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Students at Any Age

Students at Any AgeTufts' Osher Lifelong Learning Institute provides an opportunity for experienced citizens to keep learning-and for Tufts alumni to stay engaged with the university.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [08.17.09] "I've seen it happen to some of my friends," says Sam Brown (E'62). "If you don't keep interested in new things, if you don't keep taking on new challenges, you start to lose some of your edges."

Retiring from a lifelong career as a mechanical engineer, Brown says he was never meant for the Florida lifestyle that some of his friends had chosen, so he eventually looked to his alma mater for an alternative.

"I started going to the Tufts Osher Lifelong Learning Institute because I wanted to try something totally different, and that's exactly why I continue to do it," he says.

Formed in 2001, Osher serves more than 500 members of the retired community, 50 percent of which are Tufts alumni who are looking to stay active and try new interests.

"The program and the university are very dear to me," says Marilyn Blumsack (A'79, G'82), a double Jumbo and Osher director. "Members feel like they are part of a family, and not just the Osher family, but the Tufts family as well."

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Osher participants not only have the opportunity to learn new things, they can also propose courses and become study group leaders. While during the spring and fall semesters courses run for eight weeks, Blumsack says members can get their feet wet during the Summer Explorations program, which allows them to teach shorter sessions.

"Summer Explorations are programs on the lighter side," Blumsack says. "It is a great opportunity for members who are not sure if they can make the eight-week commitment to just want to try their hand at something with less of a time commitment."

Blumsack adds, "We also have a four-week winter program that provides a similar opportunity."

Double Jumbo and former Latin teacher Fran Lanouette (A'70, G'76) was among the study group leaders for this year's summer session, teaching a class called "The Immigration Experience."

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"I've lived in and around the Tufts area for eight years now, and it is great to be back on campus and involved," Lanouette says. "Going to the bookstore during the fall rush, seeing the students all energized and remembering my days at Tufts is pretty cool."

Blumsack, an active alum, helped put the program together in 2001 and has been director since the beginning.

"My whole family, including my husband, were Tufts alums," Blumsack says. "So when I was asked to help get the program started in March of 2001, I was happy to be able to give back to the university that I loved so much."

Originally named the Tufts Institute for Lifelong Learning, the program was soon taken under the wing of The Bernard Osher Foundation, which provides funding to colleges and universities across the nation, giving special attention to reentry students and life long learning. In 2002, the institute partnered with Brookhaven at Lexington, a retirement community that has added more than 100 participants to the roster.

"Thanks to our e-learning program, we have members from all over the globe, including India, the Philippines and Fiji," Blumsack says. The online courses also open the classroom to people in the area who have limited mobility, are homebound or otherwise cannot come to campus.

Beyond the academics, Blumsack says members really enjoy the social aspect of the program, and have formed book clubs and writers' and walkers' groups.

While institute members get the perks of being on campus, including library usage, theater tickets and more, Blumsack says that Tufts students also benefit from having the institute around.

"The students gain a different perspective because they are teaching people who are sometimes experts in the field, including former CEOs, doctors and dentists. So it is a learning experience for them as well. As part of the grant requirements, we have to build leadership among the students, so some of the study group leaders are honorary Ph.D. students," adds Blumsack. She cites candidates like Jina Kim of The Fletcher School and Neil Cohen, who is studying cognitive psychology.

"The program just offers so much for those who are pondering retirement or semi-retired, and in some case recent graduates," Blumsack says. "I've had 26-year-olds interested in some of the e-learning courses, and I'll be darned if I am going to turn anyone away."

Story by Kaitlin Provencher, Web Communications.
Photos by Alonso Nichols, University Photography.

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