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PCC's Senior Studies Institute: Having Fun and Turning 20

members of Portland Community College Senior Studies Institute
PHOTO: Portland Community College

(PORTLAND, Ore.) - It's laughter, lively discussions and lots of learning. What is it? It's the Senior Studies Institute at Portland Community College and its turning 20 years old this year.

At the Lake Oswego Parks and Recreation District Building and five other locations around Portland, the institute is giving retirees a path to lifelong learning. On a day in early September, about two-dozen senior citizens gathered in one of the old Safeco Insurance Building's classrooms on Kruse Way to chat about current events. In these classes, there's food, social networking, exchange of ideas and plenty of learning. Through offerings like this one, SSI gives attendees a social network and a way to continue their education.

"It's one of the largest all-volunteer, member-driven programs of its kind in the country," said Neal Naigus, assistant to the PCC District President and founder of SSI. "It's totally operated by volunteers and it's the volunteers who continue to keep the program self-supporting for the last 20 years. It's really become a remarkable program that has been able to sustain itself for this long by being dependent solely on volunteers."

Burgeoning with students, SSI is marking this school year for its 20th anniversary celebration. For two decades, the Senior Studies Institute organizes 90 classes and 300 current event sessions every year for a per-member annual fee of $30. From Greek Theater appreciation to learning about Indian cave art to understanding Alzheimer's, there is rarely a subject that the institute won't touch.

"Our slogan is that we never stop learning and we learn from each other," said SSI director Don Lief, who is leading SSI this year. "The idea is to be informative and, beyond that, to follow our curiosity."

The Senior Studies Institute is run by its 275 members and operates 52 weeks per year. It gives local seniors a chance to attend classes four days per week, with sometimes two classes per day. And, their discussions are lively, complete with controversy, humor, disagreement, insight and wisdom. Groups or classes can be led by participants who are well prepared in the subject or by faculty or guest speakers. Attendees are encouraged to participate no matter their educational background.

"I've done a number of classes on subjects I was curious about and, even though at first I didn't know anything about it, I researched the topic and was well informed by the time of the class," Lief added. "We have talks like that that fill the room. We even had a series where one of our members – a drug war Interpol agent – led a discussion on that subject."

Locations are all over the PCC district to make classes convenient for members – Lake Oswego Parks and Recreation Building (4101 Kruse Way), Beaverton Community Center (12350 S.W. Fifth), Neighborhood House (7688 S.W. Capital Highway), PCC's CLIMB Center (S.E. Clay and Water), PCC Southeast Center (2305 S.E. 82nd Ave.) and SMILE (8219 S.E. 13th Ave.).

"The objective is to encourage a lively exchange of ideas in an atmosphere of respect, civility and mirth," said SSI facilitator and member Dawn Carol, who joined the program in 2008 and facilitates classes at the Lake Oswego site. "Members may contribute or simply enjoy listening. There is no pressure to share. That is the great attraction to our volunteer Senior Studies Institute. Our members are the reason for our success, month in and month out, year after year."

To celebrate 20 years of serving the local seniors community with lively discussions and classes, Senior Studies Institute will hold a ceremony in May of 2011. And like with everything else the program does, members will organize SSI's 20th anniversary event luncheon at the Oregon Zoo on May 20, 2011.

"We have a good gene pool with our members really being active and many who have been here since the beginning," Lief added. "People find one thing they like to do it and they do it. It's a low cost for the breadth of offerings we have. It's very special in that way; the combination of the two."

About Portland Community College:
PCC is the largest post-secondary institution in Oregon, serving approximately 93,800 full- and part-time students. It is also one of the top-20 largest employers in the Portland metro area and the 41st largest community college in the nation in terms of degrees issued. PCC, which is roughly the size of Rhode Island, has three comprehensive campuses, five workforce training and education centers, and 200 community locations in the Portland metropolitan area. The PCC district encompasses a 1,500-square-mile area in northwest Oregon and offers two-year degrees, one-year certificate programs, short-term training, alternative education, pre-college courses and life-long learning.

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