In Alexandria, a place for lifelong learning

Published 5:41 am Thursday, October 17, 2019

By Peter Cox

MPR News/90.1 FM

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, a large lecture hall at Alexandria Technical and Community College was filling up quickly.

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More than 220 people were filing in for a lecture. Jay Kulp, of Alexandria, Minn., sat in his favorite spot and pulled out a notebook and pen.

“This has been such a blessing to be able to come to Senior College because it’s things I never would have studied in school and now I’m finding myself very interested in learning,” he said.

When he was younger, he was more focused on finding a job and making a living. “But now I can concentrate on learning and broaden myself,” he said.

The classroom was full of people from their 50s into 90s. They’re all students in the school’s Senior College — a lecture series for older adults in west-central Minnesota.

Students pay $110 for the 15-lecture fall or spring terms, or $50 for the shorter January term.

“The idea was really to have high-content lectures available to a senior population primarily, not exclusively,” said Amy Sunderland, director of the Senior College. She described a simple set of parameters for the program: “To have a variety of subjects and no demands of regular college enrollment like tests and prereading and that sort of thing.”

The Senior College started in 2006. The first few sessions had a few dozen people. This semester, more than 200 students are enrolled. Professors and lecturers come from across the state.

Loene Bowlin of Glenwood, Minn., has been attending with her husband since 2008.

“We view this as going to class — just like we’ve gone to class all of our lives,” she said. “And it’s fun to come into the college with the young students that are just leaving. It brightens your day and quickens your step.”

Earlier this month, the speaker was Thomas Hanson, a diplomat in residence at the University of Minnesota Duluth, speaking on cyber warfare. He talked about the Russian email hacks, as well as the cyber attacks on American cities over the last few years.

“Online, anyone can mimic anyone else. This is a big problem. It’s a hall of mirrors, trying to find out who actually perpetrated the attack,” Hanson said, to a rapt lecture hall. Students sat forward. Some scribbled notes. Others audibly groaned when Hanson talked about the growing investment by the Chinese government in scientific research as the U.S. government investment in research has diminished.

He’s lectured several times at the Senior College and says the program is an asset to the community.

“The number of community spaces where people come together and share their time and their interests, they’re more and more important,” Hanson said. “And so, this kind of community organization fills that function, and I think for people entering into their retiree years — it’s a tremendous way of getting out, of staying active, of staying in the community, staying fresh.”

Student Eric Enberg agreed.

“I think what we have here should be in every city,” he said.

Enberg, a loyal attendee, said getting together twice a week is also a good way to build friendships.

“On top of that, it’s a great opportunity for people our age to get together and just talk and socialize and exchange ideas,” he said.