Grab a notebook and pencil sharpener: It’s back to school season. Graduation may have been a long time ago, but that doesn’t mean the learning has to stop.
Many of our Ardenwoods residents often seek out opportunities to sharpen the mind, learn new skills and keep up with our changing world — and Western Carolina University understands this, too. That’s why the regional institute created LIFE@WesternCarolina, a lifelong education program specifically designed to provide learning opportunities to adults age 50 and older.
“It’s a great opportunity for those who are hoping to learn about new subjects or dive deeper into things that have sparked an interest — all in a short, once a week program where the topic is new every time,” said Julia Hartbarger Duvall, public communication specialist at WCU. But have no fear: There’s no homework or final exams. “It’s purely for enjoyment and enrichment,” she continued.
Each week’s presentation, held from 10 a.m. to noon on Thursdays at WCU’s Biltmore Park facility, is led by current or former university faculty or by a regional expert in the given subject. Participants can sign up for the full “school year,” September through April — or for a single 12-class semester.
Fall’s courses include presentations on politics, finance, culture, social issues, the great outdoors and the arts, among other topics. The semester kicks off Thursday, Sept. 15 with “Financial Exploitation of Older Adults,” led by instructor Jim Swan. Later in the fall, Dr. Chris Cooper teaches “Concerns About Democracy,” Jeffrey Vickery instructs a course titled “Can We Finally Talk About Religion and Politics, Please?,” Dr. Ben Steere provides an in-depth presentation on “The Archaeology of Ancestral Cherokee Communities in WNC,” and Emily Ball presents “Homelessness in the United States — and How We Can END It.” (For the full list of this year’s courses, click here.)
“These are all participant-determined topics, chosen based on what current and former students think that their peers would enjoy learning about,” Hartbarger Duvall explained. “And the topics change each year — though we occasionally do a repeat for popular subjects — so you can keep coming for years and years. In the past, we’ve had classes on grassroots advocacy, Southern Appalachian African American history, wildflowers of Western North Carolina and moonshining in the Smoky Mountains. We’ve even had the chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians come to speak.
“Because the topic changes each week, there’s no assignments or due dates: It’s all about learning something new — together,” she continued. “A lot of our LIFE@WesternCarolina students even get together and have lunch afterward, so it’s a great chance to meet new friends, as well. There’s a real sense of community, of coming together to gain a deeper appreciation of everything from gardening to politics.”
Memberships for the full 24-session, fall through spring school year cost $125 for new members or $110 for returning members, with single-semester, 12-session memberships available for $80. Students are not required to attend every session, but it’s highly encouraged — and, with classes held fewer than four miles from Ardenwoods, getting to class is quick and convenient.
“I’ve participated in other senior programs in the area over the last few years, and nothing has been as fulfilling and enjoyable as the LIFE@WesternCarolina program,” raved one student in a review of the program. “I got something out of each session. Even when I didn’t think I’d enjoy a particular topic, I found that I learned something new, and it allowed me to grow through the process.”
To learn more about LIFE@WesternCarolina or to apply for a membership, click here. If you have any questions about the program, contact WCU’s Educational Outreach office at 828-227-7397 or firstname.lastname@example.org.