Twenty years ago, a passionate grassroots effort in Sarasota led to the launch of the Lifelong Learning Academy (LLA). In 2015, the LLA merged with Ringling College of Art and Design as part of President Larry R. Thompson’s plan to increase the College’s adult learning opportunities. To that end, the new-and-always-improving program has recently been accepted as an OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) program by The Bernard Osher Foundation.
Ringling College now joins the ranks of colleges and universities such as American University, Florida State, Johns Hopkins, as well as all of the Ivy Leagues and Big 10 schools in earning the OLLI designation.
The message is clear—like these other schools, we have a quality life-long learning program that’s designed to deliver affordable educational opportunities for adults 50 and older for the pure joy of learning.
Being an OLLI school means more than just having that stamp of approval. It means Ringling College received a grant from the Osher Foundation to keep improving and offering the joy of discovery and learning without the need for grades. If certain goals that demonstrate the potential for success and sustainability are met, the Foundation may offer as much as $1 million endowment to further support those efforts.
“They want you to succeed,” says Janna Overstreet, Director of OLLI at Ringling College. “They help you put together the initial application, and all along the way, they keep asking, ‘What else do you need?’ and ‘How can we help?’”
One of the key indicators of success is institutional support, and the new Museum Campus—the future home of the School of Continuing Studies department including OLLI, which has been temporarily located at Temple Beth Sholom for many years—demonstrates the commitment the College has to OLLI. Most Continuing Education courses will begin being held in the classrooms, studio art spaces, and digital classroom at the Museum Campus in fall 2019. Overstreet says that “About 80% of all OLLI offerings will be at the Museum Campus, but we’ll continue with our satellite sites—that’s one of our mission points. We partner with entities throughout Sarasota and Manatee counties to bring services to the residents. For example, we partner with LWR Schroeder Manatee and State College of Florida in Lakewood Ranch, Point Pleasant in Bradenton, Community Center of Anna Maria Island, the Sarasota Yacht Club, and many others.”
At the forefront of Ringling College’s OLLI program’s push for success is Mona Callies, the new Assistant Vice President of Continuing Studies. “When I arrived just under a year ago,” she explains, “the School of Continuing Studies was three separate entities. We’re working hard to build synergy to become one school where all of our programming will be seamless to the adult students in our community.”
That idea of community is vital to Callies’ and Overstreet’s vision. The goal of enriching the lives of residents in our area doesn’t just happen with classroom education—it’s also about having a commitment to socialization and engagement, which studies show can be equally as important as the educational dynamic. “That’s what sets us apart from other lifelong learning programs,” Overstreet explains.
Yet the educational offerings remain the biggest draw for most. By the second week of registration this past winter session, 1800 seats were taken and wait lists for certain classes were growing. Courses such as British History are always a hit, as are short story and great books discussion groups. “There’s a lot of excitement about the new ceramic studio at the Museum Campus, too,” notes Callies, “as well as the traditional art classes we offer in watercolor, acrylic, and mixed media.”
One thing is clear—the future is bright for Continuing Studies at Ringling College thanks to the assistance of the Osher Foundation, the strong and sizable team of volunteers, and Dr. Thompson’s clear commitment to our ever-expanding community of lifelong learners.
For more information on the OLLI program at Ringling College, please visit www.olliatringlingcollege.org
By Ryan G. Van Cleave | Photography by Karen Arango (Photography & Imaging, ‘13)
Ryan G. Van Cleave is the author of 20 books as well as a writing coach and amateur papaya grower. He also runs the Creative Writing major at Ringling College of Art and Design.