At One Day U, it's learning without the pressure

Cathy Schumacher (left) and her sister, Marita Fisher, listen to Columbia professor Michael Sparer discuss the future of health care at the One Day University event.
Cathy Schumacher (left) and her sister, Marita Fisher, listen to Columbia professor Michael Sparer discuss the future of health care at the One Day University event. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 25, 2014

PHILADELPHIA -- Michael DiBenedetto was too busy getting an education to enjoy college the first time around.

The retired Medford special-education teacher was working full time. He attended classes full time, and commuted to Rowan University in Glassboro while living at home.

But decades after earning the sheepskins, the 61-year-old DiBenedetto got a chance to go back to school for one day without the pressure of keeping up the GPA.

On Sunday, he and about 1,200 other students packed two conference rooms at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown for One Day University, a traveling adult education program that offers attendees the opportunity to explore subjects for fun.

During the day, a faculty of professors from the nation's most prestigious universities delivered 50-minute lectures on their areas of expertise.

On Sunday, that meant William W. Burke-White, a deputy dean at the University of Pennsylvania and former U.S. State Department official, chatted politics while Harvard University's Chuck Freilich, a former deputy national security adviser in Israel, talked about the future of the Middle East.

Also on Sunday's course list: the genius of Mozart, the science of happiness, and the psychology of fine art. "These are things you think about doing when you don't have time to do it," said DiBenedetto, who says he is now in his "Renaissance period."

Students pay $150 for five sessions during which two classes are offered concurrently. Students must choose between two classes during each of the five sessions to fill our their roster.

Most attendees are retired and over 50, said Steven Schragis, One Day University's founder. About 55 percent are women, and many couples attend together, Schragis said.

"They've reached the stage in their life where they are not just trying to get one more client for the law firm or build a new business," Schragis said. "They are interested in things beyond that."

Seminars are held in 11 cities annually.

Sunday's session marked a return of the program to Philadelphia after financial constraints brought on by the recession kept the program out of town for several years.

The Inquirer partnered with One Day University to present the event and will serve in the same capacity for other planned One Day University sessions, including another full day of classes at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown on Sept 14.

The Inquirer's participation is part of an effort by Interstate General Media, the newspaper's parent company, to broaden its business portfolio, said Jonathan Tevis, manager of public relations and events.

IGM, which also owns the Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com, hopes to help expand the program's demographic by suggesting programs that might also appeal to a younger audience, Tevis said.

Kate Romanowicz, 25, and her husband, Will, 28, attended Sunday's event because they are into "documentaries and learning opportunities," said Kate Romanowicz, a nurse from West Chester. But her grandmother also had something to do with it.

Martha Jones, 80, traveled from her home in Cincinnati to attend One Day University. She attended several other sessions in Boston when she lived there.

Jones decided to use the occasion to combine a visit with her granddaughter, attendance at One Day University, and the introduction of her boyfriend, Bobby Lewis, 87, of London, to her Philadelphia-area family.

They all attended Sunday's session together.

"I come because it helps stimulate and clarify my thinking," said Jones, a retired software developer.

Down the hall, Helen O'Grady, a retired teacher, and her daughter Ann waited to hear professor Michael Sparer of Columbia University discuss the future of health care.

Years ago, when Ann O'Grady, attended college, the day-to-day grind felt like a job.

"You get really connected to the process of getting it done, instead of the appreciation of it," said O'Grady, 45, who works in health care. "And that's what makes this -"

Her mother, Helen, completed the thought: "special."


kholmes@phillynews.com

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