October 18, 2010

25 years of lifelong learning: A milestone for retiree program

This fall marks 25 years of lifelong learning for a community of Johns Hopkins scholars. The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Johns Hopkins University was founded in 1986 as the Evergreen Society to fill a need within the community for learning opportunities for retired individuals. Today, it continues to thrive and serve a population that is eager to stay engaged in the pursuit of knowledge, according to Kathy Porsella, director of the program since its inception.

“Johns Hopkins had programs for many ages, from young children to working adults, but nothing was available during the day for retirees,” said Porsella about the program’s origin. “Hopkins prides itself on serving the community, and Osher at JHU is where the senior population comes to access the excellence that Johns Hopkins has to offer.”

The Evergreen Society began in 1986 at the university’s Columbia Center, with 30 members. It was created by Stanley Gabor, then dean of the School of Professional Studies in Business and Education (predecessor of today’s Carey Business School and School of Education), who wanted to offer lifelong learning to older adults in the community, an opportunity not available at that time. In 1991, the program expanded into Baltimore at Grace Church, three miles north of the Homewood campus, and began with 125 members. It expanded again in 1995, to Johns Hopkins’ Montgomery County Campus, where it started with 125 members.

In 2007, the program underwent two significant changes. Johns Hopkins launched the Center for Liberal Arts in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences to bring together three programs—Master of Liberal Arts, Odyssey and the Evergreen Society—whose mission was to promote the educational journey by creating learning opportunities for individuals of all ages and stages of life that enhance their personal, social and professional goals while creating a community of great thinkers.

The same year, the Bernard Osher Foundation approached the university with an opportunity to apply for funding and become a part of the family of 123 Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes. Johns Hopkins received an initial program grant of $100,000 (renewed in 2008) and, to satisfy the grant requirements, the Evergreen Society was renamed the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Johns Hopkins University. In 2009, the university was encouraged to apply for a $1 million endowment grant, which was recently approved.

Now offering more than 20 courses per 12-week semester on the Homewood, Columbia Center and Montgomery County campuses, Osher provides its 750 members with an eclectic mix that includes studies in art, music, film, literature, writing, current events, politics, history, theology, philosophy, psychology, financial planning and others.

“Osher at JHU provides both educational and social opportunities,” Porsella said. “I’ve heard it said that people come in for the curriculum—and stay for the socialization. I think that’s largely true.”  —Kate Pallant

For more information about the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Johns Hopkins, go to osher.jhu.edu. For Homewood/Columbia registration or membership questions, contact Wafa Sturdivant at 410-516-9719 or wafas@jhu
.edu. For Montgomery County registration or membership questions, contact Susan Howard at 301-294-7058 or susanh@jhu.edu.