Brockport Fosters Lifelong Learning
A free course-auditing program establishes intergenerational classrooms.
When Cathy Appleby ’75/’84/’01 volunteered at Commencement this past May, she handed a diploma to one young man whose smiling face resonated with her the most — she had sat next to him in class all semester.
A retired College at Brockport staff member, Appleby is one of nearly 50 people currently participating in the College’s Lifelong Learning Program, which allows community members aged 60 years and older to take classes for free. Known as auditing, this flexible option offers the benefits of being engaged in class discussions without the obligation to complete assignments, as auditors do not receive college credit.
This opportunity already existed throughout the State University of New York system, but without any formalized process in place at Brockport. Associate Professor of Social Work Jason Dauenhauer ’96, who also serves in the new title of director of multigenerational engagement, spent a sabbatical in spring 2016 organizing logistics, then launched the Lifelong Learning Program that fall.
The demand was quickly evident. Six people had taken advantage of the auditing option throughout the 2015-16 academic year, prior to the formalized program. With its launch in fall 2016, the number jumped to 40.
Sixteen of them audited Dauenhauer’s Issues of Aging in America course.
“The students got more out of it because the demographic the course was about was an integral part of it,” he said.
Assistant Professor of Communication Elizabeth Thorpe, now in her second semester teaching auditors, has seen similar results.
“Lifelong learners often are able to speak in real-life terms about the things we study, and provide context that truly enriches the class,” said Thorpe. “Traditional students really benefit from the wisdom and knowledge lifelong learners provide, and lifelong learners get the benefit of a fresh perspective offered by traditional students.”
This has been true for Dan Burns ’79, who calls the program “scintillating and invigorating.” Holding a bachelor’s degree in history, he has taken courses in that field and communication both this semester and last.
Burns admits he has sometimes felt like “a stranger in a strange land,” given the physical changes on campus since the 1970s and the changes in the way students communicate. Last semester, he noticed many students looking down at their phones while waiting for class to start, rather than interacting with each other.
“I made a point of saying hello, to get them talking,” he said.
Appleby takes classes alongside her neighbor, Carol Taillie ’86. Taillie holds a Master of Science in Education from Brockport and worked as a reading teacher in the Rochester City School District for 25 years. She is enjoying the opportunity to come back to campus to study children’s and young adult literature with Associate Professor Meg Norcia.
“It keeps your mind active,” Taillie said. “It opens the world, which is what college should do.”
Dauenhauer believes there is something for everyone, through the range of courses offered each semester as well as a couple of affiliated programs.
Mornings with the Professors, now in its 50th year, features presentations by College faculty and staff on a variety of issues, ranging this semester from the importance of play to the evolution of food processing. The Lifelong Learning Program also offers a series of free evening lectures. Both programs offer seniors an opportunity to be engaged in the College community without committing to an entire semester.
Dauenhauer wants to see older adults as part of the day-to-day campus culture — in the dining halls and cafés, in the SERC, and at events.
“We’re helping to shape students’ and the community’s perspectives on what it means to age well,” he said.