTON, R.I., — June 19, 2019 — In 2009, the Bernard Osher Foundation made a grant of $100,000 to the University of Rhode Island enabling it to establish an institute that would engage community members, aged 50+ from across Rhode Island, with a love of learning.
By 2012, URI’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute had blossomed, earning a $1 million endowed gift from the Bernard Osher Foundation in 2012. And, after demonstrating quality programs and continued growth in membership, a second $1 million gift to provide long-term support to URI’s program was made in 2017 by the Bernard Osher Foundation. At that time, URI President David M. Dooley said, “We all reap the benefits when more than 1,000 adult learners become part of our diverse campus community.” That membership is now at well over 1,300.
Earlier this month, a number of founding members and participants of the program gathered to celebrate OLLI’s 10th anniversary. OLLI Executive Director Beth Leconte said, “This program has given so much to our members who have found opportunities to continue learning, satisfy their curiosities, make new acquaintances and express their creativity in a true community setting.”
The Bernard Osher Foundation presently supports 125 lifelong learning programs on university and college campuses across the United States, with at least one program in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Leconte noted that the University is very supportive of having the Institute on campus, providing essential resources including technology and communications and marketing assistance, parking services, classroom space, and the Institute’s office space at 210 Flagg Road on the Kingston Campus.
Phillip Clark, professor of gerontology at URI and chair of the OLLI Advisory Council, said, “OLLI at URI is really about creating a community of adults who love to learn and never stop learning. OLLI has enriched the University by demonstrating the many contributions that older adults can make to an academic environment.”
Throughout the year, URI’s OLLI offers more than 250 courses, many of which are taught by current or retired URI professors. OLLI members who are charged a small annual fee do not need to have college degrees or an affiliation with URI to join. There are no exams, grades, or other requirements to participate in the rich variety of courses. Members enjoy a wide range of class offerings covering topics ranging from current events and history to literature and the expressive arts, as well as health and wellness and many others.
Maury Klein is a retired professor and author who taught history at URI for more than 44 years. He taught his first OLLI class not long after the program began at URI and has continued to teach a couple of classes during each of OLLI’s fall, spring and summer semesters ever since. The difference between teaching undergraduates and teaching OLLI members to him is simple. “In this program, every single person wants to be in the class,” he said, noting that teaching a group of highly intelligent people, including former colleagues, all from very diverse and amazing backgrounds with much to contribute, has been a very fulfilling experience.
“One year, a gentleman showed up for one of my classes whom I had seen in my neighborhood for years but didn’t know. Through OLLI, I learned that he had been an assistant to Coco Chanel for many years, and had also held an intelligence position in World War II. He’s in his 90s now and writing a book. He shares excerpts with me from time to time,” said Klein. “This program is so important to members who are at a time in their lives when they are open to learning more than ever, just for the fun of it,” he said.
Susan Berman, a retired librarian from Kingston, has been taking OLLI classes from the beginning, in addition to teaching occasional classes and helping with curriculum planning. Many members, she said, volunteer their time to support OLLI in various ways. “The sense of community is the best thing about the program,” she said.
Berman, who received her graduate degree in library sciences from URI, and her husband, Mark—a retired oceanographer at URI—take classes through OLLI. They appreciate being on the URI campus and the friendships they have made through the program. “OLLI gave us a whole new avenue to learn and to connect with others. This has been my favorite ‘phase’ of life so far,” said Berman. “The ability to learn about something – possibly something very different and new – without the academic and financial pressure associated with traditional college classes is a huge gift!”
For more information visit https://web.uri.edu/olli/.