Photo courtesy of OLLI

They’re over 50 and take university classes – for fun

Imagine getting a second chance at going to school, without the stress of exams or grades – or parking.

That’s what students over the age of 50 are experiencing with courses made available to them at Fresno State by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI).

“[Fresno State] really wants to be the source for a lifetime of learning, so this program helps us support that on campus,” said OLLI executive director Jill Wagner.

Classes began earlier this month and will continue until the end of March. A $40 membership fee provides access to parking and the one-time general sessions.

In order to attend short courses and field trips, members must pay an additional fee. Some courses follow a traditional lecture format, while others use a more hands-on approach.

Wagner said these classes and field trips are intended to give people the opportunity to explore topics they were unable to tackle during their own college years.

“There are no entrance requirements, or grades or papers. It’s just learning for fun, for enjoyment, for intellectual stimulation,” Wagner said.

She said that the institute reaches out to its members to suggest courses for future semesters. The it becomes a case of whether or not the program can find someone to teach the class.

Some academically-oriented courses taught this semester are on poetry, architecture and classical Indian texts. But more lighthearted courses are woven into the catalog as well, such as lessons on how to use Uber, Lyft, video streaming services and Amazon.

“[OLLI], kind of offers a broad view on a variety of topics,” Wagner said. “Our members are so diverse that they have a varied interests. We just try to offer things that are interesting or challenging.”

Wagner said OLLI is excited for Dr. Bill Thomas’ general session on April 11. Thomas is a physician and a Harvard alum who was recognized as one of America’s top 10 innovators, by the Wall Street Journal.

Thomas’ lecture will focus on challenging the assumptions associated with aging. As for the classes that have already begun, Wagner said everything seems to be going smoothly.

Aaron Drake, teacher of the Chinese meditation technique “Qigong,” began teaching his course on Feb. 5. He said the first day could not have gone better.

“They were attentive. They were interested. They followed along. I showed them stuff that they could actually use in real life,” Drake said. “I think they’re actually going to practice it and use it, and from there they will gain benefit.”

Drake described Qigong as “the combination of breath, movement and meditation.” He has been practicing it since 1986.He said his students would benefit from his course because Qigong could add longevity and happiness to their lives.

“These people have had enough stress throughout their lifetime. It’s a wonderful thing to help teach people,” Drake said. “Part of gaining the knowledge is to pass it on, and that’s real important to me.”

Elizabeth Manfredi, one of Drake’s students, said the class was eye-opening.

“[Qigong] is brand new to me, so it’s something new, and it’s always good to do something new,” Manfredi said.