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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

BOLLI school seeks connection with Brandeis students

Published: October 5, 2012
Section: Features

Brandeis offers a range of graduate school programs including the Heller School and International Business School, but Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (BOLLI) provides resources for a different demographic. The program provides liberal arts classes to people ranging in age from 50-95 and has almost 500 members. Nationally, Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes serve students at more than 115 universities and colleges. In order for the Brandeis branch to keep in touch with the other Osher branches, BOLLI releases the “BOLLI Banner,” their personal paper discussing program’s current activity.

The program got it’s name Osher from the philanthropist Bernard Osher, whose aim in creating the Bernard Osher Foundation was to improve quality of life through support for higher education and the arts. BOLLI was founded in 2000 and has been growing steadily since then. The structure of the classes are similar to the seminar structure of classes provided to undergraduates.

BOLLI provides on average 45 different courses per term, offering a total of about 90 different courses for the participants to choose from during the academic year. BOLLI does not have one central academic focus as the Heller School and International Business School do, rather BOLLI considers of a smaller liberal arts college within a larger university. It offers courses ranging from topics like politics to the arts, and all courses are offered on a noncredit basis.

Seminars are regularly taught by professors and experts in their fields. Students are offered the chance to teach as well, in a format BOLLI calls study groups. The participants consider BOLLI as more than a learning opportunity, and more than a social environment where they can make connections with others and get to know different people and share their skills.

The participants come from Waltham, Newton and even some as far as an hour away drive to take these courses and take part in the social aspect of the program. The program is not well known to the current undergraduate students, given the demographic of the participants is an older group of people. BOLLI is provided for people over 50 who wish to take classes in seminar format as well as lead study groups.

Avi Bernstein, appointed BOLLI director in July, emphasized how important it is for the undergraduate students of Brandeis to know about BOLLI. He said that the program’s aim in the coming years is to contribute to the Brandeis undergraduate experience by participating in intergenerational learning opportunities favored by senior Brandeis leadership. In addition, Bernstein emphasized that recent alumni and their parents are welcome as partners in the development of adult learning programs. The growing numbers of alumni and their parents bring an especially valuable perspective to the BOLLI community.

“The goals for the program looking five years out are to build on our strengths: interdisciplinary study across a wide array of subject matter, and our track record as a high functioning learning community—BOLLI being a place where people make deep friendships as they expand their knowledge and their understanding of themselves and the world,” Bernstein said.

BOLLI is important for the age of 50 plus because as Bernstein explained to The Hoot, “learning in retirement is a social good—a valuable and precious resource that promotes well-being and we will endeavor to be accessible to all corners.” BOLLI is considered a place where learning, vitality and friendships thrive. As BOLLI becomes more accessible to more people, a vital ingredient of well-being for seniors will become more widely available.

Since BOLLI members also volunteer throughout greater Boston, Bernstein said he hopes to grow civic engagement in the coming years. The value of BOLLI being associated with Brandeis is in part that “Brandeis is a place where people care about being part of evolving solutions to social problems out in the world; we are part of that movement and we will step up our involvement in efforts to solve the ills that afflict our communities.”

The alumni of Brandeis, as Bernstein explains, “have every reason to put BOLLI on their radar screen: increasingly we hope they will get to know us during their time at Brandeis.” BOLLI is hoping to reach out to alumni more with the recent technology developments.

“Given the increasing interest on the part of senior Brandeis leadership at being the learning community for Brandeis students across their life spans, not only while they are here in Waltham but after they leave, BOLLI can play a constructive role in helping the university innovate, enriching the alumni experience through non-credit learning,” Bernstein said. “The Brandeis learning experience is not over the day of graduation.”