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OLLI Overcomes COVID-19 Challenges

The Furman OLLI program, operating since 1993, allows adults 55 and over to continue learning into their senior years.

The OLLI Program offers an academic and social community immune to the challenges of COVID-19. Nancy Kennedy

To help combat COVID-19, Furman has instituted many changes, including mask requirements, purple dots on the floor to help with social distancing and a general lack of social events on campus. Students and faculty have had to adjust to this new, restrictive environment, but few have considered how another important part of Furman, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), has had to adjust to current circumstances. The Furman OLLI program, operating since 1993, allows adults 55 and over to continue learning into their senior years. Director Nancy Kennedy shared many of the changes OLLI has faced in the last few months.

OLLI currently offers courses in math, history, life sciences, political science, and more. According to Kennedy, the current COVID-19 model greatly changed OLLI’s day to day operations. Notably, the program became fully virtual, requiring over 1,000 senior citizens to quickly adapt to Zoom and its processes. Kennedy said this transition was not easy, noting “Zoom is second nature to most Furman students,” but some OLLI students struggle with getting in to the first Zoom meeting.  Kennedy added that after their first virtual meeting, the majority of OLLI students adjusted to the virtual environment and had little trouble in the following meetings.  

Around 400 programs like OLLI exist across the country, 144 of which are OLLI branches. These senior learning programs help contribute to senior citizens’ general well-being. OLLI at Furman has become widely popular. Kennedy mentioned that senior citizens "will retire in Greenville because of our program." OLLI classes provide academics without requiring assignments, tests, or grades, creating a relaxed learning environment that also serves as a social opportunity for the students.  

Kennedy noted many OLLI students were originally hesitant towards the transition from in-person to virtual classes but are now embracing the new method of learning. According to Kennedy, although students cannot be on campus, virtual instruction was “better than nothing, and it was still fun.” Despite not learning in person, OLLI students can still enjoy their book clubs and other similar activities. Kennedy celebrated that over 1,000 senior citizens became comfortable with the virtual learning environment.

Kennedy stressed the importance of maintaining OLLI’s social impact during COVID-19. She mentioned that “the classes have almost become secondary to the social obligations that [OLLI students] have made.” Many OLLI students took advantage of their new technology skills and now use virtual platforms to communicate with friends. Kennedy added, “When OLLI held orientations, I would do office hours and some [students] would love to just come in.” Kennedy emphasized the value of social interaction for OLLI students, especially given the current circumstances. She concluded that simply providing the opportunity to say, “hey, how are you?” is the best thing that OLLI can do for its students.  

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