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Lifelong learners in north Phoenix to have new ASU home


November 8, 2021

Lifelong learners in Phoenix’s northeast Valley will have a new ASU location where they can take non-credit courses, hear lectures, attend events and interact with each other starting this spring.

The Osher Lifelong Center at Arizona State University, or OLLI at ASU, already has locations on the Tempe, Downtown Phoenix and West campuses, but has moved in and out of several spaces in the northern part of the Valley over the years, said its director, Richard Knopf.
ASU Health Futures Center, January 2021
The ASU Health Futures Center in northeast Phoenix. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News
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The use of the new ASU Health Futures Center will give OLLI at ASU a presence in this part of town with state-of-the-art classrooms, in a facility near 64th Street and Mayo Boulevard, which houses the Mayo Clinic and Arizona State University Alliance for Health Care, Knopf said.

The shared goal of the alliance, according to the Health Futures Center website, is “bringing the brightest minds together to accelerate cutting-edge research discoveries, improve patient care through innovation and transform medical education to enhance health outcomes at individual, community and national levels.”

OLLI at ASU engages learners age 50 and older with a wide variety of educational opportunities in several fields without the usual evaluations involved in most university-level classes, meaning there are no grades, exams or prerequisites.

People who sign up for classes, called members, also may participate in campus events as well as join local affinity groups and get group discounts to local arts and cultural events as well as social media networks.

We asked Knopf, a professor in the School of Community Resources and Development based at Watts College for Public Service and Community Solutions, about OLLI’s new presence in the community as the institute begins to offer classes at the Health Futures Center in spring 2022.

Note: Some answers have been edited for length and/or clarity.

Question: How did having OLLI at ASU events at the Health Futures Center in north Phoenix come about? Where else is OLLI at ASU based?

Answer: Two dimensions to that answer. One is that it has always been a dream of mine, and therefore for OLLI, to have sites that, in addition to our normal universitywide offerings, would bring focus to some sphere of knowledge. Like maybe downtown, arts and culture; Tempe, education; that sort of thing. At HFCHealth Futures Center, we will be centering on providing older adults looking deeply into cutting-edge research and breakthroughs in medicine, psychology, caregiving, mindfulness and wellness. When I saw that Health Futures Center coming on line — and it’s been in the works for a few years — I thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful to be part of that facility? Wouldn’t it be terrific to co-create with HFC a big component of their mission to go to the external community and promulgate insights from health and wellness research? … If you go to the HFC website, you’ll see that education plays a big role up there so I thought, maybe OLLI has a role in that.

Ever since OLLI at ASU moved to the Watts College some 15 years ago, we have strived to be geographically distributed, and we’ve always strived to have a northeast Valley presence. We went from venue to venue each year knowing full well that the venue would not last long for us. I bet we’ve been through six or seven venues out there. … Then this building came along …

This sense of being on an ASU facility to deliver OLLI at ASU offerings is powerful. That’s what our members want, that’s what’s good for ASU and that building is exploding with synergy among a vast array of disciplines making real change in the advancement of health. There is cutting edge research by Mayo Clinic, by ASU and a fusion of the two globally renowned entities. You can bring those innovators and scholars straight into the classroom. The inevitable bonding of older adults with the ASU and Mayo Clinic enterprises is an impactful thing.

Q: Describe the facilities at the Health Futures Center and what they will provide for your lifelong learners.

A: First, this is interdisciplinary, interorganizational fusion at its best. … I can’t tell you how many, but there are at least nine or 10 academic entities within ASU, all coming together in that space. …

What’s going on in that building is people who don’t normally hang together are doing so and doing this ideation, becoming knowledge entrepreneurs, testing new ideas and exploding the limits of current understanding. Another piece is the incredible state-of-the-art research infrastructure there. You go from room to room and you’re just blown away by your glimpse into the future of research apparatus, tools and technologies packed into that building. And, students and faculty alike brainstorming on ways to make a better future for all. Much of the building design reflects the aspiration for investigators to interact and connect with each other, for people of all research perspectives and skill sets to converge on the ultimate mission of providing better health futures for all.

There are other things about the inspirational qualities of the building. They have a huge auditorium; it seats 190 at a minimum. So we can co-create unique and innovative programs such as recruit national and global experts on healthy aging and longevity to share their message of hope.

ASU Health Futures Center, auditorium, January 2021

The auditorium at the ASU Health Futures Center. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Q: OLLI at ASU has been noticeably successful at moving its classes to Zoom during the COVID-19 pandemic. Will OLLI having a presence at the Health Futures Center allow for more courses to be offered in person?

A: We already have 15 on-site courses ready to be launched in the spring semester. The courses will be taught, as all ASU courses are, with dual modality — providing large-scale access while still enabling face-to-face teaching for those who desire it. Dual modality solves a long-standing historical challenge for OLLI at ASU — how do we continue to expand ASU’s service to a wide range of older adults scattered throughout a vast geographic spread. We now have the best of both worlds: live courses with all of their community-building potential and online streaming with all of its own unique mechanisms for building community as well.

This new facility will never interrupt our huge capacity for online presence. It will enhance it. It will give more people access to the phenomena transpiring in that building.

Q: Does this new location allow for the creation of new courses that have not been previously offered or more sections of existing ones?

A: There will be a sprinkle of past successful OLLI at ASU courses that speak into issues of life quality. But the big answer to that question is, by all means! We are going to have not only courses, but special events and opportunities that have never been part of our portfolio in the past. We know that our older adults have amazing gifts. My dream is for having opportunities for them to pair up with HFC faculty in the creation and conduct of impactful research. And importantly, to serve as life and research coaches for the preponderance of ASU students that will be gracing the building. There’s going to be much more on my radar; let’s see if we can make it happen.

Q: How does the new facility fit in with ASU’s mission?

A: It all has to do with ASU’s capacity for innovation, its entrepreneurial spirit, its resolve to be an agent of positive societal transformation. OLLI at ASU is an important vehicle for the kind of community embeddedness that President (Michael) Crow has instilled within our institution. OLLI at ASU’s mission is to showcase the brilliance of ASU as a local, national and global leader. We are integral to ASU’s mission of lifelong learning in the fullest understanding of the concept — learning that never ends as we all seek to cultivate our potential and find spaces to contribute to the whole of society. The new facility adds amazing texture to this mission.  

Q: Tell us about the “storytelling event” that OLLI at ASU will hold at the new location from 3–6 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 17. What will happen then?

A: Two of our members who are very gifted in the creative arts are teaming with a faculty expert at South Mountain Community College in the healing process and legacy-leaving potential of storytelling. They decided to hold an event at HFC in their state-of-art auditorium as a way to serve as a “ribbon cutting” for our presence at HFC and participation in its mission. Storytelling has a huge presence in Phoenix. We will work with other organizations to turn this into a signature event for the entire region. A great side benefit is that OLLI at ASU will continue to fuel the creative energies of our wonderful metropolitan area while promoting the mission of the HFC.

More information on the Dec. 17 event will be available soon at https://lifelonglearning.asu.edu.



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