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UTEP Institute Offers Lifelong Learning Classes for Adults 50+

Learning doesn’t stop once you graduate, and no one knows that better than the students and instructors involved with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at The University of Texas at El Paso. This innovative program offers unique classes and opportunities for learners over 50, helping them to acquire new skills, make new friends and spend their time in a worthwhile way.

Students in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute have the opportunity to engage with the community through historic tours that take them to some of the region’s iconic site, including hotels in downtown in El Paso and the Socorro Mission.
Students in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute have the opportunity to engage with the community through historic tours that take them to some of the region’s iconic site, including hotels in downtown in El Paso and the Socorro Mission.

“Our mission is to mitigate isolation, create social connectivity and promote engagement for a healthier lifestyle,” said Lynn Provenzano, executive director of OLLI. “If you look at our catalog, it’s good stuff. It’s interesting things that you’ve always wanted to learn and that feed your curiosity.” 

The institute will host an open house from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 15 at First Baptist Church, 805 Montana Ave. Attendees will have the opportunity to learn about available classes, meet with students and instructors, enjoy light luncheon fare and most importantly, have fun.

Founded more than 30 years ago as the Center for Lifelong Learning, OLLI extends Professor Emerita Diana Natalicio’s vision of offering adult education courses to the El Paso community. In 2008, UTEP received an endowment from the Bernard Osher Foundation officially establishing the center as one of 125 Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes in the United States and opening the doors to virtual national programs and course offerings for students in the region.

Courses offered through OLLI include art, history, languages, yoga and more taught by seasoned professionals. Individuals can take an unlimited number of OLLI courses with a $45 annual membership. Students also have the opportunity to engage in historic walking tours and other group activities that get them outside, moving and exploring. Mary Harris, an OLLI student, appreciates having the ability to learn about the things that interest her from individuals who can provide a unique perspective.

“I’ve taken various classes,” Harris said. “I took French last semester, edible plants, art appreciation, geography, history. I got to learn about the history of the Mafia from Alfredo Arroyo, a former [Drug Enforcement Agency] agent. It’s really enriching my life.”

Taking courses through OLLI came as a gift to Harris. After entering an early retirement from a storied career as a social worker due to an injury, Harris found herself unsure of how to spend her time, missing work but being unable to return to the life she once lived. Seeing how this impacted her well-being, a friend suggested she take a course through OLLI. She felt reluctant at first, but after taking her first class, she was enamored and has regularly enrolled in classes ever since.

“I missed the money [from working] of course, but what I really missed was the camaraderie,” Harris said. “Subsequently, I went on to make a lot of friends through OLLI. It was just what the doctor ordered.”

Harris enjoys the opportunity to explore new topics each semester since the institute regularly updates the catalog of courses available to students. Don Smelser, who has taken classes with OLLI since 2018, is excited to help offer pickle ball, a popular sport that draws on skills from tennis, ping pong and badminton and is accessible to individuals who may not have an athletic background. After a few months of attempting to find a way to provide it to OLLI students, the sport will now be offered at Memorial Gym on the UTEP campus.

“Once you start playing it, you want to play more of it,” Smelser said. “It doesn’t wear you out, and it’s something we can all play at an older age. Anything we can do to promote lifelong learning skills and people staying active is a good thing.”

Smelser has been a long-time supporter of OLLI, having taken classes ranging from World War II history to cooking. As a student, he’s able to stay sharp, interact with others and connect with individuals he knew from his time as a UTEP student in the 1970s.

“If you’re willing to get out and socialize and learn – some things that you may already know about or new things – then that’s an advantage to all of us,” Smelser said. “I’m just glad to be part of it.”

As the fall semester approaches, the institute is preparing to offer new and revamped courses. They are also expanding their reach by collaborating with Ysleta Independent School District to offer film classes to students on the east side of El Paso.

“OLLI offers an opportunity to give you new things to try and learn,” Provenzano said. “It gives us an opportunity to share with each other. Just remember that learning never gets old and we need to keep our brains active.”

Fall registration is open through Aug. 30, and the first fall course session begins Sept. 5. To view the Fall 2023 course catalog and become a member, visit

Last Updated on August 01, 2023 at 12:00 AM | Originally published August 01, 2023

By Julia Hettiger UTEP Marketing and Communications