UT lifelong learning program offers ‘Free Class Pass’ for seniors

Adriana Rezal

To improve diversity, the UT Osher Lifelong Learning Institute is offering a “Free Class Pass” to adults over 50 years old interested in taking seminar and lecture-style classes this fall.

The institute offers paid membership holders noncredit academic classes, in subjects such as fine arts, history and business, as well as extracurricular events. Members pay $240 to $330 annually for programs, including three six-week seminars in fall, winter and spring sessions.

However, institute director Julie Martenson said membership has been predominantly white and does not represent the Austin community. To promote membership diversity, Martenson said the institute began advertising the “Free Class Pass,” announced at the end of August. The pass grants prospective members a free day of lectures and seminars.

“Making certain that our content is diverse so that it reaches and speaks to a diverse audience but also introduces diverse concepts and diverse lifestyles and ideas and that sort of thing (is important to promote diversity),” Martenson said.

The institute is also initiating a $1,000 annual scholarship to support graduate student research in diversity, together with the UT Division of Diversity and Community Engagement.

“There’s a million different ways that my members reach out and support UT,” Martenson said.

Curriculum coordinator Mark Leavenworth said session speakers come from UT and the wider Austin community.

“We draw heavily from UT faculty, but we also utilize a lot of local experts, entrepreneurs. We have a lot of members that are retired teachers that teach our seminars and lectures as well,” Leavenworth said.

Leavenworth said before he began working at the institute, his grandparents were members of the program and took a memoir writing class.

“For me, personally, I knew that it was something that brought him and my grandmother a lot of joy and a lot fulfillment,” Leavenworth said.

Institute member Steve Saltwick said the institute places heavy emphasis on extending the social aspect of the program outside of the classroom. Through excursions and special interest groups, the institute gives members a connection to the Austin community. Saltwick, who was a biopsychology PhD student at UT in the ‘70s, said the institute provided him with an energizing academic environment outside of UT.

“The richness of the community … has been fantastic,” Saltwick said. “The sheer enthusiasm and richness of the intellectual life that is around here, that’s what did it for me.”