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For me, college was all about socializing, partying, (studying), maturing, exploring (more studying) and figuring out who I was in this adult shell that was starting to form. Being away from my home and family for the first time was a scary and wonderful thing, and sometimes the academic aspect of the university got second-class treatment when it came to all the other new and exciting things I discovered as an 18-year-old … especially when some of those classes were only part of my curriculum in order to fulfill the required credits.

But what if grown-up you could go back? Take the classes you always wanted to without worrying how they would look on your transcript or if they would impact your GPA; to learn without the distractions of dorm life or student loans hanging over your head. For Atlanta adults older than age 50, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Emory University is the place to do just that.

OLLI at Emory

Welcome to the OLLI at Emory University, a place to keep learning. Image: Emory Photo/Video

As humans, we are always looking to discover how the world works, to question what is thrown at us and, beyond anything, to learn. That aspect of living doesn’t just turn off once you hit a certain age or decide to retire. In fact, the opportunities to learn, socialize and challenge our minds are only that much more important as we age.

“Baby boom generation retirees often look for meaningful and purposeful activities,” says Jessica Wilson, program manager for OLLI at Emory. “OLLI at Emory offers the opportunity to discover the joys of learning for fun. Retirement provides the chance for many to finally study the things they want to as opposed to what they had to for their careers.”

OLLI at Emory 2015 catalog

Adults have a large variety of courses to choose from when enrolling at OLLI at Emory. Image: Emory Photo/Video

OLLI staff

A few faces of the 2015 OLLI at Emory volunteer committee and program staff. Image: Emory Photo/Video

Just in the last year, more than 1,300 students attended OLLI at Emory classes, selecting from at least 60 courses offered each session (fall, winter, spring and summer). Many of the courses offered at the main campus, located at 6 Executive Park Drive in the North Druid Hills neighborhood, cover the gamut of subjects, including music, language, technology and art, in addition to movement classes at nearby dance studio, Dance 101, and even improv comedy. Some specialized courses being offered this winter include one covering TED talks, as well as “Politics, Religion, Government and Terrorism in the World Today: Hear the Experts,” and “Atlanta: A City Too Busy to Hate.”

Howard Cohen, both an OLLI at Emory instructor and student, has been involved with the organization for the past eight years. He says, “My favorite class that I have taught is “The Intersection of Art and Music” — it not only opened up new worlds to the students, but it was aesthetically and emotionally appealing and fun. They were learning and being entertained simultaneously. My most favorite class that I have taken [as a student] is the “Economic History of the Post-Roman World”— the instructor was fantastic.”

Many of the instructors are volunteers or retired professors, all vetted by OLLI staff and curriculum committee members. The breadth of classes and the affordable tuition ($49 per class; some require additional fees) make OLLI at Emory a huge draw for Atlanta’s senior learners.

OLLI learners

OLLI at Emory keeps older adults involved in the world, mentally, socially and even physically in some of the movement classes. Image: Emory Photo/Video

“People often incorrectly assume that everyone wants to simply retire to a warmer climate, sit back on the beach or play golf,” says Jessica. “Many OLLI at Emory members want to live near their children — for many that means either moving to or remaining in Atlanta. They are not interested in merely sitting back and coasting through their golden years. They are still active, independent and looking for places to be productive — OLLI at Emory provides the ideal environment to do exactly that.”

For more than 30 years, Emory University provided continuing education classes for older adults through the Emory Senior University program. However in 2009, Emory applied for a $1 million endowment through a national program focusing on continuing education for older adults: Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. There is at least one OLLI program in every state. Georgia is fortunate to have three OLLI programs at the University of Georgia in Athens, Kennesaw State University and Emory University. For metro Atlantans, OLLI at Emory is the closest and most conveniently located option.

OLLI social aspects

In addition to the intellectual stimulation, OLLI at Emory provides social enrichment with many extracurricular activities and meet-ups that happen outside the classroom. Image: Emory Photo/Video

Besides bettering their minds, OLLI students also get the added benefits of social opportunities to meet and cavort with other students. The program encourages adults to stay for coffee, mingle, attend events like Lunch ‘N Learns and participate in outside activities, like book clubs and field trips. Students constantly work to raise the bar at OLLI, as well by helping to create courses, offer insight about curriculum to staff, plan trips and assist with fundraising.

“OLLI at Emory affords students the opportunity to be intellectually stimulated, to look forward to learning new things, and to interact with fascinating and interesting people,” says Howard. “[It’s] like a second home. You come here and you enjoy the conversation — the cultural intellectual level of the students is so high.”

If you would like more information about OLLI at Emory, including upcoming course schedules and registration, visit their site at or call (404) 727-6000.

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