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OLLI at Vanderbilt Mission Statement:
OLLI at Vanderbilt helps adults over 50 rediscover the joy of learning and build community through diverse social interaction.

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Vanderbilt University is an inclusive group that strives to organize and present to the greater Nashville community stimulating intellectual and cultural noncredit courses, programs, and trips for adults over 50 of all educational backgrounds.  OLLI focuses on the joy of learning.  Interesting topics are explored with thought-provoking and engaging instructors, who are primarily active or retired Vanderbilt faculty, as well as other community experts.  In a relaxed atmosphere, with no homework, tests, or grades, you have the opportunity to ask questions, contribute ideas, and interact with people who share similar interests.  OLLI participants exercise their minds while making new friends, not only in the classroom but through other educational activities, special events and community engagement. 

Spring 2020 Catalog   Printable Registration Form

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List of Classes - Spring 2020:

(Open Enrollment Feb 10th 2020)

A History of the Underground Railroad

Whenever and wherever slavery existed, the enslaved ran away. Some aimed to reconnect with family members from whom they had been separated, others longed for temporary respite from the rigors and cruelty of the plantation system. These acts are generally known as "petit marronage." There were those who sought to put permanent distance between themselves and slave owners, to seek freedom in a free state or another country where slavery did not exist. This we call "gran marronage." It is the latter that will interest us most in this course. At its core, these were political acts. Given time constraints, we will focus our attention on the critical decade of the 1850s as the United States inched its way to war.

All in the Decade: 70 Things About 70s TV That Turned Ten Years Into a Revolution

At some point between Watergate and The Love Canal, between Nixon and Carter, between Vietnam and Afghanistan, between POWs and Americans Held Hostage, between Robert Altman and Steve Martin, between The Supremes and The Ramones, between Helen Reddy and Blondie, between Joe Namath and Pete Rose ... the 1970s happened. And TV tried to keep up. Or did the country try to keep up with TV? Heavy with clips and memories and shared history, the six-session course is based on the recently published book written by a longtime Hollywood TV executive. Like the book, the course is divided into five topics according to programming types: feminism, individualism, commercialism, realism, and escapism. All In The Decade recounts ten years in the life of television. And us.

Around the World in Six Weeks: Cultural Awareness through Literature

We will travel the world together in this course by reading literature from a different country/territory each week, such as Judith Ortiz Cofer’s The Myth of the Latin Woman (Puerto Rico), Kim Foote’s Oburoni No More (Ghana), Firoozah Dumas’s The Wedding (Iran), Enid Schildkrout’s Body Art as Visual Language (USA), Elizabeth and Robert Fernea’s A Look Behind the Veil (Saudi Arabia), and David R. Counts’ Too Many Bananas (New Guinea). Through discussion (and minimal lecturing), we will explore diverse themes prevalent in literature from around the world. In doing so, we will test the theory that connections can be made between main characters in different countries, regardless of the distance between their origins. We will trace the themes presented in the selected works to highlight their human significance and to consider the journey that each main character takes towards self-actualization. As we gain an understanding of the short stories in their cultural/historical contexts, we will highlight the enduring human values which unite the bold characters in these riveting literary works.

China's Revolutions: 1912-1976

We will cover events in China from the Sun Yatsen led Nationalist Revolution of 1912 through the founding in 1921 of the Chinese Communist Party and subsequent historic events that changed China and the world. This will include the years encompassing the Nationalist Revolution; two civil wars between the Chiang Kaishek led Nationalists and the Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, and Zhu De led Communists; the United Front between the two against the Japanese; and the eventual Communist victory in 1949 establishing the People's Republic of China. We will end with a discussion of the "Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution" (1966 - 1976) up to the deaths of Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, and Zhu De in 1976. Of note, the course will also include the active role foreigners, especially numerous Americans, played in these years of revolution.

Crossing the Aisle: How Bipartisanship Brought Tennessee to the Twenty-First Century and Could Save America

Over the six-week period we will discuss Tennessee’s colorful political history of the past century, including the key personalities who have shaped it, with an emphasis on Tennessee’s governors and legislatures in the most recent 50 years. These discussions will cover the important political transitions during that time, and how they have reflected national trends including large shifts in political party affiliations, leading to the new governing majorities in Congress and the state capitols. Participants are encouraged to share their own recollections of candidates, campaigns, and elections over the study period.

Great Decisions, Foreign Policy Discussion

Great Decisions is America’s largest discussion program on world affairs. The program model involves reading the Great Decisions Briefing Book and meeting in a discussion group to discuss the most critical global issues facing America today. The eight topics chosen by a panel of experts are: Climate change; India and Pakistan; The Red Sea region; Human trafficking; Northern Triangle; China in Latin America; The Philippines; and AI and data.

How to Write a Memoir

How to Write a Memoir is a five-week course designed to provide tools and organizational tips on how to get started writing a personal or family story to save, distribute, and/or publish. Writing techniques discussed will help a participant plan and organize personal stories. Each participant will be encouraged to write and share a personal memoir essay during the five-week period. Classes are interactive as ideas are shared, personal manuscripts are read, and feedback is provided.

