The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Oklahoma (OLLI at OU), provided through the College of Professional and Continuing Studies, promotes lifelong learning and offers noncredit courses for older adults, age 50+, with topics ranging from OU’s Spooky Stories to Getting the Most out of your iPhone. Specific programs include Mornings with the Professor, OU Book Club, Senior Seminars, Elderlearn and Summer in Santa Fe.
Some summer senior seminar courses included Art and Science in Renaissance Italy, Issues Surrounding College Sports and A Native Son Makes Good: The Hollywood Career of James Garner.
The Art and Science in Renaissance Italy course was instructed by Allison Palmer, associate professor of art history at OU, who has taught for OLLI since the program began and for Elderlearn before that.
“I like the idea of teaching students who are just taking classes for the fun of it and to learn new things without any concern for grades or credits,” Palmer said, adding that the audience is her favorite part of teaching the OLLI courses, especially since she knows many of them from previous classes.
One of Palmer’s students was Ken MacDonnell, who took his first four OLLI classes in fall 2008. MacDonnell spent 20 years in the service where he served in roles such as electronics technician, race relations officer and a teacher in the philosophy and fine arts department at the Air Force Academy. After being retired for about five months, he began to wonder how he was going to stay busy during the colder months. His neighbor at the time, who worked at Outreach, brought him a catalog one day, and he was hooked. Now, MacDonnell actively tries to recruit other people to the program and to be as involved as possible.
“I visited some other OLLI chapters, I have been on several committees to help out and I talk it up every opportunity I get,” MacDonnell said. “I signed up for six classes for the fall, and I am taking three this summer.”
“I like the idea of teaching students who are just taking classes for the fun of it and to learn new things without any concern for grades or credits."
MacDonnell thought the Art and Science in Renaissance Italy was “fantastic” and said he has a real deficit in his education when it comes to art. He said the main thing he learned in the seminar is the mathematical knowledge artists of that period had to possess, such as the engineering and math needed when constructing the Duomo in Florence.
“I am interested in science, so I thought I could probably learn something, and the breadth and depth of her [Palmer’s] knowledge in that field is just remarkable,” MacDonnell said. Because of the variety of courses offered, there is something out there that would satisfy everyone’s interests, MacDonnell said.
“As the program has grown over the last four years and will continue to grow, I think we will be able to offer even a wider variety of courses,” MacDonnell said.
Another student was Roy Knapp, who was a faculty member at OU for 30 years at OU’s Mewbourne School of Petroleum and Geological Engineering. OLLI classes provide him a chance to explore other academic disciplines he was never a part of, he said.
“It frankly gives me something to do outside of the house that is not too different from what I did as a faculty member in the idea of continuous learning,” Knapp said. Since he is an engineer, Knapp said Palmer’s interest in architecture and science are related to his.
“One of the clear things is that when she describes a picture, Professor Palmer doesn’t just think about what the subject of the picture is or how it looks, she really understands that the quality of that art was dependent on the materials and technology that people had available to them at that time,” Knapp said.
Another OLLI class Knapp enjoyed was Mystery Masters, which focused on crime novels. He said he began to understand that contemporary crime fiction in other countries, outside of America and Great Britain, is often about the society, providing a “painless way to learn about how things work in other places.”
Another OLLI program Knapp participates in is Mornings with the Professor, an informal lecture series held on Tuesday mornings throughout the fall and spring semesters.
“There are a lot of things that could be fun for an hour and a half that won’t transcribe into nine hours,” Knapp said, adding that he enjoys classes where there is an expectation or opportunity to work outside of class, especially since this is what he expected of his students.
For more information about the OLLI programs or how to become a member, visit OU Osher Lifelong Learning Institute website.