|Recent study group from the University for Seniors program at the American University of Beirut on an architectural history tour in center city Beirut.|
Lifelong learning is a concept to encourage people over the age of 50 to stay intellectually engaged. The University for Seniors is a program of Continuing Education at UMD with more than 20 years of experience to share with campuses across the globe that would like to start up similar programs.
In 2010, American University of Beirut (AUB) adopted UMD’s successful University for Seniors program. Community Program Associate Deborah Scott, who oversees UMD’s University for Seniors Program said, “AUB pairing with UMD lends credibility and greater visibility to the university and allows campuses to connect and blend resources.”
Inspiration to create a University for Seniors at AUB was formulated by Dr. Cynthia Myntti, professor of public health and director of the Neighborhood Initiative at AUB. Myntti, along with her colleague and coordinator Dr. Abla Mehio Sibai, also a professor of public health at AUB, researched successful senior programs that focused on lifelong learning. The connection to UMD stood out vividly for Myntti whose parents currently live in Duluth and have been enthusiastic participants in the UMD program. “This personal connection allowed us to have a deeper, more candid relationship with UMD staff, which was greatly beneficial to us” Myntti said.
AUB has kept within the same parameter of UMD’s University for Seniors mission: to provide persons over the age of 50 with intellectual and cultural stimulation, a friendly academic environment to share wisdom and passion, and opportunities to actively contribute to the community. "After extensive feasilbility research, we adopted the same name as that of UMD's program," said Myntti. "We adapted the UMD handbook, policies, and study group concepts."
The seniors program at AUB began as a pilot as part of their Neighborhood Initiative, designed for research and outreach to the community of Ras Beirut. The implementation of the seniors program was the first of its kind in Lebanon and the Middle East. The experimental phase consisted of three terms in which activities were organized free of charge. Participants were asked to evaluate what worked well and what didn’t. In this phase, Myntti and Mehio Sibai learned that there was tremendous enthusiasm for the idea and that older adults loved the idea of coming back to campus to learn new things. Recently, University for Seniors was launched as a full and independent program at AUB’s Continuing Education Center.
Instructors at AUB are enthused about expanding programmatic activities and membership. To date, the program has organized study groups, lectures, educational trips, a discussion series, poetry evening, and social events. Organized lectures are focused on healthy aging and great cities of the world. Myntti said, “Over the five terms in which we have been offering activities, more than 200 seniors have participated.”
While the seniors program at AUB has exceeded expectations, Myntti and her team would like to expand course offering to less privileged seniors and are considering offering some study groups in Arabic. Program coordinators also rely heavily on member feedback. Recently members have expressed that they would like a wider range of topics for study groups and lectures and would also like activities to connect them to the regular student body of AUB.
Myntti stated, “Over the long term, we hope that the University for Seniors at AUB will transform the vision of aging in the Middle East by addressing the aspirations of older people in Beirut to stay intellectually challenged and socially engaged.”
Visit the UMD's University for Seniors program website for more information.
Written by Kelly Kemper, June 2012