Osher Foundation gives $1 million to UI institute

CHAMPAIGN — The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute has received $1 million for its endowment from the Bernard Osher Foundation, which established the University of Illinois center six years ago.

It's the second $1 million endowment gift from the Osher Foundation, which supports 115 other lifelong-learning institutes at colleges and universities around the country. Nearly 113,000 people participate in the programs nationwide.

The UI's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, known as OLLI, was created in 2006 with a $100,000 grant from the Osher Foundation to offer educational programs and activities for people over age 50.

Classes began in the fall of 2007, with 11 non-credit courses and 297 members. It now has more than 1,000 members and will offer 36 courses in the spring.

The Osher Foundation also provided several more grants, along with the first $1 million endowment gift in 2010.

In announcing the latest gift, Osher Foundation President Mary Bitterman noted the UI institute's growth since it opened in 2007.

"We recognize that the Institute's success represents the collective achievements of its excellent staff and dynamic community of intellectually vigorous members who give generously of their time, talent, and financial resources," Bitterman said in a release. "We applaud the university's leadership for its steadfast support of the program and for embracing the notion that — at its best — education is a lifelong pursuit that has the power to elevate, delight and forge connections to each other and to a larger world."

OLLI Director Christine Catanzarite said she was grateful to the foundation for the support and for "promoting a vision of curiosity and discovery as a lifelong project."

In addition to classes, OLLI offers lectures, study groups, travel opportunities and collaborations with the campus and community. They include an innovative Citizen Scientist Program that allows OLLI members to serve as research volunteers in laboratories at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology and the Institute for Genomic Biology.

Outreach specialist Janet Summers said the Osher Foundation's gift will allow OLLI to expand its offerings, including a possible "citizen artist" program.

OLLI also receives funding from the university, member fees and donations.

"It's a great partnership," Summers said.

Membership costs $150 annually for the first member of a family and $120 for the second. Each member gets a free class and a free study group; all other classes are $30 and study groups are $15.

Half-year memberships are currently available and run through June 30, 2013. They cost $90, and $70 for a second family member.

Members range from their 50s to mid-90s, with the average age in the mid-60s, Summers said. She said 100 percent of OLLI's members have registered for at least one class in January.

Offerings include courses on architecture, Handel's "Messiah," Gettysburg, Illinois mammals, overlooked Hitchcock films, historic preservation, and daring women of the movies before Hollywood's infamous "Hays Code."

Several classes are already full, including an introduction to Latin, "English country dancing in the age of Jane Austen," and courses on great detectives, jazz, World War I, Tai Chi, and the Middle East.

Complete information is available online at http://olli.illinois.edu/.

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kiel wrote on December 22, 2012 at 11:12 am

An OLLI Citizen Scientist worked in my lab a couple years ago -- she was wonderful, and it was a great experience for all of us. A great program!