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Osher Foundation provides $1 million to support CSUEB lifelong learning program

  • February 14, 2012

In its tenth year offering enriching educational options for the East Bay’s older adults, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at California State University, East Bay has received a second $1 million endowment gift from The Bernard Osher Foundation.

OLLI offers non-credit educational programs for mature learners 50 years of age and older in the East Bay. Headquartered at CSUEB’s Concord campus, the program began in fall 2002, one of the first OLLIs funded in the CSU system.  

Cal State East Bay President Leroy Morishita said this gift recognizes the important role of the university in bringing lifelong learning programs to residents of the East Bay.  

“The educational journey doesn’t end with a degree, it is a lifelong process. I’m very proud that our university can offer our community these wonderful and enriching programs and support the intrinsic love of learning for people at all stages of life,” said Morishita.  

“The growth of the program since the foundation made its first grant in 2002 has been exceptional,” said Mary Bitterman, president of the Osher Foundation. “We applaud the university’s leadership as well as the institute’s staff and talented cadre of dedicated volunteers for developing a program that provides such a rich and engaging array of educational offerings for seasoned adults in the East Bay.”  

There are currently 117 Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes at universities and colleges throughout the country. Cal State East Bay’s OLLI offers approximately 80 courses and lectures per year, many led by current and emeriti faculty. There is a small annual cost for membership and more than 1,100 current members.  

Bette Felton, member of the OLLI Advisory Group and professor emerita of nursing and health sciences, said the courses are unlike other learning programs open to adults.  

“We have many of the same goals as the university, but for a different population. This is a rigorous academic learning opportunity,” she said.  

Courses cover subjects such as poetry, art history, science and anthropology, with an average class size of 20 students. The four- to five-week classes are offered at an average cost of $40 per quarter. Although there are no grades or exams, Felton explained that the material presented is similar to what would be taught in a for-credit college course.  

At the Concord Campus, OLLI offers regular lectures, free for members and $5 for non-members. Upcoming lectures in winter 2012 include a discussion of Franz Liszt, the history of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911 and a presentation on forensic science and criminal investigation. (See the full list at the OLLI Web site.)

In addition, OLLI holds classes and lectures at seven other locations, such as retirement communities and libraries. The group also organizes educational field trips several times a year to visit museums and cultural sites around the Bay Area.  

Kathleen Bryant, the OLLI program coordinator, works with the advisory, marketing and curriculum committees to plan and schedule courses and lectures, based on interest and availability. She also reviews feedback from members.  

“I listen to what they request, find what works, and we try to respond,” said Bryant.    

Many of the lectures and courses are connected to current events, she said, which helps draw additional interest. A recent popular lecture on the America’s Cup boat race, which will be held in San Francisco in 2013, will be repeated again in March.  

The latest endowment from the Osher Foundation will help build membership and ensure staffing needed to support the growing program. OLLI participation has quadrupled in the past five years, Bryant said, and is continuing to grow. Endowment earnings will also help expand OLLI’s technology and the number of programs offered at the Concord campus.  

The Osher Foundation, based in San Francisco, was founded in 1977 by businessman and community leader Bernard Osher. The foundation seeks to improve the quality of life through support for higher education and the arts. Prior to its most recent gift, the foundation awarded operating grants totaling $450,000 and an initial $1 million endowment gift to support the OLLI program.  

In addition, the foundation has provided the university with a number of grants and a $1 million endowment gift to support Osher Reentry Scholarships that benefit non-traditional age students returning to CSUEB to complete their baccalaureate degrees.  

Cal State East Bay’s College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences awarded Bernard Osher an honorary doctorate of Humane Letters at its 2011 commencement ceremonies. (Read article)

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