Qinran Pan had never experienced a Lunar New Year like this. About 8,000 miles away from her home in China, Pan, a second year master’s student in the School of Communication, spent her birthday and the Lunar New Year surrounded by members of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI).
They ordered Chinese food and sang happy birthday in English, Spanish and French, and one member, Albert Fine, attempted to sing in Chinese.
“I was really moved,” Pan said. “It’s different, but I think it’s very meaningful to me because I’m alone here, but I feel I’m in the family and they really care about me.”
The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute is a community of members, aged 50 and over, who seek to continue their education on topics like history, literature, economics, performing arts and computers.
Pan came to work at OLLI when looking for a job through MyUM. She was interested in the student assistant position because it involved working with seniors.
“I like to work with seniors because I grew up with my grandma, and I think it’s always good to be surrounded by seniors because they are willing to give you their experiences,” she said.
Originally the Institute for Retired Professionals, OLLI began in 1984 to give adults the chance to continue learning through social and cultural opportunities. The institute was renamed the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Miami (OLLI at UM) after receiving a grant from the Bernard Osher Foundation in 2005.
“Our members come for different reasons,” said Adrianne Rondon, administrative assistant at OLLI. “Some of them come because they do want to keep learning and want to keep thinking, some of them just come because they want to socialize or have some fun or learn something new.”
The institute has more than 800 members and 50 classes per week, according to Rondon. The six-week class typically meets once a week for an hour and 45 minutes.
According to Maki Burgess, administrative assistant at OLLI, UM President Donna E. Shalala and her mother, Edna, are among the students enrolled.
The topics and courses are determined by a committee made up of volunteers who have meetings to determine what classes would be most interesting to members.
Roger Shatanof, a former school principal, has always enjoyed learning and has not missed a session since he began attending in 1995.
He has also taught a class on a volunteer basis about travel adventures, taking members on different trips. He believes that having not only UM professors come here, but members themselves teach makes the institute strong.
“It’s a very nice atmosphere,” Shatanof said. “It’s great. There’s no homework, no reading assignments, no grading, and if you want to cut a class, the visiting teacher isn’t coming after you.”
While the members come to learn from the classes, the majority stay to enjoy the sense of community, according to Pan.
“If somebody is not showing up for a few weeks, they get very concerned about that and call each other to see if they are OK,” she said. “Here is like a big family, so they can come regularly and feel more active in their daily lives.”
Pan experienced this sense of community firsthand as the members helped her adjust to life in America by offering tips and helping her with communication skills. They also took the time to invite her to dinner, took her to the national parks, and one member, Fine, invited her to his home for Thanksgiving.
“I know that Thanksgiving is for family getting together and for me, I’m here alone,” Pan said. “I don’t have any family members surrounding me, but I can be invited by a family and feel like being home and have a dinner together with the members or friends. It’s really sweet.”
Membership is open to the public and members must be 50 or older and pay a $30 annual membership fee that lasts from Aug. 1 to July 31, which makes them eligible to sign up for any classes. Some classes are free and others have a class fee that can range from $55 to $100. Classes are not available for credit, and there are no tests, homework or educational requirements.
Students who are interested in volunteering at OLLI should email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 305-284-6554.