Learning Never Retires for These Suffield Seniors

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When Paul Osgood wound down his working life, the Suffield resident had plans for travel and spending more time with family and friends. His career in banking kept him intellectually engaged and learning new things, and he wanted that to continue in retirement.

He found just what he was looking for at Presidents’ College, the lifelong learning program at the University of Hartford. Taught by professors and community experts, the Presidents’ College offers lectures and non-credit courses to adults of all ages. Topics include the arts, history, current events, literature, science, and engineering.

“Learning has always been something I love. The Presidents’ College course on topics like film, fine arts, and politics are right up my alley. But it’s also been fun to try courses in areas I’d never had time to explore before retiring,” noted Osgood. “I’m very impressed with the caliber of instructors,” he continued. “Not only are they very knowledgeable, but they’re also passionate in a way that engages the class.”

The Presidents’ College was started over 30 years ago by then-university President Humphrey Tonkin. Tonkin himself taught the first courses. Since that time, the program has grown tremendously, with a typical semester offering 15 courses and eight lectures. As one of the most extensive lifelong learning programs in New England, the Presidents’ College is distinguished by its high-quality offerings and breadth of its course portfolio. Attendees can stay current on the latest in cases being argued before the Supreme Court, climate change research, or political developments in the U.S. and Ukraine.

A distinguishing element of Presidents’ College is the feeling of community it creates. “When I left the working world, I missed talking with colleagues and clients,” said Nancy Osgood, Paul’s wife. “So while I was drawn to Presidents’ College for the courses, I find the community of enthusiastic fellow learners keeps me coming back. The classroom discussions are so lively that I want to continue them after class.” The program is launching its own lunch series this year, the Presidents’ College Café, to further encourage this camaraderie.

Courses are short — two or three sessions — so that students can work them in around travel and volunteer commitments. Each class session lasts 1 1/2 hours during the day or early evening hours. There is no membership fee, and students pay a modest fee for each course with free permitted parking. The program moved to Zoom courses during the Covid-19 pandemic, but students couldn’t wait to get back to the program’s lifeblood, the in-person experience.

Like the Osgoods, today’s seniors want to remain intellectually, socially, and physically engaged. About 40 percent of Connecticut’s population is over the age of 50, according to the CT Data Collaborative. Across the U.S. 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 every day according to Transamerica Center for Retirement Research. This large demographic is more affluent, healthier, and expected to live longer than its predecessors.

Tonkin was ahead of his time, seeing the benefits of building connections between the University and its surrounding community. University of Hartford Professor Paul Slaboch, one of the many University professors who teach in Presidents’ College, commented, “I love being in the classroom with older learners. Their seasoning and experience make the dialogue richer.” He went on to cite an example, noting, “I taught a class about space exploration, discussing how technologies changed from the first moon landing to current endeavors like Space X and Virgin Galactic. A student raised his hand and described some of the issues and constraints he and his engineering team faced in making astronaut suits for the Apollo 11 Mission. Moments like that remind me of the incredible wisdom that these remarkable students bring to the classroom.”

Presidents’ College partners with other organizations, on and off campus, to take learning beyond the classroom. Students can take a session on opera, theater, dance, drama, and musicals, and then join classmates at the Bushnell, Hartford Stage, The Hartt School, and Opera Connecticut for live performances. The program introduced a Silent Book Club, aka “Happy Hour for Introverts.” Attendees show up with a book, mingle and enjoy wine and cheese for 30 minutes, then read silently for an hour. The last half hour is for readers to chat with other attendees about books (or anything else) if they choose. It’s all of the fun and none of the pressure of a traditional book club.

For more information on the lifelong learning program and fall semester courses, visit www.hartford.edu/pc. Email pcollege@hartford.edu or call 860-768-4495 with questions or to be added to the Presidents’ College mailing list.

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