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Bee college takes to the air

A new online learning portal in Ashland is expected to boost the dissemination of information about bees.

The program is called College of the Melissae — Center for Sacred Beekeeping. Melissae, or "bees," were priestesses in ancient Greece. 

“Our goal is to get information out there, not to hoard students,” said director Laura Bee Ferguson, who launched the program in 2012.

A two-year program leads to certification as a Melissae of the Six-Fold Path of Sacred Beekeeping, Ferguson said. Enrollment for nine months of instruction that begins in March includes 18 students in the first year and six in the second. Last year, two students earned certification, and four are expected to complete requirements in October.

Local students participate in classes at Jackson Wellsprings, where the college has hives.

Ferguson believes the breadth of subject areas covered makes the program different from classes offered by higher education, governments or commercial groups, she said.

Students are immersed in six areas of studies about bees: science, sacred, history, mystery, art and medicine, and activism. Students determine an emphasis during the two years of study.

“They have to prove competence in an area,” Ferguson said. Students also undertake a capstone project and activism for bees.

Dolly Warden successfully obtained Bee City USA designation for Talent for her activism component. Others have created websites or Facebook pages about bees, and one woman is studying bee sounds in conjunction with advanced degree work. A Southern Oregon University student is using her college work in an independent studies program, Ferguson said.

“We got the full scope of beekeeping,” said Warden. Her studies led her to join an international apitherapy group that explores bees and medicine. While she’s earned her certification, Warden continues in the nine-month sessions to stay up on the latest bee knowledge.

“I was really immersed in the six-fold path," said Krista Holland of Ashland, who became an instructor after completing the program. "I did it in two years, but it’s really a life-long practice. It’s going to be an ongoing study.”

Being local allowed Holland to attend classes at Jackson Wellsprings, but she also did a lot of work online.

“You can be in your house, and we connect with people worldwide via the video connections,” she said. Both she and Ferguson estimate students do about 20 hours of homework per month in addition to class time.

Students are required to join a local bee club. Ownership of a hive is encouraged but not required.

“It’s a learning method, not just subject matter,” Ferguson says of the new online teaching program. Students should have several different types of media accounts to facilitate video and text learning. The program includes twice-monthly, online classroom sessions.

Students receive from 40 to 120 pages of text, at least one hour of video, four hours of audio and other learning materials monthly. Tuition for nine months costs $1,800.

Besides the nine-month program, workshops will be offered in Portland, San Francisco and Ashland. Weekly drop-in sessions will be held starting in April at Jackson Wellsprings.

“A lot of (students) are wanting to set up conferences,” said Ferguson, who is looking at several U.S. locations. Last year she traveled to Jamaica and Peru to give bee instruction.

Ferguson said gaining accreditation for the certificate, creating a campus and offering an intensive, six-month course are other goals for the next 10 years.

Registration is still available for the 2015 courses. More information is available at collegeofthemelissae.com.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.