People over 50 who like to learn have a treasure waiting for them at UTEP: the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. 

Nicknamed OLLI, the program draws hundreds of people who believe that education doesn’t stop at graduation. This time around, however, they go to class for the pure joy of it. 

“The Osher philosophy is learning is fun,” said Lynn Provenzano, program director since January. “Bernard Osher, who founded the organization, recognized that our lives change as we get older, but positive changes happen if we stay engaged and active mentally and physically.”

UTEP is one of 122 universities that host OLLI programs and receive programming support and funds from an endowment with the OLLI Foundation at Northwestern University in Chicago.

Ready to learn?

Registration for the six-week summer session June 3 to July 12 ends May 17.

The program’s secret to success lies in the quality of the instructors and the engaging courses they create, said Provenzano, a strong supporter of local classical music who has worked for El Paso Opera and served as president of the El Paso Society for Musicians of the Future for 14 years.

Many instructors hold doctoral or master’s degrees; others have years of experience in their area of expertise. 

But not all have had careers in what they teach: Dr. Bob Jacobs, a retired physician, teaches guitar. Provenzano is always looking for new instructors and often asks them, “Is there something that you’ve always wanted to teach, but haven’t had the opportunity to share?” 

This summer, students can learn about six operas from an opera singer Kellie Rumba Rattay, or can study the Chihuahuan Desert with one of the region’s top desert ecology experts, Dr. Paul Hyder.

Students can sing along with the Beatles or ABBA in a class on pop music with Steven Schiller, a trumpet player with the Las Cruces Symphony Orchestra, or learn about local theater with well-known director Hector Serrano.  

This term’s history courses include discussions on the end of World War I, the Civil Rights era, or El Paso-Juárez relations from 1849 to 1963. In the literature courses, students can read and discuss Faulkner, Shakespeare or ancient myths. Students can learn Italian, make embossed metal art, become better cooks, study the great philosophers or learn core movements of Tai Chi.

As she has for 11 years, Provenzano this summer will teach a class in meditation – a field she has studied and practiced extensively.

Outside OLLI, she teaches pranic healing, a form of energy healing. She is a co-founder and president of a new community service organization: Lotus Integrative Group for Health and Transformation, or LIGHT, which promotes and supports wellness through weekly free pranic healing workshops and other activities. 

This summer marks the first time in memory that OLLI will partner with other nonprofits in the community. Susan Goodell, director of El Pasoans Fighting Hunger, will present “Feeding the Region-El Paso Food Bank.” Monica Gomez will facilitate “Wellness from Within,” a six-week series of classes created by the Rio Grande Cancer Foundation.

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute is due for expansion, said Provenzano, who’s working to increase program membership.

“It’s been a quiet gift to our community, and now we want to shout about it and tell everyone.”