The value of lifelong learning: Senior citizens enrich classes at FSU

It’s the first day of classes. As students pour into one of the clammy classrooms of May Hall, a tall wiry man with white hair has already claimed his seat at the back of the classroom.

The professor asks all of the students to tell the class their name and their year. “My name is Mike Curley, and, well, I’m a senior,” he replies.

According to Mike, “That joke will usually get a few laughs.”

Mike Curley is one of many senior auditors at Framingham State who takes courses to expand his knowledge as a retiree.

The senior auditing program at Framingham State welcomes Massachusetts state residents who are 60 years of age or older to enroll in classes for a reduced fee.

Scott Greenberg, associate vice president for academic affairs and dean of continuing education, said, “As we get older, engaging in lifelong learning exercises our minds and provides outlets for artistic, intellectual, physical and social activities.  It helps us to continue the process of personal growth throughout the lifespan.”

The program is offered through the Department of Continuing Education and is limited to day, continuing education and graduate courses.

Internships, practicums and directed studies are not available through the senior auditing program, Greenberg said.

According to Greenberg, the program costs seniors $130 to audit day courses and $271 to audit continuing education or graduate courses.

FSU promotes lifelong learning in collaboration with the Framingham Public Library by offering two noncredit programs, “The Adventures in Lifelong Learning” and “Lifelong Learning Lecture Series.”

Greenberg said, The Adventures in Lifelong Learning is a series of courses once a week for four weeks held in October and March. There is an optional $40 fee to “help support and sustain the program.”

Senior citizens can register at the Framingham Public Library or online during FSU registration periods. Greenberg added no one is turned away from the program if they are unable to pay, which reinforces the value that FSU places on lifelong learning.

“The Lifelong Learning Series” is 10 presentations on different topics throughout the fall and 10 in the spring as well. According to Greenberg, there is no fee to sign up for or to attend these lectures.
Mike Curley

 

Mike Curley, a tall witty man, has an extensive history with Framingham State.

After studying English at UMass Amherst and UMass Boston, Mike took a position through a contractor as a bookstore manager at Brandeis University. Shortly thereafter, he became the bookstore manager at Framingham State College in the early 1970s.

Mike hopped around local universities managing their bookstores until the early 1980s, when he migrated back to Framingham State and joined the master’s program in counseling.

“I simultaneously worked nights and weekends managing the college center here … throwing drunks out of the place,” Curley said.

“It was a pretty easy job and it paid well enough.” This allowed Mike to study and work at the same time, which he claims made him luckier than most.

According to Mike, FSU gives him a sense of focus after retiring from his 27-year position as head of customer service at Little Brown and Company, a publishing house.

Mike said, “The heart of the story is when I retired … I would sit in my office and think, ‘Well, I’m going to retire. What do I want to do?’ And the thing I really wanted to do was to be a student again.”

Mike always had a heightened interest in film studies, and one summer, he decided to take a ride to Framingham State. He said a class called “Language of Film” was being offered in the fall, and he decided to register.

At the end of this semester, Mike will have audited a total of 24 classes ranging from film studies and literature courses within the English Department to international relations in the political science department.

When asked what his favorite class was, he said, “I’ve thought about this, you know, and I think it’s the next one,” Mike replied diplomatically.

Mike said he wasn’t a very good student when he was earning his degrees. “I was very disengaged.”

As an auditor, Mike said he feels students are sometimes struck by his presence and often confused.

He said, “There was a famous bank robber a long time ago named Willy Sutton. When they caught up with him and arrested him, they said, ‘Why do you rob banks?’ He said, ‘That’s where the money is.’ So for me … well, it’s where the smart people are. It’s where the learning is, if you’re curious and you want to learn.”

Mike said learning has much more importance to him at his age, “and learning is an addiction – it can be a very pleasant, nice addiction,” he added.

While Mike enjoys learning from professors, he also enjoys interacting with young students. He enjoys the opportunity to listen to students’ bright ideas.

“Part of what this experience has given me is the identity of a student, an auditor, a learner. The other thing is it fills a void in a sense of community,” he said.

Mike also feels as though he plays a support role for students. He often finds himself rooting for students’ success throughout the semester.

Aside from the fast-pitch softball league in which Mike competes, he said he could not think of a better way to spend his time as a retiree.

 

Meg Kelley

Meg Kelley has deep roots here at FSU. Her home is located on Maynard Hill right across from the Heineman Center. She formerly lived in the white house that is now the Children’s Center.
Meg has a strong appreciation for the FSU community and enjoys eating in the McCarthy Center cafeteria. “Everyone is so friendly,” she said.

 

“I really like helping others. I just enjoy people, and I enjoy being with people,” Meg said.

 

According to Meg, no one has ever asked why she is in the cafeteria. She even invites friends to join her, especially if Sodexo is serving the turkey dinner.

