"People come here for the love of learning,” says SHELLEY MORSE, director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. “They are pursuing things they didn’t have time for when they were younger. Research indicates that when people are engaged intellectually and emotionally it contributes to longevity and quality of life – having a better quality of life for a much longer time.”
The UNCW program is one of 119 such programs around the nation founded by retired banker and investor Bernard Osher in 1997 to support continuing education in the fifty-plus-year-old population. Osher and his wife, Barbro, through their Bernard Osher Foundation, fund numerous educational and cultural experiences for lifelong learners.
Since 2005 the foundation has donated $2 million to OLLI at UNCW, according to its website.
Morse came to Wilmington four years ago from Annapolis, Maryland, bringing years of experience.
“All of my career has been in adult education,” she says.
With an undergraduate degree in education from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and a master’s degree in information science from the University of Maryland, Morse was involved in early research relevant to today’s methods.
Continuing to make strides in adult education, Morse’s team at OLLI has increased the number of forums, a popular format, from four last year to eleven this year. It is a structure in which members present the topics in discussion format and engage in peer-to-peer education.
“We’re one of the only Oshers nationally that have this type of structure, and we presented it at the regional conference,” Morse says. “Lifelong learning is relatively new due to the fact that baby boomers are retiring and want to stay productive in their third age. The first third of life you are pursuing education, the second a career, and third is the last. Educational needs and purposes are very different in each third of your life. In the third, it’s more to do with personal enrichment and personal satisfaction.”
One of the most popular and long-standing offerings is Women on Wednesdays (WOW), a program that runs for ten weeks in the upcoming schedule. It’s education by women for women with topics ranging from information on heart health in “The Generations of a Woman’s Heart” to “The State of Women’s Rights in America.”
“We have a waiting list every semester to get in,” Morse says of WOW. “Women want to connect with other women in the Wilmington area. It is led and put together solely by OLLI members.”
Seasoned learners of all types (you won’t hear the terms retiree or senior here) are looking to connect with each other in the various OLLI programs. Singles and couples come to classes and end up making lasting friendships, Morse says.
“Personally I’m very passionate about that because every day when I see people walk through these doors engaged, they are happier,” she says. “Connection and community with other people helps keep them happier and content. They have the opportunity to be in control of what they want.
“We have a diversity of educational opportunities here from attending academic courses, to performances, to outdoor programs such as birding and kayaking. For those who love opera, we host Metropolitan Opera and London National Theatre live in HD through satellite broadcast.”
The opera attendance is over 200 people, Morse says, adding that the broadcasts are held at UNCW’s Lumina Theater over eleven Saturdays this year.
UNCW faculty teach many OLLI programs.
“They love teaching for us because our members bring a lot of experience and offer stimulating interaction,” Morse notes.
Participants can also get involved with the university students, she says. Thirty OLLI participants were trained to act as patients for nursing student practice in interviewing. Others join in cognition, memory, and cognitive development research.
And members help with student moving day.
When she’s not furthering education for adults, Morse loves to be outside kayaking, biking, hiking, or walking on the beach. She also enjoys traveling in state and internationally. But she recognizes that people don’t always move here for the beach. Number one for many is a topnotch university, she says.
And she says she’s glad to be a part of that.
“We are the best educational option in the Cape Fear region for people over fifty,” Morse says.
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