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Osher Lifelong Learning centers in Dover, Lewes, Wilmingtonto resume in-person
UD’s OLLI Kent/Sussex and OLLI Wilmington programs are beginning the process of restarting selected on-site program offerings, while maintaining a sizable online presence with course offerings via UD OLLI Online. Shown above are OLLI’s locations in Dover, Lewes, Wilmington and Ocean View, Delaware (clockwise from top-left).

Osher programs to resume in-person

Photos by Doug Baker, Lane McLaughlin, Judy Wright, Cindy Dolan

After adapting during the pandemic, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute continues to thrive

The University of Delaware’s program for learners aged 50-plus already held the distinction as one of the first lifelong learning programs in the country. This year, it became the largest, enrolling participants from at least 25 states for a record-setting total of 1,927 online members in spring 2021.

Now, UD’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) program is beginning the process of restarting selected on-site program offerings in New Castle, Kent and Sussex Counties, while maintaining a sizable online presence. Registration for fall courses — both in-person and online — starts Tuesday, Aug. 3.

New engagement and participation

Along with the rest of UD in 2020, OLLI programs quickly adapted to online classrooms during the coronavirus pandemic. However, even with a planned return to in-person programming on the horizon, most OLLI members recognize some of the new opportunities provided by online learning.

At the beginning of the pandemic, “Who knew from Zoom?” commented Neil Cullen, council chair of UD’s OLLI Wilmington program. “Few of us, as it turned out, but we soon learned as we ‘zoomed’ meetings, classes and social occasions. And Zoom enabled us to connect with family and friends, all on a platform provided at no cost to each OLLI member by UD, a timely gift that reminded us of our good fortune to have a home at the University of Delaware.”

In spring 2021 when U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester’s congressional schedule changed and she was unable to present at OLLI’s (virtual) Friday lecture series, she asked her communications director and chief spokesperson, UD alum Andrew Donnelly, to present instead. Underscoring the power of virtual learning and meeting technology, attendees were treated to an added bonus when Blunt Rochester was able to drop into the session from the Capitol Rotunda between votes and provide a short virtual greeting.

The online format also allowed participants to sign up for a greater variety of classes since the statewide online offerings were open to the entire UD OLLI community, all taught by volunteer instructors normally based at UD’s OLLI locations in Dover, Bridgeville, Lewes, Ocean View and Wilmington. 

UD’s Ralph Begleiter, former CNN journalist and retired founding director of UD’s Center for Political Communication, normally teaches several popular classes at OLLI’s Lewes-based location. But last fall, more than 300 OLLI students from across Delaware and the region participated in Begleiter’s online Media and Public Opinion class, with more than 100 also joining the extra discussion sessions, all via Zoom.

OLLI Kent/Sussex merger accelerated

With more than 30 years of UD lifelong learning offerings in Kent and Sussex Counties, UD’s Dover-based OLLI program and the Lewes/Ocean View-based OLLI program already boasted a long history of cooperation and shared resources. In 2021, after a year of even closer cooperation during the pandemic, the two programs officially joined forces to establish OLLI Kent/Sussex.

New OLLI Kent/Sussex council chair Connie Benko cites the year of statewide OLLI cooperation as a catalyst for the change, as well as the willingness of members to dive into online learning. “The success of our online experience was only possible through the cooperation of OLLI staff and volunteers across all our locations,” said Benko.

With council meetings and volunteer efforts all taking place online, many members become involved in the newly formed statewide committees and volunteering efforts. The largest UD OLLI statewide committee, the Virtual Learning Committee, counted 16 of its 32 members from Kent and Sussex counties. “The COVID pandemic forced us to think outside the box and prosper,” Benko said.

Summer/fall in-person offerings planned

For fall 2021, OLLI is adding approximately 150 in-person classes to the OLLI course lineup across all locations, while continuing to offer approximately 200 online courses.

Course offerings include American Sign Language, Guitar Play-Along, History of Ships, Interpreting DNA Results, Investing for Retirement, International Folk Dance, Racism in America, Stained Glass, Understanding Alzheimer’s, World-Changing Inventions, Yoga and more.

Classes start Sept. 7, with multiple options for online and in-person class enrollment. Participants can sign up for in-person classes, online classes, or a combination of both.

Registration for fall semester begins Tuesday, Aug 3. For details, visit the OLLI home page at https://www.olli.udel.edu.

About OLLI at UD

UD’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes are volunteer-based learning cooperatives for adults age 50-plus to take and teach classes together with no grades, exams or educational prerequisites. OLLI programs are located across Delaware.

In Delaware and across the country, OLLI is affiliated with and receives partial support from the Bernard Osher Foundation, a philanthropic organization focused on higher education, lifelong learning and the arts.


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