When COVID-19 led to widespread shutdowns in 2020, the staff at Furman University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute was concerned about participants losing their connections to peers and the construct they enjoyed. But according to Director Nancy Kennedy, OLLI members’ tendency to defy stereotypes was abundantly obvious in uncertain times.
OLLI Council President Bob McGrath says the program grew even stronger because of the challenges. The flow of some of the courses changed, but alterations like breakout-room discussions added dimension. “With major challenges come major changes. We were able to find new strengths—new communication skills and technology, new opportunities to expand.”
Furman’s offerings for individuals ages 55-plus began in 1993 as Furman University Learning in Retirement, with seven classes and 62 members. The program became OLLI in 2008 when the university received the first in a series of grants from the Bernard Osher Foundation. Currently, the group has 1,800 members.
Kennedy says another advantage of cyberspace adaptation was members’ ability to interact with family and friends. Aside from classes, other online events included a Yappy Hour for members and their canine companions.
“The social aspect is a hallmark of our program,” Kennedy says.
Although there’s no academic grading, OLLI’s scholarly repertoire includes Introduction to Latin and Great Decisions, a course taught by McGrath and another instructor on world issues. Outdoor enthusiasts might choose Wildflowers and Waterfalls or the ever-popular Pickleball, a sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and table tennis.
Classes typically span eight to nine weeks, while one-day seminars and a Lunch and Learn series are among the options at OLLI. More than 25 “meet-ups” have also been developed by the membership; some participants join just for these special interests, which include speaking French, playing Bridge and biking the Swamp Rabbit Trail. McGrath, who came to Greenville via Minneapolis, says a hiking group influenced his decision to stay in the area.
Kennedy says the program thrives on volunteers, and they are always looking for instructors. Retired educators often facilitate, but instructors’ varied backgrounds and interests bring depth and breadth to the lifelong-learning curriculum. McGrath gives the example of a mortgage banker who taught a course on Julia Child. Kennedy adds that the staff can help fine-tune course ideas, and full tech support is always provided.
SUMMER TERM, June 7-July 1, is a great time to try OLLI!
- No membership fee
- Four-week courses for $35
- Free bonus events
Registration begins May 3 at 8 a.m.
Annual membership: $65
Full-term courses: $55 (packages and scholarships available)
For more information, visit www.furman.edu/olli or call 864-294-2998.