CMU Community on Fast Track to Lifelong Learning
By Bruce Gerson
Xander Darsow teaches the Osher course Home Repairs 101. Darsow, who earned his master's degree in information systems management at the Heinz College in 2016, is an adjunct instructor of information technology at the Community College of Allegheny County.
Carnegie Mellon University faculty, staff and alumni now have an immediate chance to go back to school.
Faculty, staff, alumni and their spouses and partners can bypass a two-year, 1,000-name waiting list to join the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at CMU, a volunteer organization that offers classes in topics such as Arts and Humanities, Business and Commerce, Social Sciences and Learn by Doing. Parents of alumni also are eligible for immediate membership.
With more than 2,300 members and a curriculum of about 450 courses per year, Osher at Carnegie Mellon is the largest Osher institute on a single campus among the 120 programs at colleges and universities across the U.S.
This summer’s offerings include a wide range of courses, from “Women Artists in the Age of Abstract Expressionism” to “The U.S. Economy: Where Do We Go From Here?” to “The Art of Conversation: How To Talk to Anyone.”
Geared to students 50 years of age and older, classes are held in a meeting room in Hunt Library and in two classrooms in Wean Hall. Large classes are held in the Mellon Institute Auditorium. Some “learn by doing” classes, such as dance, cooking and art classes, are held off campus.
Carolyn Stewart has taken a variety of courses over the last three years, including “Birding,” “Creative Nonfiction,” “Enjoying the New Yorker” and “Moroccan Cooking.”
“I have tried things I’ve never done before, stretched my mind to learn things that I knew nothing about and have met some very interesting people,” Stewart said. “I feel privileged to be able to participate in such a marvelous program.”
Marcia Frumerman, a member and study leader, said Osher members are highly intelligent and have interesting viewpoints.
“We learn not only from the instructors, but we learn from the people who are taking the courses,” Frumerman said.
Osher study leaders are retired professionals, former professors and teachers, and some are current CMU professors and staff members.
“We are always looking for people to teach for us who have a subject they are passionate about,” said Lyn Decker, executive director of Osher at CMU.
Decker said it is exciting to see how engaged the instructors become.
“One of the things I love about Osher is the ability to talk about the history of Carnegie Mellon and how the campus has grown over time,” said Bob Reppe, director of design for CMU’s Campus Design and Facility Development. “I’m teaching others, but I’m also learning myself.”
Alicia Angemeer, a manager for the Engineering Research Accelerator, recruits faculty and staff to teach Osher courses in engineering and technology.
“The consistent comment I always get from the researchers ... is how incredibly responsive the class is, how curious they are. I’ve had one faculty member tell me that this is the most responsive class he’s ever had,” Angemeer said.
Amy Burkert, vice provost for education, said Osher students serve as an inspiration to CMU students.
“They’re seeing this group of scholars on our campus with a desire to learn, to me that’s the most important aspect,” Burkert said. “Because it’s showing our students that learning doesn’t end with a degree, it doesn’t end with an exam or grade, but it is for life.”
Osher at CMU is supported by a $2 million endowment that was created by the Osher Foundation in 2007, and by membership dues and class fees. Membership is $60 per year and class fees are $50 per term for an unlimited number of classes. There are three terms each year.
“CMU gives us tremendous support,” Decker said. “We’re looked at as CMU’s outreach for older adults. CMU does outreach to K-12 students and we take it from there. We call it ‘K to Gray.’”
Founded as the Academy for Lifelong Learning in 1992, Osher at CMU is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. To honor its milestone, the institute has purchased 25 Adirondack chairs to be placed around campus for the university community to enjoy.
Information on how to join or teach a class is available on the Osher at CMU website.