by NATHANIEL NELSON
Senior University is almost back in session, as the Winona State University (WSU) Retiree Center’s program brings six new courses for its fall semester. And, organizers note, it’s not just for seniors — classes are open to any community members with an interest in lifelong learning.
Started in 2008, Senior University WSU is a program focused on providing peer-led courses to the public on a semester basis. Each class is taught by retired professors, current professors or community experts, and the course load covers a wide variety of topics ranging from art history to political funding to outer space.
Retiree Center Director Jessica Kauphusman said the program was started to give retirees something to do, but has since expanded in reach.
“Senior University was set up to add cultural and intellectual stimulation for lifelong learners. It started with just retirees, but now is more open to community members,” Kauphusman said.
Contrary to what the name suggests, the program is not just for seniors, Kauphusman explained. “They’re for adult learners. The classes are generally for people who are retired just due to when the classes occur, but we’ve had ranges of ages take the classes, even undergrads,” she said.
The classes themselves vary highly in content, Kauphusman said, with some being more rigorous than others while some classes focus on slim content that provides conversation.
According to Kauphusman, the program continues to grow each year.
“We have a core constituency, but every set we get new faces and classes seem to fill faster each semester,” she said. “People don’t want to stop learning — they want to keep learning all their life.”
Jennifer Anderson, a geoscience professor at WSU, is teaching a class titled “We are Stardust, We are Golden” for the fall semester. This is her second course, having taught a class on astronomy in 2013, and she echoed Kauphusman’s statements.
“To say we should stop educating after a bachelor’s or master’s degree just doesn’t make any sense to me. We’re lifelong learners, and we’ll always be curious. That’s just what humans do,” Anderson explained.
This fall, Anderson’s course will focus on the periodic table of elements and from where they come. According to Anderson, this is a topic that she has always wanted to teach, but only had the chance to gloss over it in her main geoscience classes. “I’m fascinated with the periodic table, but I could never teach this class at Winona State,” she said. “It’s fun for the faculty because we get to teach something we’re really curious about, even though it might be a bit of an oddity.”
According to Kauphusman, classes for Senior University are chosen by a curriculum committee each year based on ideas from professors and the public. Sometimes the topics are brand new, and other times they are based on previous courses. An example of the latter would be this year’s art history course, which is the third class in the “Isms” series taught by Minnesota Marine Art Museum Director Nicole Chamberlain-Dupree. Kauphusman said these classes have been particularly popular, so the committee continues to add more.
“On the last class, we offer a course evaluation which lets people tell us what they want from us, and what classes they’d like to see. We base the future curriculum off of these,” Kauphusman said.
Unlike normal courses at WSU, the courses at Senior University allow for more interesting dialogue between the professor and students, Anderson said. For example, she will be teaching about the elements on the moon and looking at samples of lunar-like material. This is something that is done on campus in regular astronomy classes, but rarely to a room full of people who witnessed the moon landing.
“The people who take the class have a wealth of knowledge and are just fascinating to talk to. They have such diverse backgrounds and rich life experiences to share,” Anderson said. “I’m going to learn as much from them as they’re probably going to learn from me.”
Kauphusman said there are a few exciting things that the Retiree Center is working on in relation to Senior University, but wanted to keep the surprise under wraps for the time being. However, she said she does expect the program to continue to grow as more people become interested.
Anderson said she is excited to return to the program in the fall, when she gets a chance to teach about one of her passions in her field. She said she had a blast her last time teaching, and she hopes this year is just as fun.
“The periodic table has been a nerd thing for me for a while and I hope to introduce them to some samples,” she said. “I hope it’ll be fun for them, and I know it’ll be fun for me.”
The first class at Senior University begins on August 16, with more courses rolled out throughout the fall. Each four-to-six week course costs $40. The program has an online registration program available at https://www.winona.edu/retiree/senioruni.asp. Any questions can be directed to the WSU Retiree Center by phone at 507-457-5565, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.