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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

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March 4, 2024
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February 26, 2024
An inside look at Bobby B. Beacon’s insides. Illustrated by Bianca Oppedisano/ Mass Media Staff.
Bobby's Inside Story
February 26, 2024

OLLI scholars: Teaching across generations

Over the eight years since I retired and became a student of the UMass Boston Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, well-meaning friends have responded to my enthusiasm for OLLI with comments like, “Boston University has a similar program,” or “I’ve taken Harvard extension courses,” or “There’s a program like that in Miami.” To these questions, I answer, “But only UMass Boston has OLLI Scholars.” Each year the UMass Boston OLLI Scholar Program offers a stipend and teaching experience to select UMass Boston graduate students who apply to teach “us”—lifelong learners 50 years old and older who are enrolled in the non-accredited program.
Without knowing anything about OLLI scholars, in my first semester, I signed up for “The Rise of Interfaith Dialogue Movement and Its Impact on Conflict” based on the intriguing title and convenient time slot. I continued attending the course because of the knowledge and fervency OLLI scholar Hussein, who goes by Hap, brought to the course. Hap, a graduate student from Turkey studying conflict resolution at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, introduced a large class of “elder” students from the neighborhoods and suburbs of Boston to peacemaking efforts across the world. For many OLLI students who remembered when it used to be a novelty for Catholic and Jewish children to spend after-school time together, the efforts to bring religious groups together for global peace seemed incredibly brave.
Similarly, the efforts of OLLI scholar Saadia to hold onto her belief system while finding a place in the United States seemed equally as brave. In her course “Islam: The West and the Religious Other,” Saadia explained how she went about deciding when to wear a head covering and when not to. Although she really referred to her undergraduate years, I knew that she must have been a trailblazer at the Catholic college that is so similar to my alma mater.
Even the pandemic lockdown did not stop intrepid OLLI scholars from drawing us out of our COVID-19 isolation and into a larger world. For instance, OLLI scholar Adrita zoomed with us from her kitchen to share family recipes in her cooking demonstrations for “Beyond Curry: The Diversity of Indian Cooking,” and longtime OLLI scholar Mario logged into his zoom account from his wife’s family home in Columbia to share his collection of films and lead discussions in his course “The Plurinational State of Bolivia in Five Great Films.”
Mario will continue sharing his love and knowledge of Latin America next semester. Cal, who offered the popular course “Where the Fun Is: The Archaeology of Taverns and Brothels” last semester, will offer another course this spring. She describes her graduate work at the UMass Boston Fiske Center for Archaeological Research as “giving voice to the voiceless.” Through her course, I discovered the Material Culture laboratory and viewed a different form of collecting and preserving history—“of giving voice”—than this retired librarian of print media has had the opportunity to explore before.
I have a little more confidence in my writing since joining OLLI and taking OLLI scholar Patrick’s Saturday morning course on “Writing for New Media,” where I developed some conciseness as I learned to blog and tweet. The satisfaction I took from writing my first walking reflection in OLLI scholar Sarah’s pre-pandemic class titled “Rambling Women Who Write: Writing Wandering” was over the top. In her class, I learned to write clearly on a heartfelt subject, as I hope I have done here. UMass Boston graduate students who participate in the OLLI Scholar Program receive a stipend and teaching experience. Those of us who take their courses receive something more, I think—a connection to a future that looks wiser and kinder than many of us could ever have predicted.