The Osher Institutes National Conference Goes Virtual in 2020
The 2020 Virtual Osher Institutes National Conference came to a close last week, but this time there was no luggage to pack or plane to catch home. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the decision was made to conduct the conference online. Not only was the “location” different, the format was different as well. The conference spanned over a week and a half with two sessions offered each day. Despite these differences, there were still many aspects that remained the same. Participants were provided ample opportunities to network, learn, and celebrate the mission of lifelong learning. Almost 600 Osher Institute directors, staff, and member leaders from all over the country attended at least one of the sessions. Programming for 2020 included a keynote session, five plenary sessions, five smaller group sessions, and three facilitated discussion groups. Many of these included opportunities for networking, collaborations, and conversations.
Plenary session highlights included a presentation on storytelling by author and speaker Andy Goodman, a session on systemic racism by Dr. Rose M. Brewer a Morse Alumni Distinguished Teaching Professor and past chairperson of the Department of African American & African Studies at the University of Minnesota, a presentation by author of The Happiness U-Curve, Jonathan Rauch, and, finally, Beth Steinhorn, President of VQ Volunteer Strategies spoke on volunteerism during a pandemic. In the smaller group sessions, the virtual format allowed special guests Donna Butts, Executive Director of Generations United to present on the value of intergenerational programming, Lora Wey, Assistant Vice President of Strategic Philanthropy at Ringling College to speak on engaging donors, and, for morning workout sessions geared to 55+ adults. Attendees repeatedly expressed their gratitude to The Bernard Osher Foundation for their generous support of the National Conference. Overall, 2020 provided another great conference despite the pandemic. Of course, while some lamented that the conference could not be held in-person, many were pleased that the conference took the old stage saying to heart, “the show must go on”, with hopes of an in-person conference in 2022.
The Osher Institutes National Conference is a sesquiennial, multi-day meeting that has been held at varied locations throughout the country since 2003. The Conference is fully funded by The Bernard Osher Foundation, and produced by the National Resource Center for Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes at Northwestern University in collaboration with staff and volunteer leaders throughout the Osher Network.
Woo-Hoo, Let's Celebrate!
As is tradition, the 2020 Virtual Osher Institutes National Conference offered the opportunity for Institutes to share their wonderful, amazing, out-of-the-box experiences from their OLLI during 2019. Conference attendees were able to view the 78 submissions and vote on those they found to be the most meaningful. While the Osher NRC thinks that everyone should win as Institutes are all doing such important work, the following OLLIs took home the top prizes last week! These winning submissions are all excellent examples of how Osher Institutes are about more than just learning, they are about giving back to our communities, examining issues such as racism and ageism, and collaborating in service to one another.

Living Longer, Living Better: Changing the Culture of Aging
OLLI at Berkshire Community College held a rockin’ one-day conference on growing older, featuring keynote speaker Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks: a Manifesto Against Ageism. Additional terrific panels featured local lawmakers and national experts, a spoken word performance by OLLI members, and an exhibit called “Creative Aging: 65 and Better in the Berkshires,” which featured profiles photographed and written by OLLI members. The profiles went on to be serialized in the local newspaper and displayed at the State House in Boston. Not only was the conference about challenging ageism, it also now provides inspiring examples of creative aging in the weekly newspaper!
Alternative Spring Break, a Student-led Week of Service Learning
For several years, members of OLLI at University of California Santa Cruz have participated in the Alternative Spring Break, a student-led week of service learning with a focus on the Watsonville community. The intergenerational and cross-cultural interactions have been powerful, allowing all to reconsider who is offering service to whom. There is power in the wisdom of people‘s efforts to work together to survive and thrive. We meet, we cultivate, we celebrate.

Monthly Potluck Meals for UNT Students
In 2019, OLLI at UNT members found new ways to serve the community that emphasized their support for younger generations of lifelong learners. Members began hosting monthly potluck meals for UNT students who have aged out of the foster care system, addressed food insecurity on campus by donating to the UNT Food Pantry, and donated school supplies to the local Children’s Advocacy Center for abused children and their families.

Civil Rights Activities in Atlanta During The 1960s
OLLI at Emory University has a long history of offering classes and public forums on the civil rights movement, race relations, and community engagement. This past year, it has made great strides to position itself as a change agent on these issues. Last fall, OLLI at Emory hosted a lecture series on the history of Historically Black Colleges and Universities in Atlanta, which was televised on the AIB Networks to over two million homes in Georgia. This spring, the Fulton County District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) is partnering with OLLI to investigate the arrests of civil rights activists in Atlanta during the 1960s. Together they are researching the circumstances to determine if the arrests were unjust.