“If I’m going to grab a glass or whatever, students always say, ‘Oh sorry, excuse me!’ And I say, ‘No, it’s me. Excuse me! I’m the extra person here, really.’”
Meg grew up in Framingham, attended the public schools and went on to study at Boston College School of Education. “I always knew I wanted to be a teacher,” she said.

 

Meg taught first grade at the McCarthy School in Framingham for 30 years and “absolutely loved it with a passion.

 

“It’s an entirely different kind of learning now. When you’re a graduate and an undergraduate [student] you want to get credits and achieve a class ranking. … For me, now, it’s really about learning and absorbing. Before, I was learning for a degree, but now this encourages you to do other things,” she said.

 

According to Meg, FSU professors are truly why the classes are so rewarding.

“I highly recommend the professors here. I went to BC and they [FSU faculty] are just as well versed, well educated and they care about their students,” she said.

 

Meg said her experience in the classroom today differs from the environment in the classroom in 1953.

 

Current professors really encourage discussion, according to Meg, compared to the lecturing style professors used to rely on heavily during her years as an undergraduate.

 

Meg is truly grateful she can continue to learn. “You can really benefit from all of the knowledge that’s available within the current times. I do believe that you should learn as much as you can.”

Meg enjoys being surrounded by young people. “It’s great to hear a perspective that is entirely different from where we are coming from, and you learn to appreciate it,” she said.

 

According to Meg, she has made a lot of adult friendships from auditing classes, and she also has made some friendships with students.

 

On one occasion, Meg was invited to a student’s graduation after sharing her notes with her. “She was in charge of the play that year and she was going to be graduating. The poor kid! She was so busy with all of that.”

 

Meg takes detailed notes throughout the classes she audits because she said it is her way of learning. “I take a lot of notes, and I don’t mind sharing at all.”

Throughout Meg’s time as an auditor she has taken literature, history, music, opera and art courses.

Meg said she does not have a favorite course among the ones she has audited. “I love them all! I really encourage my generation to audit classes.”

 

She said classes have influenced her interests and hobbies tremendously.

 

“If it weren’t for these classes, I probably wouldn’t attend the opera. And I would not have probably done the symphony to the degree I’m doing it and to get the true pleasure out of it that I get.”

 

 

Karen Woo

 

Karen Woo has seen Framingham State from many perspectives – as an alumna, a staff member who retired in December and now as a senior auditor.

 

In 2001, she began working at FSU as an administrative assistant to the chairs of the departments in May Hall – art and music, English, history and political science.

 

In 2002, she enrolled in the liberal studies program through the continuing education department to earn her bachelor’s degree.

 

This counted as one of Karen’s benefits, so she was not charged to take the courses in order to complete her degree.

 

Karen retired this past fall and just can’t get enough of FSU. This is her first semester auditing courses. She is enrolled in Modern American Fiction with English professor Desmond McCarthy.

 

Karen said, “I love the community, and that’s why I’ve stayed here as long as I have. Coming from a mental health agency, after a while that became very depressing.

 

“The campus is beautiful – I love walking around campus. There is definitely a very pleasant and enjoyable atmosphere here,” she added.

 

Karen truly appreciates the faculty members and enjoyed working with them. Now she enjoys taking courses with them.

 

“I think another reason I have stayed here as long as I have is because I feel very comfortable with the faculty. I enjoyed working with them. They were all very reasonable. They really treat staff as their equals.

 

“I love to go to art museums. I think maybe taking an art history class would be helpful,” she said.

 

Auditing classes gives Karen the opportunity to learn, but also the freedom to skip classes in order to travel, which is one of her biggest passions.

 

“I do think learning outside of the classroom is important, too. I think that way, you become more respectful of other cultures,” she said.

 

“I think especially with all that is going on in the world today – all of the terrorism – there just seems to be so much hatred between different groups of people. I think learning in the classroom is important and traveling – whether studying abroad, living and working abroad – just traveling is, too,” she added.

 

Karen said auditing classes has helped her keep an active mind and encourages her to stay busy.

 

Rose Raduziner

 

Rose Raduziner thoroughly enjoys auditing film and literature courses and has taken nearly every course offered by Claudia Springer.

 

“The caliber of professors I think is outstanding. I don’t think you can find better ones at BU or any of the other Boston schools that cost a fortune,” she said.

 

Rose was born in New York, but has lived in New Jersey, Indiana and now Massachusetts. She lived in Framingham and Sudbury for a total of 41 years, which is where she raised her three daughters.

 

She attended college at City University of New York and began as a home economics major, but later switched to Spanish.

 

Rose worked for many years as a bilingual secretary.

 

“Senior auditing is a wonderful opportunity for anyone, if they can fit it into their schedule. … We have to pay a fee, but it’s nominal, and you get the opportunity to be with young people and young professors.”

 

Rose truly appreciates the insights of the younger generation as well. “You’re exposed to all of their ideas. It’s great. … I can’t think of one bad thing to say about the FSU community.”

 

She thinks it is important to try to stay “in the loop” with the younger generation.

 

According to Rose, “Sometimes, they surprise you – their insight into certain things that I never would have thought of myself.”

