The Bucknell Institute for Lifelong Learning challenges and connects local residents
By Paula Cogan Myers
There is a palpable feeling of excitement across campus when Bucknell classes start each semester. Since 2009, a similar energy has reverberated among another set of students in the area — members of the Bucknell Institute for Lifelong Learning (BILL).
When current program director Ruth Burnham volunteered to help develop BILL, she knew there would be interest but didn't anticipate the growth of such a strong community. Since its first year, BILL has offered 315 courses in subjects ranging from international relations to art history, and enrolled more than 1,200 members from across the region. Now, she and coordinator Anne Smith work to offer Tea & Talk and Lunch & Learn events in addition to three- to six-week courses and periodic bus trips. At the request of members, they added summer courses for the first time this year.
"It's fascinating to watch the value of this program increase in ways that we really didn't expect," says Smith. She and Burnham have a trove of stories about how the BILL community has developed by embracing and challenging individuals and creating bridges between Bucknell and the region. Classes take place at venues such as the public library, senior living communities, local businesses and government offices.
"The piece we did not anticipate at the start was the personal benefit to so many," says Burnham. From members who have found new meaning and connections after losing a spouse to those who form discussion groups to extend classroom learning, Burnham says BILL has brought together members and dedicated volunteers from ages 12 to over 90. Much of that commitment stems from motivation for learning, as members become instructors and subject choices emerge from community interests.
"Part of what is special about BILL courses is students' motivation," says retired Bucknell psychology professor Genie Gerdes. "BILL students' intrinsic interest brings them to each course and keeps them engaged. They bring their own backgrounds and expertise into discussions and find material on their own to share with other students. I've seen this in BILL courses where I was a student as well as those I've taught. It is exciting to work with students who are so motivated."
Russ Wells, a retired St. Lawrence University biology professor who moved to the area to be near family, agrees. He takes courses, teaches them and helps with audio-visual equipment and transportation coordination. This semester, he's teaching What Do Biologists Do? (or Mucking About in Biology). He takes participants to meet biologists working in local industry at places such as Spyglass Ridge Winery, Benner Springs Fish Hatchery and the Cherokee Pharmaceuticals plant.
"Teaching this course is a lot of fun because I'm going and learning along with everyone else," Wells says. "The people are inquisitive, and they bring good questions. It's really quite a delight to have that interchange."
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