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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. 

Please call our office at 615-343-0700, or email us at with questions, or to join the email list! 

List of Classes - Fall 2022:

American Popular Music

This course will cover a variety of topics pertinent to understanding popular music in the United States and abroad. A historical approach will be used, with an emphasis on important styles, artists, and social and cultural issues. Through class lectures and discussions, students will gain an understanding of the nature of popular music, how it is created, how it functions within human society, and how it is a direct expression of the cultural context in which it is produced. For this reason, we will also discuss historical, political, religious, philosophical, and other aspects of American society. This course will be recorded.

Defensive Living: A Guide to Healthy Living in the 21st Century

The importance of nutrition and exercise is well established in scientific literature. Poor health outcomes are largely attributed to poor eating habits and lack of movement. We will discuss what good nutrition should look like and how to incorporate basic exercises, stretching, and mobilization techniques to improve your overall health. This course will be recorded.

From Galilee to Jerusalem: Archaeology at Work Uncovering the World of Jesus of Nazareth

This course explores how recent archaeological excavations in Galilee and Judea/Jerusalem are impacting the search for the ever-elusive Jesus of Nazareth. The dramatic increase in excavations focused on the villages and urban centers of early Roman Galilee along with intriguing finds relating to the death and burial of Jesus in Jerusalem have brought clarity to our understanding of Jesus and his earliest followers as well as raised a host of new questions that beckon us in our quest for greater lucidity. The course will use archaeological finds to engage such topics as the complexity of the Jewish world into which Jesus entered (e.g., Hasmoneans, Essenes, Zealots) and where Jesus might fit into this landscape. We will look closely at the contested space of Galilee as Roman colonization imposed itself by way of a daunting urban presence, and we will follow Jesus into the villages of Galilee where the excavations have exposed a much more complex world than was previously acknowledged. We conclude the course by going with Jesus to Jerusalem exploring what sort of city it had become under Roman occupation and how archaeology has provided insights into Jesus’s death and burial. This course will be recorded.

Histories in Conflict: The Russia-Ukraine War in Historical Perspective

Professional historians, custodians of the past, know just how contentious that past can be. The “truth” about it evolves with time, place, and generational perspective. Historians thus are left often unable to state categorically “this is how things were and why they happened as they did.” Instead, guided by an ever-expanding body of knowledge, we offer our best approximations of the past, knowing full well they will be challenged and debated by future generations trying to make sense of this, their own historical past. Nowhere today is this challenge and the raging debates it generates more evident than in Eastern Europe and the ongoing war there between Russia and Ukraine. This six-week lecture course will examine two histories of the region, one Russian and one Ukrainian, which provide each combatant side the intellectual arguments to justify the rightness of their cause. These histories reach deeply into the medieval past, and sweep across centuries of imperial power, war, Orthodox Christian culture, nationalism, communism, and the Cold War. We will reach our own approximations of how the past has shaped this tragic contemporary present—and perhaps as well what history might suggest about the future to come. This course will be recorded.

How to Write a Memoir

How to Write a Memoir is an eight-week workshop designed to motivate and inspire by providing guidelines 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 participants plan and organize their personal stories. There will be writing exercises during class and each participant will be encouraged to write and share a memoir essay with the group. All classes will be interactive with ideas shared, personal manuscripts read, and group feedback provided. Limited to 16 participants. 

Meditation and Devotion: Inhabiting the Divine

This is a meditation class, open to both beginning and experienced meditators. We will explore the intersection of meditation and devotion. We often think of meditation as something we do, some practice we undertake. While this is likely how we understand meditation in the beginning, over time we may come to see meditation less as an activity and more as a shift into a way of being. Less as effort, and more as “being surrendered” into something larger than our ordinary, familiar consciousness. Being surrendered is not something we can make happen by will. Being surrendered into this larger consciousness is something that happens by grace. Devotion to the Divine is one pathway to grace. In particular, visualization of the Divine, in both feminine and masculine forms, elicits the energies of Devotion. Devotion in meditation takes many forms, whether through visualization of the Divine in silent meditation, or through sacred chant, or through the repetition of heart-opening words or phrases (mantra). We will practice stabilization of attention in body and breath, and then through visualization we will become familiar with inhabiting the Divine, with whatever expression of the Divine the student has affinity. Chant and mantra are simple ways to carry Devotion into everyday life. In this interspiritual exploration, we will sample Jewish, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, and Sufi ways to practice. Devotion gives us a different ground on which we can meet the challenges of our time. This course will be recorded.