 

Rose said learning has always been important to her. She has also audited classes at University of Indiana and taken courses locally whenever they were available.

 

She said there is a lot of pressure on students to succeed in school, and learning as an auditor is much more relaxed, which is quite beneficial.

 

Rose said auditing classes has enhanced her love for opera although it has always been one of her interests. She began attending operas with her mother when she was a freshman in college.

 

“We are doing six operas this season, the MET in New York. You’re seeing them live as they play in New York and then they show them in different movie houses around here. So, it’s like you’re there,” she said.

 

According to Rose, “I never saw them [opera] in the way that we delve into them in classes, you know.” She added she likes learning about the lives of composers, which is something she had never done on her own time before.
 

Norma Goldberg

 

Norma Goldberg, a senior auditor from Framingham, grew up in Worcester. She said music is “a very important part of my being,” and throughout her time auditing courses at FSU, she has taken mainly music or film courses.

 

Norma audits classes with Rose Raduziner, who happens to be a good friend of hers.

 

She has taken nearly every course that has been offered by Lisa Burke, professor of music. She and Rose have also established a close friendship with Burke.
“I’ve had Lisa and her husband come down to our Cape house. The secretary of that department, Margie, has also become a friend of ours. So we have had nice personal friendships.”
English professor Claudia Springer has also become a close friend of Norma’s and Rose’s. “We’ve become friendly. They’re all younger than me, but because they’re older than their classes [students], they think they’re our age. So we go out to lunch or dinner with her [Springer] and email occasionally.”

Norma went to Boston University School of Education for three years. She was pregnant and decided to stay at home to raise her three children.

At the age of 42, she went back to school to complete her degree. She even took one course at FSU, but later decided the state school requirements were not helpful for her. She ended up completing her degree at BU, where she had originally started.

Norma said, “I’ve taken only courses in which I’m interested. So, automatically, I’ve been learning more. I mean, naturally, I am absorbing what I enjoy.”

She added, “Although I don’t retain information as well as when I was a young girl, I do surprise myself with how much information I have retained sometimes. It’s just fun and I love being here.”

Norma admires the professors at FSU. “The caliber of the professors, their warmth, their inclusion, overall, has been a very rewarding situation.”

According to Norma, the senior auditing program at FSU is more inclusive than the program BU offers, which she attended once.

She said, “It was unsatisfactory. It was just boring and a bunch of old people. It was strictly senior citizens.”

The youth on campus is one attraction of FSU’s auditing program. “I like being with all of the young people. I don’t think there has been one semester where I haven’t made, just a very temporary, a friendship with a student.”
Norma said her relationships with students are mainly positive. She said in the 1950s, it was extremely rare for a senior citizen to be in courses with undergraduate students. Norma said the attitude toward senior citizen students was much more negative back then.

 

“We made fun of them. We thought they were goofy and silly. The ’50s was a different time. … We were immature,” she added.

“Now, people don’t treat me that way. I’ve been in a class and sometimes, there are boys who are like, ‘Oh no! Don’t let the old lady sit next to you it’s contagious.’ But then there are others who are of course really friendly and embrace the friendship,” Norma said.

According to Norma, she finds students today can sometimes be more disrespectful to professors than in the past.

“For us, it was respect as well as fear. And fear is not a good atmosphere to learn, but also with disrespect, you can’t learn, either,” she said.

Norma did have one complaint about FSU. She said, “This is a very senior citizen unfriendly campus. There is no handicap parking, so I have to take the shuttle. But there is no handicap parking near all the buildings, which is a problem.”

 

 

 

Desmond McCarthy, English professor and department chair, said, “It’s an honor to have retirees come back to Framingham State to share their love of learning and their wisdom with our students and faculty.”

He added, “It’s a privilege to get to know them and to teach them, and it’s impossible to measure the value of their presence and participation in our learning community. They are an inspiration. They are a reminder that learning is a lifelong journey.”

“Karen Woo, Michael Curley, Barbara Taub, and Meg Kelley have all taken multiple classes with me, and every one of those classes was enriched by their wisdom and insights. They care so deeply about the other students in their classes,” said McCarthy.

Over the course of the last eight years, McCarthy has had six senior auditors – two of whom took five courses with him.
English professor Claudia Springer said, “Senior auditors enrich the classroom with their knowledge, range of experiences and love of learning. It is a pleasure to get to know them.”

Springer finds senior auditors beneficial to the classroom. She has taught 10 senior auditors over the course of her seven years at FSU.

“Senior auditors have created remarkable moments by drawing connections between their lives and our class material. John McDonnell, for example, told us that his grandfather built the stone bridge in Ireland that we had just seen featured prominently in the 1952 film, ‘The Quiet Man,’” she said.

According to Springer, “Senior auditors represent the best of lifelong learning.

“They never lose their curiosity, which is essential for lifelong learners. For them, and hopefully for all Framingham State students, learning is a fundamental part of living,” she said.

 

 

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