OLLI network adds dimension to learning in Vermillion

For the past five years, South Dakota senior citizens have had the opportunity to take college-level non-credit courses in Brookings and Sioux Falls as part of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI).

Now that the program has the required 500-minimum members to become a permanent member of the OLLI network, courses will now be offered in Vermillion, as well, with four classes or lectures in the first term.

That will be a benefit both to the University of South Dakota, and to the community as a whole, said Ted Muenster of the USD Foundation.

�I think it gives the university another outlet, another dimension for higher education,� he said. �The philosophy here is that the contents of these various courses are college-level material, intellectually challenging. So it gives the university a chance to reach out into the community. �

�To me, it�s part of a larger strategy for Vermillion,� he said. �The primary participants are senior citizens, retirees who have a continuing intellectual curiosity about the world. It�s part of a strategy in my view to make Vermillion a more attractive place for retirement.�

SD OLLI is based at Sioux Falls� University Center under the administration of USD. Now that the minimum-member level has been met, the program has qualified for a $1 million endowment grant to the USD Foundation from the national office to support SD OLLI in the future.

�It�s not a huge source of income, because we live off the interest that the endowment generates, but it�s a permanent source of income that will allow us to always exist,� said Program Director Lori Bonderson.

Classes and lectures under OLLI are offered during winter, spring and fall terms. For a fee, participants join the program, whereupon they can take any number of classes at any location � Brookings, Sioux Falls and now Vermillion.

�It�s like Disneyland � if you buy a ticket at the gate, you can go on all the rides,� Muenster said.

The classes themselves cover a wide range of topics and range in length from one- to multi-session courses.

�There�s a strong discussion and question-and-answer component to our classes, because our members are really involved with their learning,� Bonderson said. �And so, the instructors know that they need to include that variable into their class. It�s just a very relaxed, informal way of learning, even though some of the subjects that we teach can be kind of heavy-duty.�

While this relaxed atmosphere suits those who take the courses, Bonderson said, �At the same time, we focus on the academic side of it. We don�t soft-pedal it.�

There is no restriction based on age or educational attainment, she added.

All of the participants have one thing in common, Bonderson said � they are life-long learners.

�They are curious about a lot of different things, they love to discuss and they love to explore new ideas,� she said. �I think a benefit of this program is that they are together with like-minded people. And so, they form friendships, they form relationships with groups of people that are like them, and it is very rewarding.

�The thing about this group of retirees � is that they are no longer willing to retire and then sit in a chair. And so, we give them the option of staying very active,� she said.

Bonderson and Muenster are each doing their part to inform potential participants of this option. Muenster has met with members of the USD Emeritus Club, and has plans to address the local Lions Club, as well. Bonderson is scheduled to speak to Vermillion�s Rotary Club on Feb. 1.

�We�re trying to reach out into the community in various ways to try and alert people to this opportunity,� Muenster said.

They are also trying to reach out for potential course ideas and instructors.

�It is a very open process for anyone in the community who has a special interest or a special expertise in a subject that wants to offer a course,� Muenster said.

�Vermillion is a rich source of wonderful people that I would feel privileged to add as instructors to our roster,� Bonderson added.

Muenster and Bonderson each said further expansion of SD OLLI is possible.

�We�ve had some requests to expand west,� Bonderson said. �A lot of it depends on how well we do with the expansions that we�ve got going now, and how they do for us. The problem is, I only have a part-time secretary right now. We run the whole program, and so for us to expand, we have to do it very carefully. You can get too big too fast.�

Bonderson emphasized that the courses are presented with a �no pressure� philosophy.

�It�s learning for the fun of it,� she said.

To learn more about the national OLLI program, visit www.osherfoundation.org.

For information regarding fees, classes and South Dakota�s program, visit www.olliuc.org.

Further information can be acquired by e-mailing info@olliuc.org, or calling (605) 367-5226.

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