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$1 million gift endows Lifelong Learning Institute

May 9, 2007

A scene from a play by OLLI's 'Geezer Theatre'San Francisco State University has received a $1 million gift from The Bernard Osher Foundation for an endowment to support the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), part of the University's College of Extended Learning. The Foundation also awarded a bridge grant of $50,000 to meet current operational needs. The Foundation has funded 112 institutes throughout the United States. SF State's program is one of 12 to receive funding for endowments.

"This wonderful support further solidifies the ties we have built with the Osher Foundation over the years," said Gail Whitaker, associate vice president of academic program development and dean of the College of Extended Learning at SF State. "This funding supports our philosophy that the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at SF State not only serves the educational interests of older learners, it also produces valuable information about the older learner."

OLLI at SF State, a self-sustaining institute within SF State's College of Extended Learning, received its' initial support from the Osher Foundation in November 2002. Since then the institute has developed a curriculum that engages the older learner about current events and the future and encourages them to consider what their impact or legacy might be. Some have remained long after their classes ended to serve on an advisory group for the institute. Others have used what they have learned to form informal discussion and writers groups. One such group grew out of a political theater class led by Dan Chumley and Joan Holden formerly of the San Francisco Mime Troupe and visiting artists at SF State's OLLI. "Geezer Theatre" is an actor and writer collaborative that develops political plays about issues affecting the older population.

Debra Varner, interim director of OLLI at SF State, credits founding director Susan Hoffman for its success. "She set out to build a learning community and I think she succeeded well beyond that." Varner, who has participated in OLLI as both a student and an instructor, insists that "we regard the people who come to our classes and events as learning community partners rather than students."

"The Bernard Osher Foundation is delighted to recognize the accomplishments of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at San Francisco State University with this endowment gift," said Mary Bitterman, Foundation president. "We are pleased to have the SF State program within the growing national network of Osher Institutes and know that other network participants will learn a great deal from SF State's experiences."

OLLI is one of several SF State programs, such as the Gerontology Program, Sixty Plus and ElderCollege, that focuses on older learners. Located at SF State's new Downtown Campus, OLLI offers provocative courses and forums for people over 50 and boasts a growing membership of more than 500 Bay Area members. Last year its 75 courses and annual symposium attracted hundreds of students to classes ranging from political affairs and world history to computer science, art and writing. The symposium, on the topic of older American workers, featured Bay Area business leaders, career counselors and labor experts from state and federal agencies.

-- Denize Springer
Photo: Courtesy of OLLI


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Last modified May 9, 2007 by University Communications