Black and White: Conundrums on Race
OLLI at The University of Alabama in Huntsville initiated an effort to expand members' understanding of race relations. One popular course—Black and White: Conundrums on Race —engaged outside speakers for two terms to enlighten the predominately white audience on unexplored African American history. Speakers included a retired judge, a political activist, a historian, an arts educator, and city and university personnel with expertise in diversity. A field trip to historical civil rights sites in Birmingham brought the course to a resounding end.

Three Perspectives on Anti-Semitism
In November 2019, the Osher Institute at University of Richmond hosted a panel discussion and conversation on anti-Semitism as presented from the local, regional/national, and international perspectives. The Dean of the School of Professional and Continuing Studies moderated the panel that included the Henrico County Chief of Police, the FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Richmond Field Office, and the Executive Director of the Israel Action Network. They all addressed what is being done to identify, prevent, and address anti-Semitic activities and how organizations and individuals of all ages, backgrounds and faiths can be proactive and help. The Osher member who conceptualized this program also secured the local Jewish Community Center and the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond as cosponsors. This event was free and open to the broader Richmond community.
OLLI Podcasts are Popping Up Everywhere
Wikipedia defines a podcast as “an episodic series of spoken word digital audio files that a user can download to a personal device for easy listening”. Podcasts are hardly a new phenomenon. Their origins trace back to the early 2000s when pioneering journalists and broadcasters coined the linguistically blended term, combining “iPod” with “broadcast.”

Some innovative Institutes like OLLI at the University of North Texas (UNT) have been producing podcasts since 2018, currently with 55 episodes in their archive. The infinitely interesting people of OLLI – instructors and members with fascinating backgrounds and stories – offer a stream of subjects for these audio pleasures. Podcasts appeal to those of us with auditory learning style preferences. They are ideal for multi-taskers, too. Podcasts, like audiobooks can be terrific listening while driving, doing housework, exercising, or walking the dog. They also appeal to those in our OLLI demographic who were brought up on radio, because they often emulate quality radio programming, with hosts who curate and smoothly move us through interviews, stories, and information.

During these pandemic times, I find myself needing to get outside of the house/home office to avoid cabin fever. A good walk (masked, of course) with my headphones becomes a treat. Lately, I’ve searched podcasts produced by or featuring OLLIs, finding them easily. There are multiple aggregators of podcasts such as iTunes/Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Stitcher. But a simple search using key words of OLLI and podcast finds some of these without going directly into the aggregators:

Podcasts don’t need to be highly produced or fancy. You can use your smart phone to record them and with a little help from your OLLI staff, post them for classmates to access. Click here to listen to my short “Podcast on Podcasts” highlighting three of the above OLLI podcasts. I hope you will hear, almost anyone can make one of these – even this podcast fan from the Osher NRC.

Submitted by: Steve Thaxton, Executive Director, Osher NRC
Dear Olli
Dear Olli,
I am a volunteer leader working with the OLLI staff to determine how best to offer classes for the upcoming spring semester. I know many OLLIs are considering returning to campus, offering hybrid classes, or continuing online. It would be very helpful to know what other Institutes are planning at this time.
~OLLI Volunteer

Dear OLLI Volunteer,
In recent surveys conducted by the NRC, we can see the direction of spring classes is varied across the network. With winter and spring terms just around the corner, now is the time to decide the best option for your members, Institute, and university. As with the fall term, many Institute directors are planning for all possibilities: a plan for online, for mixed, and, for on-ground. Although for many, multiple plans and options are just not a feasible route and decisions have already been made. This graph shows the results from our most recent survey at the end of September, where you can see that the majority (70%) of Institutes are already planning to offer courses remotely only. Hopefully, this perspective can offer insight as you make your own decision for winter and spring.

Have a question for Olli? Please send it in care of Kevin Connaughton ( 
Quick Tip - Recognize Volunteers
Volunteerism in Osher Institutes is as important now as it ever has been. In her conference session Engaging Volunteers in Our New Reality, Beth Steinhorn, President of VQ Strategies stressed the importance of recognizing the contributions that volunteers make to your Institute through more than just a branded gift or verbal "thank you." This recognition can take many forms, but a few suggestions include:
  • Invite volunteers to write an article on their project for a publication
  • Offer to send volunteers to a conference or cover their registration for a virtual conference
  • Provide volunteers with training or mentorship on new technology, practices, or research
  • Donate a book to a library in volunteers' names
  • Create a photo album or digital slide show with pictures of volunteer activities, programs, or events
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