Age less, learn more: Sierra College offers classes for students 50-plus

Lorraine Jewett / Submitted to the Sun
Students must be 50 years old or better to enjoy Sierra College Osher Lifelong Learning Institute classes.

“They say you must keep physically fit as you age,” said 81-year-old OLLI student Ron Teilh. “I think it’s just as important to keep your brain fit.”

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institue is a mini college within the auspices of Sierra Community College. OLLI caters to fun explorers and inquisitive seekers of knowledge in Nevada and Placer Counties who are age 50 and older.

“We are trying to work on our brains,” says Lindy Horwitz of Grass Valley, explaining her and her husband’s personal routines. “That’s why we do crosswords together every day and take OLLI classes.”

Horwitz, 71, and her 73-year-old husband Stuart Smith, appreciate that OLLI classes are tailored to adults.

“Classes aren’t filled with a bunch of 18-year-olds,” says Smith. “OLLI classes are geared for adults. Everyone in class seems to bond together. People ask fascinating questions and make insightful comments. Everyone is there because they want to be there.”

Classes are stress free; there are no tests, grades, or college credits. Courses are held online via Zoom, in person, or a combination of both. In-person classes are held at the Nevada County Campus, Rocklin Campus, Sierra College-Roseville Center, and the Lincoln Public Library. Zoom classes are recorded so registered students can watch them at their leisure if they choose not to participate live.

“You can live anywhere in the world and take our classes,” says OLLI instructor Linda Derosier.

After paying an annual registration of $20, you can take any and all classes – as many classes as you can fit in your schedule (unless the class is filled). You just pay the tuition assessed for each class, ranging from a few bucks to a few hundred bucks for multi-night courses featuring field trips.

“We enjoy field trips the most because we meet new people. Field trips combine learning with socializing,” says 72-year-old, Diane Rossi, who lives in Nevada City with her 74-year-old husband Joe. Both have enjoyed OLLI classes for several years.

Another aspect Rossi has come to appreciate during the four years she’s enjoyed OLLI classes is their limited time commitment.

“They’re short.” Rossi says. “We can easily work classes into our travel schedule. It’s a lighter type of learning about a specific topic versus a broad-based class that goes on for months and months.”

Spring semester 2023 offers more than 100 diverse OLLI classes lasting from a few hours to several weeks. Genres include art, fitness and wellness, government and politics, humanities, literature and writing, music, nature, science, and travel. Some have reading assignments, many do not.

A course catalog flipbook is at and a printed catalog is available by calling the OLLI Office at 916-781- 6290.

Courses are replete with tantalizing tongue-in-cheek titles such as, “How Did I Not Know That?” and “Thank God for the Dutch, French, Polish and Spanish in the Revolutionary War or We’d All Have a Cockney Accent,” the latter billed as the untold story of the American Revolution.

It’s almost as if each course taunts prospective students: “Double dog dare you not learn something new!”

OLLI faculty is composed mostly of specialists and teachers, many retired after successful careers.

“This is the most fun I’ve had teaching in my entire life,” says Dr. Terence K. McAteer, a retired teacher and school superintendent who lives in Grass Valley. “From a teacher’s perspective, can you imagine how great it is to have every student participating not because they must be there, but because they want to be in the classroom?”

During most semesters, there are approximately 1,500 OLLI students enrolled. There is room for more.

Perks of OLLI membership include a Sierra College library card good for borrowing privileges. OLLI members can bring a friend to a class session at no cost. There is even a financial incentive: OLLI members who recruit a new member receive a $10 credit for the following term.

OLLI classes are a perfect fit for 50-plus people who are inherently curious, want to increase or refresh their knowledge, and stay socially active.

“When you’re young, you meet new people through your children’s activities,” says Rossi. “When we relocated to Nevada County in 2015, it was a challenge to meet new people. OLLI has allowed us to meet new and interesting people while enhancing our lives.”

“It’s much more involving and interactive than watching a movie at home,” says Smith. “The instruction is more like watching a documentary and then discussing what you’ve seen with friends and knowledgeable teacher.”

Smith and Horwitz say OLLI teachers excel because of their depth of topic knowledge, choice of program materials, and engaging teaching styles.

Some students enrolled in the Sierra College Osher Lifelong Learning Institute traveled to Philadelphia’s Independence Hall last fall.

“They bring their personalities and personal histories relating to topic,” Horwitz says. “One teacher admitted he’d never taught an OLLI class, but he was so enamored by our comments and questions that he’s continued to teach within the OLLI program. And we continue to take his classes.”

Smith and Horwitz have already reviewed, selected, enrolled, and calendared the OLLI classes they will take this spring semester.

“I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t like this,” says Smith. “Perhaps you used to know things and now can’t remember because you took that history class 50 years ago. There is always a good reason to take another class.”

“Whether they are a few hours or a few weeks, OLLI classes are inexpensive,” says Horwitz. “It’s easy to find something you like, and it always turns out to be even better than expected.

“I’m trying to keep my brain going. We’re not getting any younger.”

Lorraine Jewett is a freelance writer who lives in Nevada County and can be reached at This article was written on behalf of Sierra College Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

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