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OLLI members during a tour of SBU on Aug. 31. Photo from OLLI

Joining children and college students across the Island going back to school to study, adult learners also returned to a local campus on Sept. 6.

OLLI members returned to in-person workshops on Sept. 6. Photo from OLLI

After five semesters, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute’s members have returned to the Stony Brook University campus. The program, better known as OLLI, offers a variety of noncredit workshops designed to appeal to people over 50. During the spring semester of 2020, OLLI switched to virtual workshops via Zoom due to COVID-19 shutdowns. The program this fall will once again offer in-person workshops, as well as virtual and hybrid options.

Breanne Delligatti, OLLI at SBU program director, said members had the opportunity to attend an orientation on Aug. 31. More than 100 people were in attendance. This semester there will be more than 600 learners with over 100 courses, lectures and events planned.

Jane Cash, curriculum committee co-chair and workshop leader, described the orientation as extraordinary. A recently retired nurse, she joined OLLI during the pandemic and has only attended via Zoom.

“To see more than people’s heads and shoulders, and to meet them in person, it was really lovely,” Cash said.

Ella Nyc, executive council president, said it was also exciting to see people return who decided not to participate via Zoom either due to lack of technical savviness or proper equipment. 

“They’re still coming back and returning and so excited to be back on campus again,” Nyc said.

While it was good to see each other in person again, Karen DiPaola, curriculum committee co-chair and workshop leader, a member since 2017, said it was amazing how the workshops were quickly made available on Zoom in 2020 considering it was something that couldn’t be anticipated. She took several workshops via the platform.

“It was almost like having them in your room, and now to see them again in person at the orientation was just a delight,” DiPaola said.

Delligatti said they were one of the first Osher institutes to be fully operational with virtual learning. Before the pandemic, virtual workshops were not offered.

OLLI members attend an orientation at SBU on Aug. 31. Photo from OLLI

“Within two weeks of leaving the campus, we had over 50 workshops converted to virtual on Zoom, and that remained and increased every semester for the subsequent five semesters that came,” Delligatti said.

After the Aug. 31 orientation, held in the theater at the univesity’s Charles B. Wang Center, SBU students led the OLLI members on a tour of the more popular spots on campus and where workshops will take place. They also showed the adult learners where they could relax between their workshops.

Delligatti said the members then headed to the computer lab at Research & Development Park where OLLI learners will have access to new computers. The SBU students helped OLLI members set up their credentials to get on Wi-Fi, something members may need if they decide to participate in a virtual workshop while on campus.

Nyc said she is looking forward to members interacting in person again, especially in discussion workshops.

“It’s difficult to have a discussion when you have to wait to be recognized in the waiting room, it’s going to be so much better,” she said. “It’s more impromptu, it’s more fun.”

DiPaola said there were some workshops they could not do remotely, such as ones about board games. She added she enjoys walking between workshops and getting a bite at the cafeteria on campus.

“I also love about OLLI that it’s a place on a college campus, and it’s very energizing to see all of the young students,” DiPaola said.

Cash said it’s interesting meeting people who you have not met otherwise.

“You pass people in the supermarket, and you don’t know anything about them except how they look, but when you get to know them as people and see them as people with great experience and expertise and charming also, I think that’s the beauty of OLLI.”

According to Delligatti, OLLI members raised more than $50,000 over the last couple of years which enabled the program to outfit two classrooms at SBU with new equipment for the members to use.