Donna Anderson, director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institure. Kyle Mercier / Staff Photographer

By: Meghan Carlisle, Staff Writer

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institution (OLLI) offers an array of courses in the liberal arts and sciences for students aged 50 and over. There are no entrance requirements, grades, and tests; it is for personal experience and for those who love learning. No college background is needed. 

Classes are once a week for eight weeks. No attendance is required. Classes are based on the discussion on subjects such as women sharing stories, reading and discussing short stories, creative writing, and much more to choose from. 

The OLLI at the University of Southern Maine (USM) is committed to providing for its members a wide variety of stimulating courses, lectures, workshops and complementary activities in a creative and inclusive learning community. 

For the past two years, COVID-19 has put a big stop to a lot of USM’s normal structure for classes. Online and Zoom classes became the front of the university, with that, many students had a difficult shift back into a normal routine. 

Classes are available in the Fall and Spring. This term Spring classes are held once a week, remotely on Zoom, Monday-Thursday, and in-person on Fridays. Registration is $25 a year to become a member. The terms run for eight weeks, March 14 to May 6 unless otherwise noted. There are morning classes and afternoon classes. Morning classes run from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. and afternoon classes run from 12:45-2:45 p.m. There are also Spring workshops on Saturdays both remote on Zoom and in-person. More information can be found in their Course Catalog

Donna Anderson, Director of OLLI, has been the director for three years. The majority of her time with OLLI has been during the COVID-19 pandemic. Anderson is the primary administrator and manages the budget and staff. Anderson also crosses into the role of being an instructor for certain classes. 

“We had to create a remote learning platform that we didn’t have before, so for the past two years we have been doing remote learning, through Zoom, to our members, we currently have 1,315 members and during the pandemic, we had about 2,200 members,” Anderson said. 

Anderson mentioned how some members moved out of state during the pandemic, and so they have been challenged by them to find a way to include these members. Creating these hybrid learning communities, Zoom and in-person has helped and created a flourishing community as we move forward from the pandemic. The pandemic was, as Anderson said, “painful,” but in a way, it was able to “draw the staff together,” as they worked hard to make The OLLI a safe and welcoming community.

“Being among active learners is really rewarding,” said Anderson. Anderson loves being able to partake in and teach classes, while also directing the Institution. The classes she teaches have three primary types including lectures, class discussion, and creative classes. 

Each class is a very rewarding experience, with no pressure of grades and assignment completion. It is a place for people to further their academics in a friendly fashion. 

“Being surrounded by a group of people who are so eager and active and joyful in learning is really satisfying,” said Anderson. 

The OLLI wants to spend the next year really getting people to know more about their institution and the programs that they offer to the public. The institution is the first of its kind, with 125 other institutions being placed across the country. 

“It is a great fellowship of leaders and learners,” said Anderson. 

Their biggest challenge is getting the word out to the community on what they do and how important and beneficial it can really be. 

Over the last few years, there have been a lot of people moving into Maine, who are of retirement age. Anderson said that this is a perfect time for people to join OLLI, because of how easy and affordable it is for people to participate. They continue to introduce themselves to the community here in Portland, and they have only scratched the surface of what they want to achieve as an Institution.


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