James Madison University

NEW COLLEGES FORMED A plan to reorganize the College of Integrated Science and Technology into two colleges took effect July 1, 2012. The new colleges are the College of Health and Behavioral Studies and the College of Integrated Science and Engineering.


LLI Offers Learning Opportunities for Seniors

January 23, 2008
By: Amanda Rivera

PHOTO: LLI Members in ActionExercising the brain has now become a well-founded recommendation for the aging, as numerous research studies have concluded that if you don’t use it, you lose it!  With the institution of JMU’s Lifelong Learning Institute (LLI) in 1996, however, the 50 plus population of the greater Harrisonburg area have the opportunity to put their minds to the test.  “With a growing older population, positive aging is more important…it’s a growing industry,” says Nancy Owens, Director of LLI, an outreach program of the Department of Social Work.  Finding inspiration from his visits to Lifelong Learning Institutes around the country, retired JMU professor Cecil Bradfield began the woodwork for a JMU program that would embody this innovative outgrowth of the 1960’s.   Dr. Bradfield hoped that the Institute would also follow in the footsteps of the international equivalent of the LLI, the non-profit organization Elderhostel, which offers “learning adventures” to senior citizens worldwide.

PHOTO: LLI Members in Action Offering a mere four classes and one field trip to 97 members the year of its institution, the LLI has grown to include a curriculum composed of 29 non-credit classes, three field trips and four brown bag lunches to a staggering membership base of 500.  Signing up for any of the two five-week sessions that the LLI offers, for a cost-efficient price of $35 per class, members can choose from a broad assortment of courses, including “From Aristotle to Bill O’Reilly: History of Rhetorical Traditions,” “Golf: Keep It Simple and Fun with Better Skills” and “Living Taoism: Ancient Chinese Instructions for Being Healthy and At Ease.”  “We intentionally try to run a gamut of a liberal arts based curriculum, which includes literature, sciences, leisure activities…computer classes, just a huge variety,” says the Director.  Producing a full house each session, the class “Mennonites in the Valley” has proven to be a popular selection among LLI members.  This community interest is also explored through many of the local field trips members participate in throughout the year.  Nancy Owens says, “Brown-bag lunches are also one way that community members who have not been involved with us before can find out a little more about us.  They’re free, they’re open to the public [and] they’re not a big time commitment.” 

PHOTO: LLI Members in ActionBesides the low cost of tuition, the homework policy is another LLI addition to be envied by college students alike.  “That’s one of the things we harp on or advertise-no tests, no homework!  There’s no real assigned homework, but just readings or suggested books that you should get to enhance the class.  Without fail, these people buy the book before the class even starts…It’s just a different kind of learning process,” says Nancy Owens.  It is this kind of mindset that has attracted many of the faculty that teach for the LLI.  Composed of retired and active JMU, EMU, Bridgewater professors, as well as other community professionals and experts, course instructors are able to learn amongst their students.   Owens says, “…there is so much more of an exchange of information and knowledge in most of these cases.  With these folks coming to classes who have had so much experience and typically an interest in that particular topic, they have a knowledge base to share with the class members and even with, certainly the instructors.”

Many of the JMU Social Work students are also given the opportunity to pick up cues from this wiser cohort on “positive aging.” “We do try to promote some intergenerational learning.  Many of the gerontology students will attend.  As a part of their coursework in service learning, one of their options is attending classes…as an active participant,” says Nancy Owens.  However, the LLI Director hopes that, in the future, this class requirement can eventually translate into a mentorship between LLI members and JMU students.    She says, “A lot of these people have had distinguished careers and are very experienced and could share a lot of information that way.” 

Showing that learning can occur at any age, with members up through their 80’s, LLI has given many community members a chance to return to the classroom.  “One thing about LLI also is that it is member-driven,” states Nancy Owen.  Participating in committees, with some even volunteering time as LLI instructors, members remain dedicated to the Institute.  Owens says, “I think that the membership is beginning to understand that we’re going to need to help a population prepare to retire.  I think that’s going to be our future is the upcoming retired segment of the population.  I think that we may begin to address classes that will allow people to learn how to retire successfully.”  For prospective members and faculty, a new session of classes begin on January 28.