OLLI Steel Drum Band - ADVANCED

After excelling in the Beginner and Intermediate Bands, it is time to approach music that is more difficult. We will implement more advanced musical terminology and playing techniques. This group often performs in the Vanderbilt Steel Bands Concert at Blair School of Music. Recommendations for enrollment: Prerequisite of the Beginner and Intermediate levels is required unless instructor permission is granted through invitation or a short audition; reading music is very helpful but not essential as long as you learn quickly by ear; strong rhythmic comprehension is helpful; understanding the concepts of underlying pulse, syncopation, and being able to hear and repeat rhythms is helpful; willingness to practice before class recommended if needed. 

OLLI Steel Drum Band - BEGINNER

This musical journey to the Caribbean is a hands-on experience where you will learn how to play the steel drums. During the seven-week term, we will approach proper playing techniques, which we will apply by learning a song. History of the art form and its birthplace will be discussed in class, along with easy “homework” assignments (short YouTube videos, articles, listening examples). Come join us for a low-stress, fun musical adventure! Recommendations for enrollment: No musical experience needed but helpful; able to stand for 60-75 minutes; reasonable mobility in fingers, wrists, and arms; willingness to practice before class recommended if needed. 


For those who have grasped the basics, this band will refine the basics and techniques on the steel pans. We will work on slightly more difficult music and dive deeper into the culture of Trinidad and the steel band art form. Recommendations for enrollment: Prerequisite of the beginner level is required unless instructor permission is granted through invitation or a short audition; reading music is helpful but not essential; able to stand for 60-75 minutes; reasonable mobility in fingers, wrists, and arms; willingness to practice before class recommended if needed. 

The Panama Canal: Crossroads of the World

The grandest public building in Panama is not the president’s residence or the National Assembly. It is the Panama Canal Administration Building, a stately tiled-roofed structure that sits majestically atop a hill near the Pacific end of the canal. It was inaugurated in 1914 as the headquarters for United States canal officials. Since 1999, when control of the canal was transferred to Panama, the building has housed the Panama Canal Authority, a branch of the Panamanian government. This edifice reflects the outsize importance of the canal to Panama. The waterway accounts for 15 percent of the tiny tropical nation’s gross domestic product, and its full import is even greater. Perhaps no country in the world has one thing that has the significance that the canal has to Panama. It has been said that it dominates the hearts and minds of all Panamanians. This course will focus on the Panama Canal, providing a context and a lens through which to examine the following: the history of Spanish America and Central America, United States-Latin American relations, maritime commerce, the engineering marvels of the canal’s excavation and lock design/operation, the medical and scientific struggle against malaria and yellow fever, the migration of Afro-West Indians to Panama for the railroad and canal, life for North Americans in the Canal Zone, and, in a larger context, lessons that speak to the geopolitics between small and powerful nations. It is hoped that this class will show that the construction of the Panama Canal, along with being an unprecedented feat of engineering, was a profoundly important historic event with worldwide repercussions. Recordings will be available to all registrants in order to serve those that prefer not to meet in person. We ask that all attending class in person are vaccinated.

The U.S. Citizenship Exam as a Window into the Study of Advanced Civics

Thomas Jefferson wrote that “an enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic.” Yet, a 2018 survey by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation concluded that approximately two thirds of American citizens would fail the citizenship exam. While acknowledging that many of those who choose to attend this course will come with an impressive understanding of American civics, my goal is to deepen that understanding and foster a discussion that examines who we are as a people. In this course we will: (i) test our knowledge of the citizenship exam questions, (ii) examine our founding documents, (iii) discuss political writings that influenced our government structure, (iv) take a deep dive into the federal branches of government, (v) revisit some early American history, and (vi) talk some about American geography. Recordings will be available to all registrants in order to serve those that prefer not to meet in person. We ask that all attending class in person are vaccinated.

Yoga for Healthy Aging

Keeping mind, body, and spirit in balance is essential for maintaining good health. Regardless of limitations, yoga offers ways to establish a foundation for lifelong well-being by fostering physical strength, flexibility, balance, and agility, and cultivating mindfulness and emotional balance. Join Donna Ortner, yoga and meditation teacher, online for a six-week series of gentle and steady yoga practices that weave together breath, movement, and meditation to cultivate a mindful presence and essential health in mind and body. Note: Although no yoga experience is needed to participate, the ability to stand and move comfortably for 45 minutes and get up and down from the floor with ease is recommended. Access to the internet, a yoga mat, and yoga block are needed to participate. This course will be recorded.

The Division of Government and Community Relations sponsors the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Vanderbilt.