UTEP’s OLLI Offers Array of Online Summer Courses
Last Updated on June 05, 2020 at 12:00 AM
Originally published June 05, 2020
By Daniel Perez
Lifelong learners age 50 and older who welcome the experience of an online education are encouraged to register for courses offered through The University of Texas at El Paso’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) that start Monday, June 8, 2020.
OLLI teachers from around the region and, in a few cases, around the country, will offer about 35 “exciting and stimulating” courses during the next six weeks via Zoom, a distance education platform. As an added incentive, these courses are free for OLLI members.
Lynn Provenzano, OLLI executive director, said people who want to enroll in the OLLI summer sessions can call 915-747-6280 or visit utep.edu/olli. The annual membership fees are $30 per person and $50 per household.
Provenzano said that the program would continue its online delivery in the fall 2020 semester for health and safety reasons, and that it would charge its students a $70 registration fee.
Oscar Estrada is among the students who looks forward to these classes. The 72-year-old retired supervisor from the Texas Department of Human Services has taken OLLI courses for four years. He said he tries to take as many liberal arts courses as possible to make up for all the classes he did not have time for as he pursued his Bachelor of Business Administration degree from UTEP in 1972.
As the West Side resident learned more about the COVID-19 pandemic, he decided to drop out of the first spring 2020 session because he had underlying health conditions. He said he was relieved to learn that OLLI leaders decided to offer its second spring session online.
“I enjoyed my face-to-face classes, but I was surprised at the degree of enjoyment that I got from the online classes,” said Estrada, who sets up his laptop in his living room turned classroom. His voice became a little more animated as he rattled off his summer course list that included philosophy, travelogues, and a self-paced course about voting. “I encourage others to enroll.”
Organizers have included a live-lecture series tied to Ken Burns documentaries about baseball, the Dust Bowl, country music, Prohibition, and the Roosevelts; and an “Around the World” travel series that will include “stops” in India, Mexico, the Dutch West Indies, the Czech Republic and the Galapagos Islands. There also will be self-paced courses about the Civil War, space travel and clean energy, as well as pre-recorded weekly discussions about music, cooking and architecture.
Additionally, OLLI students can listen to a few livestreamed courses offered through the national Osher Network, which is made up of 124 OLLI sites at universities throughout the country. In addition to the courses, the program offers its members daily meditations and a virtual lounge where they can gather.
Provenzano said she was happy with her program’s summer course selection because it follows OLLI’s mission to promote health and wellness through mental, social and physical engagement.
“Zooming has given OLLI students the ability to continue to stay connected and active during this time of home sheltering,” Provenzano said.
To assist with the transition, OLLI instructors offered students two weeks of Zoom training at the start of the second spring session. By the end of the six weeks, the students were comfortable with the video platform, Provenzano said.
Sergio Rodriguez, a field work supervisor with UTEP’s Golden Age Fitness (GAF) program, said the OLLI students who took online spring GAF session enjoyed their exercise experience and were excited that it was on the summer schedule.
Rodriguez, a second-year UTEP kinesiology graduate student who earned his bachelor’s degree in the same subject in 2019, will lead the real-time online hour-long summer sessions twice a week. He said he plans to monitor his OLLI students closely via Zoom to ensure they maintain safe and proper technique.
He said his students were surprised to learn how they could repurpose common household items into exercise equipment. For example, gallon water jugs could become dumbbells.
“Initially, I thought it best to take it slow because of concerns with (the students’) physical limitations, and I do make modifications for those who need them, but my students are super excited and often ask me to increase the (workout) intensity,” he said.
Rodriguez mentioned that an unexpected benefit of the shift to home education was that it got more OLLI students to exercise. He capped his face-to-face classes at 12 and said his spring online session had about eight participants. He hoped that word-of-mouth would increase that number. He said one participant told him that he had exercised muscles that had not been used in years.
Estrada, the retired human services supervisor, said he was grateful to the program’s administrators, staff and teachers for their efforts to develop such a strong buffet of courses in the face of a pandemic.
“The coronavirus created challenges for the (OLLI) staff that required increased effort to adapt,” Estrada said. “It required a lot of dedication to continue the program. I am very appreciative of the staff and the instructors.”