Mindfulness and Meditation

This program introduces attendees to the concept of mindfulness. Mindfulness, a nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment, has a wide variety of potential implications, including benefiting memory and attention, managing pain, dealing with stress, and creating a more frequent and deeply satisfying connection to the positive things in life. The science regarding the benefits of mindfulness meditation will be reviewed. The primary emphasis will focus on teaching attendees how to engage in both formal and informal mindfulness meditation practices.

Music for Seniors Beginning Harmonica Learning Lab

This series is for beginners; no prior experience required. Participants will gain foundational understanding about the diatonic harmonica's design as well as learn proper ways to clean and care for their instrument. They will learn and practice effective techniques for holding and playing the harmonica, including the "train" exercise to develop lung capacity and use of the diaphragm; the "pucker" technique for playing single notes; how to create vibrato and "bend" notes; and more. While having fun learning simple, familiar songs and playing music together, participants also will be introduced to basic music theory and harmonica tablature. Harmonicas will be provided for all participants.

OLLI Annual Meeting and Luncheon

Enjoy Vanderbilt Dyer Observatory’s park-like grounds and a delicious lunch followed by our annual business meeting with OLLI at Vanderbilt updates. There will also be convenient, complimentary parking. 

OLLI at the Frist Art Museum

Join us as we explore the exhibition, J.M.W. Turner: Quest for the Sublime. One of England’s greatest artists, Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) was a leading figure in the Romantic movement of the late 18th- through mid-19th centuries, which arose in response to the Enlightenment emphasis on reason over emotion. For Turner, psychological expression and the liberation of the imagination were of paramount importance. He achieved these goals by employing extreme contrasts of intense light and gloomy clouds, dramatic topographies, and energetic brushstrokes. This event includes a private tour with the Frist Art Museum’s Chief Curator, Mark Scala, lunch, and admission into the gallery.

OLLI Steel Drum Band - ADVANCED

If you have a long history of musical experience or have participated in the OLLI Steel Band for several sessions, this class is for you. A level up from the Intermediate OLLI Steel Band, this class moves at a fast pace and focuses on learning the different styles of music that can be played on pan. Latin, jazz, calypso, reggae, rock, and even show tunes are all offered in this class. There is a strong emphasis on proper technique and learning the subtle nuances behind playing the steel pan. The class is highly music oriented and the participants will learn several songs each session, working towards a final recording that you can share with family and friends. Students will be placed according to their preference and the availability of the desired instrument. Participation in Beginning and/or Intermediate level bands is a required prerequisite unless instructor permission is granted.

OLLI Steel Drum Band - BEGINNER

Take a weekly musical “Cruise to the Islands” by joining the OLLI Steel Drum Band. No musical experience is needed to join this very hands-on class. If you enjoy island music like Harry Belafonte, Jimmy Buffett, Bob Marley, calypso, and reggae, this class is for you! The amazing history and construction of the steel drums will be presented through mini-lectures sprinkled throughout the classes. Listening and video examples of calypso music as well as discussions of Trinidadian culture, past and present, will give you a taste of the Caribbean and an understanding of how the steel band art form developed. The instruments are made up of melody, upper harmony, lower harmony, and bass steel drums (much like a choir). Students will be placed according to their desire to learn a particular instrument and their individual strengths.


This course is designed specifically for OLLI Beginning Steel Band members who have developed a solid fundamental background (grip, stroke, good sound production, rhythmic comprehension), and are ready for the challenge of slightly more difficult music. The band will be by instructor invitation, or a short audition (for new members that haven’t been in the beginning level for at least one session). All of the recommendations for enrollment for the Beginner band apply to the Intermediate band.

Race, Gender, and Sports

In partnership with the Vanderbilt Sports and Society Initiative and Vanderbilt Athletics, New York Times bestselling author Andrew Maraniss leads this course exploring issues related to race, gender, and sports. Each week, Andrew will lead a discussion with a fascinating speaker sharing insights on a particular aspect of the theme. Speakers -- including former professional athletes, leading academicians, and college coaches --- will come to Nashville from around the country to discuss issues ranging from the history of the Gay Games, the misunderstood legacy of Adolph Rupp, human rights abuses associated with the Olympics, women working in men's college sports, and more.

The House of Possibility: The Literary Theological Imagination of Emily Dickinson

The American poet Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886) bequeathed to us 1,789 poems in which she reveals a literary-theological imagination that exceeds the conventions of nineteenth-century poetics and religious thought. As a precursor of Modernism, Dickinson forged a literary-theological grammar in verses described as metaphysical, provocative, flirtatious, tragic, and humorous. In this lecture series, we shall consider the literary and religious traditions inherited by Dickinson and her responses to the questions and paradoxes she encounters as she resides in “the house of possibility,” her metaphor for poetry.

The Italian Renaissance: What Was It? Why Then? Why There?

Historians of the middle to late twentieth century debated whether the historical notion of a “re-birth” occurring in city-states of Italy in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries was a correct one.  After a brief overview of the historiography that created the notion, the course will describe, define and delineate the era, demonstrating that the concept is a valid one.  Using visual and verbal primary sources, we will examine the values that defined the era and look at the conditions that fostered these values and created an environment in which they could flourish.

The Division of Government and Community Relations sponsors the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Vanderbilt and is
administered by Vanderbilt's Department of Community, Neighborhood, and Government Relations.