Glouco college to offer over-50 courses

During an open house at Gloucester County College, (from left) Robert Gaffin, Florence Perry-Gaffin, Patricia McKnight, and Beverly White-Feoli listen to a presentation given by Jeff Burns.
During an open house at Gloucester County College, (from left) Robert Gaffin, Florence Perry-Gaffin, Patricia McKnight, and Beverly White-Feoli listen to a presentation given by Jeff Burns. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 20, 2013

How do you find a job when you haven't touched a resumé in 30 years? How can you be physically fit when you have mobility issues?

To address the issues of an underserved population, Gloucester County College will roll out a new initiative in the fall, the Academy of LifeLong Learning, for people 50 and older.

"Baby boomers are transitioning out and are looking for things to do," said Brigette D. Satchell, the college's dean of continuing education. "So whether they need professional development, if they need to come back to school to retrain for a career change, or if they want to complete a degree. Then we have the soft classes and things, fun things, that they can do, as well."

At a demonstration computer class during the academy's recent open house, Manny Barsoumian ran through a PowerPoint presentation, fielding questions from nine potential students about his teaching style, which assumes no prior knowledge.

"You know what a computer looks like, right?" he asked.

Laughter rippled through the room before Barsoumian switched to a slide depicting a motherboard, chip, and hard drive.

"But do you know what the parts are?" he asked. "When you get into a car, you have at least some idea what a transmission is, an engine."

Technology courses in the fall will include "Terrified of Computers," "Intro to Word Processing," and "Getting to Know Your iPad."

Membership in the academy costs $90 annually; courses are free or discounted, usually $10, $20, or $30. Those who want to complete for-credit courses and receive new degrees or certifications can do so at a discount, Satchell said, due in part to a small grant from the American Association of Community Colleges.

Of 38 people who attended the open house in Deptford, 14 signed up for the program, bringing total membership to 37 since Aug. 1.

Adult, or continuing, education has long been part of community colleges' mission. Burlington County College's Learning is for Everyone program, aimed at the same age group, began in 1990 and offers similar non-credit courses and workshops.

The academy's classes and resources have been around for years, Satchell readily acknowledged, but one key difference is that centrally organizing everything reduces barriers for people interested in classes but who may be intimidated by the breadth of the school's offerings.

"What we've done with this initiative is really brought everything together under one umbrella and then said, 'OK, we're going to go out and under this umbrella all these services will be available to people over 50,' " Satchell said. "Because, I mean, we've always had the volunteer things, we've always had some computer courses here and there - everything was scattered all over."

Instead of the large catalog listing the college's offerings for its entire population of more than 6,000 students per semester, the academy has a smaller course guide with each semester's offerings, broken into categories such as career planning or health and wellness.

One category, Senior Corps, includes classes on the Medicare system, healthy habits, and hormones and menopause.

Another, Personal Growth, lists tea tasting, genealogy, and feng shui among its offerings.

The variety of classes attracted a range of people, some looking for work, others looking to socialize.

For Mei Fu, who recently moved to Sewell from New York, sending her children to college has given her the time to "take care of myself." Having trained in secretarial work in her native Hong Kong, Fu said she looked forward to learning more computer skills to try to find employment.

After signing up for technology courses - Email Basics, Emailing with Attachments, Beginner Computer - Fu said she also had another motive: "to learn English and how to present materials."

Also waiting to sign up was Mary Lynne Dando, 56, who was looking to be recertified in CPR. Currently working with a pharmaceutical company, Dando said she hoped to work in the veterinary field.

A mah-jongg class caught the eye of Patrick Farrell, 62, of Pitman, who retired in June after 38 years teaching in the Philadelphia School District. His wife is Chinese, and he visits her home country often.

Having seen the game played in China, Farrell said, he was interested in learning it.

He was also eyeing other courses, maybe genealogy, photography, or learning to draw.

"Trying to keep myself busy. If any opportunities open up in terms of some employment, but not necessarily. And some enrichment activities," Farrell said. "Keep my mind active, meet other adults who may be in my situation, retired or similar age."

The initiative was designed to meet that need, Satchell said.

"I'm over 50 and I want to do a whole bunch of things, how can you help me? Whether I want to go take a line-dance class, or if I want to teach a course, or if I want to get a certification or a degree program," Satchell said, "We're not capping it or limiting it like, 'OK, you're old, what am I going to do?' "

" Community is the primary word in a lot of our community colleges," Satchell said. "We have to make sure we're reaching out to those populations so that they know we're here and they know what's available to them."


Contact Jonathan Lai at 856-779-3220, jlai@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @elaijuh.

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