NU hosts conference for retiree learning

Leah Kerkman and Leah Kerkman

Members of Northwestern’s Institute for Learning in Retirement hosted a three-day conference at Norris University Center June 21 to 23 that dealt with ways to improve retiree learning and cope with the growing number of Baby Boomers entering retirement.

The conference included representatives from Harvard University, the New School University in New York and the University of California at Los Angeles, as well as members of the institute. Each of these four institutions has programs for retired learners interested in continuing education. Throughout the weekend, speakers and panelists covered such issues as improving program participation, achieving balanced curriculums, and attracting and training coordinators.

One of the highlights of the conference was a panel discussion regarding the development of online study groups among the participating schools. Members and program directors also re-examined their relationships with the universities that sponsor their programs.

“We are getting together to share our successes so we can offer the best possible peer-learning programs for members,” said the institute’s Administrative Director Barbara Reinish. “We came to the realization that we would like to give back to the University.”

The institute is a non-credit peer-learning program in the School of Continuing Studies at Northwestern. The members, who range in age from mid-50s to early 90s, meet weekly in seminar-style discussion groups and cover topics such as literature, history, politics, philosophy, science, current events and the arts. Currently, 425 members are enrolled at the Evanston campus and 225 members at the Chicago campus.

Founded on the Evanston campus in 1987, the institute was the Midwest’s first peer-learning program for older adults and was modeled after the programs at the New School and Harvard. Last year’s conference took place in New York.

The institute has received awards for excellence from the National Association for Higher Education and the Illinois Council on Continuing Higher Education.

Newton Minow, founder of the NU’s program, spoke at a private dinner on Thursday night, where he was presented with a lifetime membership.

“He was really touched by that gesture,” Reinish said.

“At the conference, we gained an appreciation for how good our program is and how lucky we are to be a part of Northwestern,” Reinish said. “I think we’re in good shape. There will be a very large demand for these types of programs in the near future.”

Reinish said she was pleased with the weekend: “Everyone came away feeling that we have strong programs and we are doing good work.”