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ASU's popular Osher enrichment courses expand across the Valley

University experts teach short non-credit classes to adults over 50


Two women seated next to each other work on computers.

Lisa Fleischmann (left) listens to a suggestion from Marlene Hansen at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute’s 3D printing class at the ASU Chandler Innovation Center on Jan. 30. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

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February 01, 2024

Lisa Fleischmann sat attentively in a university computer lab, focused on the instructor’s words.

Later, she joined her fellow learners, all of whom are retired people like her, in the fabrication lab at the ASU Chandler Innovation Center. There, they watched intently as a pair of 3D printers extruded filament into different shapes.

Fleischmann was part of a class called “3D Printing Lab,” a no-experience-needed course offered by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Arizona State University.

OLLI is a program in which ASU’s top instructors teach short, high-level, non-credit courses to adults over 50. ASU’s program is one of about 125 at universities nationwide.

Fleischmann is an enthusiastic OLLI participant.

“I took a class yesterday on floral design. I’m taking a movie class tomorrow, which is just awesome because I don’t like going to the movies by myself,” she said.

“It’s really fun because being retired, it gives you something stimulating, and I wouldn’t know how to do this,” she said, gesturing at the 3D printers.

Fleischmann, a retired school counselor and teacher who lives in Sun Lakes, said she travels all around the Valley for classes.

“I tell everybody about the OLLI classes. They’re fabulous,” she said.

The Osher courses are taught by some of ASU’s top experts. The 11 adults in the 3D printing course learned the basics from Konnor Plymire, a specialist in the fabrication studio at the center and a faculty associate in the industrial design program in The Design School at ASU. This was his first time teaching an OLLI course.

“This is something I’ve been doing for years, and if someone wants to learn about it, let’s have fun with it,” he said.

The participants worked on their own digital designs for a refrigerator magnet, using the mouse to tilt, move and stack digital shapes and text on their screens. Plymire later used the studio’s 3D printers to create their magnets for later pickup.

“Three-dimensional printing is just what it sounds like — you build a form layer by layer using extruded plastic,” he told the group.

“In the early days, it was used for prototyping, but now you can actually 3D print entire buildings, and I’ve seen them 3D print a nozzle for a rocket in metal.”

The 3D printing class was one of seven held this semester at the ASU Chandler Innovation Center, a co-working space with a fabrication lab that is a partnership between the City of Chandler and ASU.

Thanks to the partnership, the facility is open to the community and was a logical place to expand the popular Osher program, according to Lindsay Braun, program coordinator for Osher.

The 3D printing course was so popular, it filled up within minutes of the registration opening, Braun said.

Osher had its most successful semester of the past few years in fall 2023, with 1,227 members compared with 930 in spring 2023, she said.

OLLI membership costs $20 per semester, per person, and courses typically are $14 per session. Enrollment for the spring 2024 semester is ongoing.

Other classes to be held at the ASU Chandler Innovation Center this semester include the birding course “Amazing Migration” on Feb. 20 and “Stars, Stories, and Styles: History of Hollywood Movie Posters,” taught by a professor in the Sidney Poitier New American Film School at ASU on April 26.

Jared Swerzenski, director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at ASU, said the program added several new class locations around the Valley this year thanks to new partnerships, such as with the Mesa Arts Center, Taliesin West, the Musical Instrument Museum, the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy and the Japanese Friendship Garden.

Partnerships with Theater Works in Peoria and Arizona Broadway Theater in Phoenix led to a popular two-class series.

“First they go to class and then go to see the performance,” Swerzenski said.

“It’s been a really popular format for us because they get to learn from the director or a performer and then see the performance, usually at a matinee.”

During the pandemic, Osher courses were offered online, and even with a return to in-person classes, Zoom offerings remain popular.

More than 30 classes are offered on Zoom for spring 2024, including “Lewis and Clark: The Creation of the American West” and a film school professor’s screening and discussion of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “The Graduate.”

Among this semester’s Osher offerings around the Valley are:

  • “Charles Billups, The Miracle March, & Martin Luther King Jr.” on Feb. 6 at the downtown Phoenix campus.
  • “All Things Oscars!” on Feb. 23 at Mesa Arts Center.
  • “The History of Anti-Semitism: Roots, Reach, Rise, Response” on Feb. 29 at the Surprise Regional Library.
  • “Cracking the Code: Tracing Clues from Crime Scene to the Lab” on March 11 and 18 at the ASU West Valley campus.
  • “Coping With Stress for Enhanced Mental & Physical Health & Longevity,” a four-session class that costs $56 and runs March 11, 18, 25 and April 1 at the ASU Health Futures Center in northeast Phoenix.
  • “Chiricahua Apache Arts & Culture,” a free class taught by two Native instructors on March 28 at the Sun City Fairway Center.
  • “Oodles of Noodles” on April 2 at the Peoria Sports Complex.
  • “Authentic & Local: The Sociology of Arizona Craft Beer” on April 11 at the Tempe Public Library with a post-class field trip.

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute members can also enroll in two “cogenerational classroom” courses alongside current ASU students: “The Science of Stress Management” on the Tempe campus and “The History of Radical Zines” at the Downtown Phoenix campus and on Zoom.

Also new is a series of online courses hosted by the National Resource Center for Osher Institutes, which include “Fake News: Keys to Ethical and Impactful Journalism” and “Coming to Terms with the Holocaust.” These multi-week webinars are held on Saturdays.

OLLI is housed in the School of Community Resources and Development and is part of the Learning Enterprise at ASU, an ecosystem of lifelong learning opportunities.

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