Sit with Dr. John Hanagan for an hour and you may discuss common poetic themes of scholars Jalal-ad Din Muhammad Rumi and Taigu Ryokan, learn about the best locations for quiet meditation, or hear him play Duke Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood on the piano. In no time, it is easy to understand why Hanagan is an incredible teacher and has an insatiable passion for life-long learning. Recently, when John and his wife Carolyn returned to Vermont after teaching in both Mexico and Japan, they discovered the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at the University of Vermont’s Continuing and Distance Education office. OLLI seeks to engage minds, stimulate the senses, and foster learning through a wide variety of classes, travel opportunities, and social activities. At OLLI, John felt right at home.
“I see incredible value in this program,” said Hanagan. “I believe that people don’t stop learning when they get old, but rather they get old when they stop learning.” A lifetime educator, John has always known that the foundation of being a good teacher is to be a good learner. He began his work with OLLI on the curriculum committee, helping to secure sought-after instructors and to propose and plan courses on topics that would be relevant to mature learners.
“Finding OLLI was a discovery for me. I thought it was a venue for teaching, but when I got involved in the committee, I was simply blown away by the sincerity of people in the room and the array of offerings that could appeal to many facets of folks,” said Hanagan.
“Since our first OLLI statewide lecture in 2003, to our first UVM campus class in 2010, our current program reaches over 1000+ members in 9 locations around Vermont,” said OLLI Director at UVM Cathi Cody-Hudson. “We have engaged and knowledgeable member volunteers that have planned curriculum, identified speakers and assisted in program logistics.”
That diversity in course offerings and opportunity for the collective energy that one feels from a group discussion is what has propelled Hanagan to not just become a volunteer but also an instructor with OLLI. He has created unique courses such as The Tao of Jazz to a new course developed for the spring semester, Ancient Teachings on Mindfulness.
“What I love about teaching and playing music, is that it’s not just one person performing for a group, but rather a collective energy that builds. Even if people don’t say anything and just observe, they are giving you such strong attention and energy; there is a field of attention and caring. I found that with OLLI participants, that they are bright, caring, co-creators of a teaching and learning environment which I find exhilarating, fulfilling and a blessing.”
OLLI at UVM is one of 122 colleges and universities in the United States that provide lifelong learning opportunities to adults aged 50 and over. In 2002 and 2010, UVM received an endowment from the Bernard Osher Foundation establishing eight state-wide Vermont OLLIs and the campus-based OLLI at UVM. Typically over 250 lectures and courses are offered every year on a variety of topics, including history, arts and literature, health and wellbeing, cooking, travel and many others.
A new course offered for Spring 2019 looks at one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the twentieth century, the Dead Sea Scrolls. Hanagan says that this type of course and anticipated lively discussion is exactly what makes OLLI a treasured resource in our community. “The teachers and the topic can transform from something informational to something magical.”
Cody-Hudson says that they have found that their best program ideas come from the OLLI community of learners. Offering a mix of classes, one-time lectures, field trips, and special activities covering a wide range of topic areas has proven to be a sustainable model for OLLI.