School of Life

Some of the happiest students on the Forty Acres don’t do homework or take tests.

School of Life

At the first meeting of the semester, around 200 students gather in a lecture hall. As the auditorium fills, they greet each other warmly and chat about the afternoon’s speakers before class begins. It’s a typical collegiate scene except for one thing: Nearly everyone in the audience is retired.

The students are members of Seminars for Adult Growth and Enrichment (SAGE), a member-driven organization hosted by UT’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Each year, SAGE organizes three seven-week sessions and offers a selection of 12 courses. Members choose four and go to class every Monday to study a variety of subjects. “The idea behind SAGE is to offer lectures and seminars for people who would like to learn more, to go back to school,” says Eva Gayle Gibbs, BS ’62, Life Member, chair of this year’s executive committee.

Topics this spring ranged from “Money Matters” to “Gardening Smart” to “The Magic of Opera.” In the mornings, several military officers shared their perspectives in “The Future of the U.S. Army.” In the afternoons, UT Michener fellow Abbey Chung led a small group of students in a memoir-writing workshop. The eclectic mix of subjects is one of the reasons that SAGE students keep coming back.

Gibbs has been a member of SAGE for 12 years, and she’s particularly drawn to classes on unfamiliar subjects like the history and culture of Japan. In the past, she organized a course called “Movers and Shakers,” in which local business owners shared their strategies and stories. She remembers classes that led students through UT treasures like the Blanton Museum of Art, the Pickle Research Campus, and the Harry Ransom Center.

SAGE differs from the typical academic experience in another important way: The students create the coursework. And after deciding which classes they’d like to take, it’s up to them to find the speakers. Teachers are typically UT professors, but members also recruit professionals like doctors and businesspeople and sometimes even teach themselves. No instructors are paid, a fact that Gibbs says draws instructors who love the work. “When they give us a class session that we like,” she says, “we applaud.”

The program has become so popular that admission is tough: When the course schedule was released this spring, all the spots filled within five minutes.

UT Osher Lifelong Learning Institute director Kathy Sangster, MPA ’93, says the classes at SAGE and the institute’s other programs enrich older students’ lives. “They continue to have wonderful learning experiences. They continue to have, through their volunteering, meaningful purposeful work that they choose to do. And then also … it is the development of a community of friends.”

Gibbs puts it more simply. “We have wonderful teachers, we do not check roll, we don’t have any homework, we don’t have any tests,” she says. “It’s the world’s best!”

Photo by Anna Donlan.

 

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