By Victoria Sanchez

Learning something new adds another layer of intrigue to our everyday lives. It keeps life interesting and exciting and gives us a challenge to overcome. It’s especially important to keep our minds active into retirement, as well as continue to connect with the community that surrounds us. The University of Oregon Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI-UO) gives local community members who are ages 50 and older the opportunity to continue their personal learning goals and stay active mentally, physically, and socially.

OLLI-UO is part of a national network of more than 120 programs designed to engage mature adults in their personal pursuits to further their education. Members enroll as a noncredit student at the UO and become members of the OLLI-UO learning community. Anyone can join OLLI-UO anytime throughout the year. Members can choose from annual or six-month memberships, create their own learning schedule, and earn access to the UO Knight Library. Classes are not designed to test participants, and there is no grading system—members are simply there to learn, participate, and enjoy.

“The biggest reason people enroll at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the UO is twofold: a love of lifelong learning and a desire to connect with others who share that love,” says Todd Gauthier, OLLI program manager for the Eugene/Springfield site. “Those who enroll in OLLI-UO become members of a learning community of engaged, active adult learners, and many of our members volunteer to work with UO program staff to shape, manage, and deliver the program and its curriculum. Our members really help make the program go.”

Originally established in 1993 as Learning in Retirement, OLLI-UO now has three sites across Oregon: Eugene/Springfield, Central Oregon, and Northwest Oregon. OLLI-UO is based within the Department of Continuing and Professional Education within the UO. It offers lectures, courses, and study and discussion groups that cover a range of topics and areas of study including history, the arts, science, literature, language, current events, and more. Thanks to a gift from the Bernard Osher Foundation in 2008 to the University of Oregon, OLLI now has annual supplemental funding for the lifelong learning program.

“The sense of community inside the OLLI-UO classroom is invaluable to the learning process, and it also provides a natural connection point for those looking to meet other interesting people who are interested in the world around them,” Gauthier says. “OLLI-UO has a well-developed peer-to-peer network of adult learners who support each other in their shared pursuit of knowledge and have a true desire to connect with their peers to foster learning opportunities and intellectual and personal growth.”

Some members deliver lectures themselves or go on to teach courses at OLLI-UO and organize study and discussion groups. The membership model is designed to encourage members to shape their participation in the way that best fits their interests, learning goals, and preferences. Gauthier says members often choose a learning path that they weren’t able to focus on throughout their past educational experiences or in their careers.

The benefits of a supportive and collaborative learning environment are not limited to in-person classrooms like OLLI-UO. Online learning platforms can also provide a sense of community and connection among adult learners. With features like discussion forums and virtual study groups, learners can connect with peers from around the world who share their interests and goals. Moreover, these platforms can offer a wealth of resources and learning opportunities that may not be available in traditional classroom settings. Whether you prefer in-person or online learning, there are many options available to help you pursue your intellectual and personal growth.

“I have discovered some of my finest friends that I’ve ever had right here, because they’re people who like to do the same things that I like to do,” says Phyllis Villec, who has been an OLLI-UO member since 2002. “They like to read, they like to go to concerts and art museums, and they like to study.”

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, classes were held at the Baker Downtown Center, but classes have been held solely on Zoom since March 2020. Gauthier says the virtual shift has been a positive experience for members as it’s provided the opportunity to continue learning and connecting during a difficult time. It’s also provided learning opportunities for more members than ever before. They’ve been able to bring in speakers from around the nation and the globe that may not have been possible before going virtual. They’ve hosted speakers from Washington DC, Thailand, Myanmar, New Zealand, and more.

Now, volunteers and staff are working on a hybrid format of in-person and virtual offerings to continue accommodating the geographically diverse membership OLLI-UO has built as well as offer alternatives to those who do not wish or are unable to attend in-person classes going forward.

Members can join OLLI-UO online through the Membership Application form. The annual membership rate for the Eugene/Springfield area is $200 and the six-month rate is $110. There is no right or wrong time to join!

OLLI-UO | 1227 University of Oregon | 541/346-0697