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Retirees 'Keep Moving' As Columbia Lifelong Learners

By Caroline Ladhani

Retirement, for some, is a chance to escape the rat race and slow down. But for others, like 84-year-old G. Patricia Abramson, it's time to "keep the brain cells moving and keep learning."

Abramson is a "Lifelong Learner" in the School of Continuing Education . The Lifelong Learner program offers retirees a chance to take courses at Columbia at a discounted price, to attend a special lecture series by renowned faculty, and to have full access to university facilities, from the libraries to computer laboratories to the swimming pool.

"You've got to keep moving -- not just your body, but your mind," said Abramson, who retired from New York Telephone Company about twenty years ago.

Lifelong Learners may enroll in up to two Columbia courses as an auditor, a silent observer in the classroom. Auditors are not graded but are encouraged to attend class and keep up with reading assignments. Some instructors allow auditors to participate in classroom discussions.

Daphne Estwick, the assistant dean currently in charge of the program, explained that Lifelong Learners are eligible to audit most arts and science courses at Columbia except for language, seminars, laboratory science classes, and courses above the first-year graduate level.

"Most tailor their coursework according to their interests," said Estwick. "Courses that relate to personal experience or current events are the most popular."

Besides providing the chance to attend classes with matriculated degree candidates from Columbia and Barnard, the program offers a special series of weekly faculty lectures designated specifically for the Lifelong Learner community. The Faculty Lecture Series takes place on the Morningside Heights campus on Friday mornings from 10:00 a.m. to noon .

Among this spring's featured faculty will be the president of Union Theological Seminary, Joseph C. Hough Jr.; Bruce Robbins and Frances Negron-Muntaner both of the department of English and comparative literature; and Brendan O'Flaherty of the department of economics, among many others.

Past lectures included "Women and Islam in an Islamic Republic and Elsewhere, Too" with Negui Yavari of the department of religion; "German-Jewish Refugees at Columbia During the 1940s" with Professor Mark Anderson of the department of Germanic languages and literatures; "The Changing Nature of the American Metropolis" with Elliott Sclar of the School of Architecture; and "The Evolution of U.S. Policy in the Persian Gulf " with Gary Sick of the School of International and Public Affairs, to name a few.

"Lifelong Learners can provide a focus for intellectually oriented retirees," said Frank Wolf, dean of the School of Continuing Education . "At the same time, the program is another way the University is opening its doors to its neighbors."

Wolf added that for retired Columbia officers and their spouses, the program is fully covered by tuition exemption.

"I'm lucky," said Abramson as she continues her studies as a Lifelong Learner. She has lived in close proximity to Columbia , right across the street, for the past 50 years. She said she is thankful for life circumstances that allow her to take advantage of opportunities that come her way, such as continuing her education.

Her apartment is lined with bookshelves. And between the books are photo albums documenting her own book-inspired travels. In the late 1980s after reading "The Silk Road," she learned that the ancient Karakoram Highway silk route had just re-opened for travelers.

"I had to go," she said. "I read a book, and I think -- I could go there. It's all because of reading."

View videos of selected lectures from the Lifelong Learners Faculty Lecture Series:

Richard Sacks: From Olympus to Valhalla : How Greek and Norse Mythological Traditions Inspired Deity Worship, February 2002

Donald Davis: How Globalization Creates Inequality Among Nations, December 2001

Brigitte Nacos: Why Terrorists Need the Media, November 2001

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Published: Jan 20, 2004
Last modified: Apr 26, 2004

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