How COVID-19 Has Changed Everyday Life for Older Adults, Long After Pandemic’s Onset

By Taryn Hojlo

How do older adults think about the COVID-19 threat and go about their lives now, many months after the virus first changed their approach to activities of every kind?

Of course there is no single answer to that question, and the way older adults look to the future with the pandemic remaining a real threat varies as well. The Gerontology Institute Blog contacted several members of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UMass Boston to ask them about how they approached the problem and how it affects their routines. They offer a small sample of everyday lives among older adults in the age of COVID-19.

Mona, 69, and Phil Rosen, 72 in Easton, Mass.

 When news of the coronavirus first appeared, Mona and Phil were both reasonably concerned about contracting the virus. They isolated themselves from friends and family, only leaving the house for essential activities. However, they’ve begun to venture out a bit more in recent weeks – while still being careful to adhere to health authority guidelines. Continue reading

How UMass Boston’s Lifelong Learning Program for Older Adults Adapted to the Age of COVID-19

James HamelbrechtThe coronavirus pandemic has dramatically altered the ways education takes place at all levels and institutions, including the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UMass Boston. OLLI, which serves an older student population with an elevated COVID-19 risk, responded quickly to the virus early in its spring semester.

 The Gerontology Institute Blog recently talked with James Hermelbracht, the director of UMass Boston’s OLLI program, about the decisions that were made, what actually happened in the spring and how that experience is shaping plans for the fall semester and beyond. The following transcript is edited for space and clarity.

Q: Let’s start by describing how the COVID-19 pandemic completely upended plans for the spring OLLI semester.

A: It played out on several levels. Things were changing so quickly as soon as the semester started. We were already hearing a few members say, “Maybe not this semester.” They were seeing the news and felt unsure about being in a classroom or taking public transportation. We were three days into our spring semester when the decision was made to first postpone. That was mid-March and we postponed until April 1. But it became very clear that our members, being in the high-risk category for age, were not that enthusiastic about coming back. We decided to cancel or postpone our entire spring semester just a few days prior to the university making the decision that everything would become remote. Continue reading

Gerontology PhD Students Switch Roles as OLLI Scholars Leading Classes

OLLI Scholar Cindy Bui with student Rhonda Holyoke.

OLLI Scholar Cindy Bui with student Rhonda Holyoke.

By Caitlin Connelly

Think of it as academic role reversal.

In these classes, students become the teachers. The classes are offered by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UMass Boston, the state’s largest lifelong learning program for older adults. The instructors are PhD students studying gerontology at UMass Boston, known in these particular classrooms as OLLI Scholars.

Grad students have served as OLLI teachers for more than five years. This semester, UMass Boston Gerontology PhD students Emily Lim and Cindy Bui are the instructors of Popular Media, Apps and Communication, a course providing hands-on, interactive instruction on everything from hashtags to key phrases. Continue reading

A Big Year for UMass Boston Gerontology

It’s been a year for the record books.

The Gerontology Institute Blog covered every major department and institute event of 2017. But few of those posts could match the impact of coverage of students and their accomplishments filed during commencement season.

Start with those UMass Boston gerontology students who were awarded PhD degrees this year – as a group of eight, the largest in department history. One of the students, Mai See Yang, was selected as the speaker for the year’s graduate commencement ceremony. Read about her extraordinary story and then take a look at her commencement address. Continue reading

Meet Jim Hermelbracht, New Director of OLLI at UMass Boston

Jim Hermelbracht is the new director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UMass Boston. Recently, Hermelbracht talked about why he was drawn to the job and explained his initial priorities at OLLI. He also discussed his roots in the Midwest and a career in higher education. The following is an edited version of that conversation.

 

 

What attracted you to the position of director of OLLI at UMass Boston?

I’ve been in higher education for 20 years now. I like what higher education is about in terms of providing opportunities for all students to really explore their interests and gain valuable experiences in their personal and professional development. So when I looked at OLLI and found it served a different student population than what I am used to working with — ages 18 to 22 — it intrigued me. The whole concept of lifelong learning is something I think we try to instill in undergraduate students, that learning never ends. I found the opportunity to help students, in this case older students, continue that exploration to be very appealing. It’s going to be a new and different challenge. Continue reading

Jim Hermelbracht Named New Director of OLLI at UMass Boston

Jim Hermelbracht, a highly regarded administrator with two decades of experience in higher education management, has been selected as the new director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UMass Boston.

Hermelbracht, who most recently served as director of student activities at Stonehill College, will leave that position later this month to take over leadership of OLLI at UMass Boston, the state’s largest lifelong learning program. He was selected by a six-person search committee that included four OLLI members. Continue reading

UMass OLLI Director Wichian Rojanawon on a Career in Lifelong Learning

Wichian Rojanawon launched a new lifelong learning program at the University of Massachusetts Boston with modest resources in 1999. Now the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UMass Boston is the largest among many lifelong learning programs in the state. But the spring semester underway will be his last as director of the program that is part of the Gerontology Institute at the McCormack Graduate School. Wichian, who plans to retire as director this summer, recently talked with the Gerontology Institute Blog about his lifelong learning experience at UMass. This is an edited version of the conversation.

How did the lifelong learning program first get off the ground at UMass?

At the time it was called LETS, Life Enrichment Through Studies. I started the program with two volunteers and $3,000 — a small grant from the university endowment fund. This was the idea of Frank Caro, the former director of the Gerontology Institute. He asked me to explore what was going on in the lifelong learning area. A lot of programs had been launched in the 1980s and ‘90s and there were about 300 of them by 1999. So a lot of other universities got started ahead of us. Continue reading