OLLI offers learning opportunities for mature minds

"What classes are you taking?" our 40-something kids asked us during a recent visit. Like students everywhere, we are taking the summer off. But we have already received our list of OLLI course offerings — about 90 classes to choose from — and the enrollment period for fall classes begins August 1.

OLLI is the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, a nationwide program with a prominent presence here in the Rogue Valley. Its purpose is to promote continuing education for older adults, whether working or retired. Membership is open to everyone; the annual membership fee is $100. That buys the opportunity to choose from approximately 90 different classes each term — fall, winter and spring — taught at either the Southern Oregon University's Campbell Hall in Ashland or at the RCC-SOU Higher Education Center in Medford, next to the public library.

Classes cover a wide array of subjects. Categories include history and social sciences, language and literature, science and mathematics, visual and performing arts, personal exploration and activity courses. Topics change each term and classes run from three to 10 weekly sessions of 90 to 120 minutes each per term. There is no limit to the number of classes OLLI members can take. Learning is a stress-free process — no tests, homework or grades. Just learning for the joy of learning, and meeting other people with mature minds.

Those who teach OLLI courses represent a wealth of knowledge and experience. Most are retired from their professions, eager to share their knowledge and insights. One can study the 2012 Supreme Court decisions and their impact with a law professor and trial lawyer. Study the British monarchy with a professor of modern European history. Study Shakespeare with a professor and dean of humanities. Study the plight of the honeybee with a professor of comparative physiology. Study the evolution of life, the Inuit culture or medieval Islam — all with experts in the respective subjects.

One can take art history courses with PowerPoint presentations of masterpieces, presented by professors of art history. Study the New York City Ballet's George Balenchine with a professor of performance studies. Go backstage at the Camelot Theatre with its artistic director and actor. Join a book club led by a librarian and storyteller. Or a wine camp led by a winemaker.

Subject matter for fall courses also includes communicating effectively, personal explorations through films, women in the global community, genealogy, creative writing, financial literacy, jewelry making, foreign languages and using a digital camera and other electronic devices.

Imagine the wealth of knowledge so readily available to anyone who chooses to join OLLI. Yet we are amazed at how many people in the Rogue Valley are unaware of this program and how user-friendly it is. The only problem my husband and I have encountered since joining OLLI years ago is that some classes we would love to take conflict with other commitments.

You can learn more about OLLI and how to join and register for fall classes by calling the office, 541-552-6048, or visiting the website, www.sou.edu/olli In addition to its wide selection of classes, OLLI also presents a variety of public forums during the school year, at both the SOU campus in Ashland and the RCC-HEC in Medford. As members you will be informed about these and other special activities. Enrollment for 2012-2012 membership and fall class sign up begins August 1. OLLI always welcomes new members as both students and instructors. No mature mind need be left behind.

Betty R. Kazmin of Medford is a retired teacher and former school board member in Willard, Ohio.

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