Lifelong learning: Program offered at Sierra College allows seniors a seat in the classroom | TheUnion.com

Lifelong learning: Program offered at Sierra College allows seniors a seat in the classroom

Terry McAteer
Special to The Union

Sierra College's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute offers a wide variety of courses in film, art, science, health and wellness and many more. All are designed to keep bodies and minds active.

Sierra College is one of only four community colleges nationwide to receive an endowment grant to start the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

The institute is a nationwide program associated with over 100 university and colleges including Santa Clara University, Chico State, UC Davis and UC Berkeley.

"OLLI is probably the greatest little known gem of a program in our educational system," said Stephanie Ortiz, dean of the western Nevada County Sierra College campus. OLLI offers low-cost, no-credit, no homework, short-term academic classes to primarily seniors over the age of 55.

Ortiz noted that numerous studies show an active senior citizen is a healthier and happier person. Moreover, she feels that the program is a fantastic activity as it "keeps the brain simulated and allows you to meet and interact with many interesting people."

Interested seniors are welcome to attend an informational open house from 1 to 3 p.m. on Tuesday in room N12-103 at the Sierra College campus in Grass Valley. Those interested can meet instructors, fellow students and sign-up for classes. There are no entrance requirements other than "an interest in learning," said Ortiz.

Classes are usually one to three weeks long, there are no homework assignments and cost around $20.

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An example of a class offered by the institute is a three-week-long summer class (three Mondays for two hours each) on Frank Baum's "Wizard of Oz" and its relationship with the Presidential Election of 1896.

Courses for the fall include: Introduction to Astronomy, classes on film, California History, Cornish History, First Ladies of the US, Irish History through film, Writers during WWI, Writers of the Klondike, book clubs, Tai Chi and more. Classes are also available in Placer County, Program Coordinator Shari Smith said.

"We've been around for about 15 years and our student growth is over 20 percent per year," Smith said.

Nevada County is one of the fastest areas of student growth, said Smith, who has steered the program for the past 10 years. This year the program will be offering over 90 classes along with three field trips.

All of the classes in Nevada County are taught on the Sierra College campus in Grass Valley and students are provided a parking pass along with access to the Sierra College Library upon enrolling. Many of the instructors are retired teachers or current Sierra College faculty and the program is constantly looking for new and engaging teachers in a variety of academic areas.

The Bernard Osher Foundation, based in San Francisco, established these centers due to the belief that learning is a lifelong activity. Ortiz said she loves having seniors on her campus as it provides a great diversity and shows younger students that learning is a life-long endeavor.

"It also promotes the concept that Sierra College is a community college for everyone in our community," says Ortiz.

Access to the OLLI schedule can be found on the Sierra College website or by calling Program Coordinator Shari Smith at 916-781-6290.

Terry McAteer is the former Nevada County Superintendent of Schools and a current member of The Union's Editorial Board.

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