In this posting, OLLI member Phoebe Johnston interviews OLLI Advisory Council chair, Carol Rahmani
When I asked my friend Carol Rahmani for a little of her time to sit down with me, she didn’t hesitate. For OLLI she is always available. Carol is a longtime resident of Raleigh, retired public school psychologist and administrator, alumna of NC State, and irrepressible NC State sports fan. We members of NC State University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, (OLLI), formerly known as Encore, owe immeasurable thanks to Carol.
It looks like you are enjoying retirement. Do you feel you owe that in part to OLLI? I am a naturally busy person, and my career didn’t use up my energy, nor my desire to be of help to others. I love being useful, and since I fell in love with OLLI, have also loved being a volunteer with the program.
We at OLLI are an enthusiastic bunch. A class or lecture at OLLI often has a retired or current NC State or other university instructor in front of the room. Many times though, the class leader is someone who simply has a love of the subject, and has become expert. For instance, a former Chairman of the Raleigh Area Council of Churches inspired us with stories about Rosa Parks and Desmond Tutu. A retired engineer shared his love of Volcanoes and Their Impact on Civilization. All instruction and lecturing is on a volunteer basis and at OLLI we are never captive to a limited topic area. For example, if you take Music of the 60s, you learn modern musical history, musical form, music appreciation fundamentals and hear stories about the musicians themselves. That means we are very passionate, student and presenter alike.
For you, Carol, OLLI volunteering is a natural extension of your career in education. Tell us how OLLI all started for you. I have lived in Raleigh since I began college here, and had never known of the lifelong learning program until I was close to retirement age, when a close friend who had already retired enticed me with stories of things she learned and did at OLLI (Encore). “These are fabulous courses; you’ll love everything!” she would say as she gave me details. During early retirement, my time was consumed with family needs but as soon as I could, I jumped right into OLLI with both feet. Right from the start I made new friends. I’ve lived in Raleigh most of my adulthood, and enjoy a broad array of friendships, but there’s always room for more. My OLLI friendships have continued to grow, and have continued to enrich my life and my experiences of OLLI. It’s hard to express how important friendships are for a retired person, and especially one who is single.
The OLLI catalog continues to expand. Every semester, there is a list of courses and lectures that spark interest for things I never thought I would be attracted to. It is very hard to choose just a few! They range from literature and philosophy to photography, theater costuming, financial planning, and on and on. This wide range of courses, lectures and study trips is generated by the OLLI Program Committee.
Carol, you are the Chairman of the OLLI Program Committee. The very busy and dedicated Committee members bring together ideas for courses, lectures and study trips with instructors and semester schedules. How is this done a daunting three times a year? Success in reaching our goals takes many people – members, member volunteers, and the phenomenal four staff members of the OLLI Program . The two greatest challenges are: 1. continuing to involve more members and 2. expanding the course roster to accommodate membership growth. I am proud to have been involved in a reorganization of the Program Committee’s processes that implemented seven subcommittees focused on broad topic areas. We had looked at models from other Osher programs, and through working with our knowledgeable and dedicated staff members, the seven-subcommittee method was adopted. Our very broad age-range (50 to 90+ -– two generations) and resulting range of interests are well-served by our current course-development processes.. The Program Committee and the staff have together become a well-oiled machine, and we have no doubt that the future of our course offerings will be extraordinary.
Opportunities for member involvement are not limited to the Program Committee. A member can be a part of many other committees or have other tasks within the program.
Over your years in OLLI (Encore), Carol, you must have had some favorite classes, study trips or lectures. I am a lover of history and other subjects that fall outside my career area of expertise. OLLI provides opportunities to study such topics that I enjoy through courses such as the Civil War Sesquicentennial Series and associated study trips. I’ll describe one of my favorite instructors. OLLI was more than lucky to have had a retired Army colonel and a very passionate military historian become one of our dedicated instructors, not only for this five- year Civil War series, but also for other historical reviews of wars that have been formative in our nation’s (and the world’s) history. Our trips that accompanied some of the courses and were led by our military historian engaged us more thoroughly than any other kind of tour we could ever have taken. I never learned so much and had so much fun doing it!
What do you have to say to age 50plus Raleigh area residents who are not yet acquainted with OLLI? I would have to say first that this is not just learning through attending classes! OLLI means new friends, new life experiences, and endless stimulation. OLLI taught me how satisfying it is to step outside my comfort zone by taking courses I might not have been drawn to in college or grad school. There are no grades, no mandatory reading, no tests. A member can be part of a number of interest groups, a book group, a writing group or more. There are even parties and social events!
NC State’s OLLI Program is part of a network of 100+ Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes across the country, of which there are four in North Carolina. We have something for everybody! Look us up at http://www.ncsu.edu/olli.