From any angle you consider it, the OLLI Scholars program offered by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at UMass Boston is a win. Graduate students gain teaching experience (along with a stipend) by designing and presenting six-week non-credit courses for friendly, engaged audiences of older learners, ages 50 and up. Those learners enjoy gaining new knowledge while interacting with a younger generation of UMass Boston students. And OLLI Director James Hermelbracht is able to present more diverse and timely course offerings each semester, thanks to the graduate students’ interests and areas of study.
“OLLI Scholars create this great intergenerational experience because the graduate students can learn from the OLLI members’ lived experiences, and the OLLI members gain new knowledge from the graduate students,” says Hermelbracht.
UMass Boston’s OLLI program—a part of the Gerontology Institute at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies—is one of 125 such programs across the country. “OLLI Scholars makes our program unique,” Hermelbracht says, “because we offer an organized way for graduate students to gain teaching experience.” The program includes a course proposal and approval process as well as mentoring for new OLLI Scholars by pairing them with an OLLI student, usually a member of OLLI’s curriculum committee.
Here, three current OLLI Scholars share their experiences.
Doctoral student, UMass Boston School for the Environment; lifelong birdwatcher
Introduction to Birds of New England: Ecology, Identification, and Conservation (taught in person)
“I appreciated the opportunity to design and teach a course independently. I was allowed a lot of academic and creative freedom. The sessions went great—the students were so interested in the material that we probably could have had an additional session!My students were so engaged with the material in the first class that I had to structure my following classes a bit differently to accommodate all of their questions. I started my course as a lecture format, but parts of some sessions definitely turned into discussions, which was great. Getting to teach a class specifically about birds has also given me a deeper understanding of what content students are interested in.”
Doctoral student, Conflict Resolution, McCormack Graduate School; program coordinator for Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy, UMass Boston
China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Pros and Cons (taught online)
“Initially I admit I was attracted to OLLI Scholars because of the stipend, because after your third year as a PhD student your funding can run out. But it’s given me a great sense of accomplishment to know the students were engaging with the content. Their reviews have been great. My fall 2022 class was my fourth OLLI class, and I had to cap it at 14. I was astonished at how much interest there is to learn about China. I’ve learned that as course facilitator you give 100 percent, then keep asking how it’s going and if anyone has questions. The students’ comfort level is good, they always ask questions and I have learned to adapt the classes to meet their questions. As we grow older we can become less flexible, more rigid, but the majority of participants have been open to learn new things with high enthusiasm.”
Master’s student, American Studies, UMass Boston; singer-songwriter and long-time local radio host
From Bessie Smith to Bruce Springsteen: John Hammond’s Influence on American Music and Society (taught online)
“I sat in on an OLLI course that a colleague was leading a few years ago. It was a positive experience, and I was impressed with how interested and devoted the students were. So I jumped at the opportunity to develop and teach my own course. The sessions were great, with a lot of active participation and feedback from the attendees. I learned a lot from the students about their firsthand experiences and familiarity with 20th-century American music.”