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A New Kind of Senior Class


By Beth Giudicessi

Warm weather, affordable living, golf, and the mountains are well-known attractions for Arizona retirees.

But what about the fungal kingdom, Darwin’s theory of speciation, and neuroscience?

For students enrolled in Arizona State University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), classes in an array of subjects—and the friendships that come with them—offer adults age 50 and older the added benefit of university-quality short courses at five locations in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

“I’ve been taking Osher classes for four years and it’s been a life changing experience for me,” says retired educator Bonnie Murphy. “I branched out and started taking classes in things I didn’t even know I’d be interested in, such as ‘The Fungus Among Us,’ or ‘Sex: Why All Is Fair When Love Is War,’ or the brain research class.”

Murphy is one of 1,500 students enrolled in OLLI’s non-credit, exam-free courses taught by ASU faculty, staff, professors emeriti, and community experts.

ASU’s program is one of 119 institutes in America sponsored by the Bernard Osher Foundation, a San Francisco-based organization that seeks to improve quality of life through higher education and the arts.

The Osher Foundation recently announced an additional $1 million investment in ASU’s lifelong learning institute, citing its best practices among OLLI communities nationwide.

“They’re lifting us up, saying, ‘You’ve done it well and we believe in your community,’” said ASU’s OLLI Director Richard Knopf, who is also a professor in ASU’s School of Community Resources and Development.

OLLI is now in its tenth year at ASU, and Knopf notes that each year it is more deeply embedded in the lives of Arizona residents and winter visitors.

“OLLI is about impacts. We’re looking for ways to expand the impacts for the community that is being developed around the Osher course,” he says.

For Murphy, that impact extends beyond what she’s learned in the classroom.

“I lost my husband unexpectedly after I retired and I was very depressed. I learned about Osher and from the very first class I took, I started feeling happier and more purposeful,” she says. “It just feels right and good to me.”

To help build the OLLI community, contact Elise Peterson: elise.l.peterson@asu; Enroll in OLLI at

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