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Carleton retirees help ensure there’s always lots to learn

As the youngest baby boomers enter their 50s, there are now more seniors than children in Ontario and the changing demographics are beginning to show on Carleton University’s campus.

Run by Carleton’s Centre for Initiatives in Education, the Learning in Retirement program has been offering seniors a series of lectures since 2000 to learn about fine arts, history, politics, literature or science in a six-course format.

The program now offers five sessions of courses throughout the year to keep up with demand. Spring sessions have 24 different courses, and 10 are already full with waiting lists.

“We aim to fulfill a thirst for knowledge by offering lectures on a variety of topics, each taught by a professional in their specific field,” says Program Co-ordinator Mirka Snopkowska. “In addition to our traditional lecture-style classes, we also offer workshops and tour-guided lectures.”

By 2020, Canadians over 65 will outnumber 18- to 22-year-olds two to one. Although seniors aren’t interested in getting another degree, they do wish to continue pursuing knowledge.

Peter Watson, a former dean of Science and Physics Department chair, was a founding member of the Carleton University Association for Life-Long Learning (CUALL). The Carleton University Retirees’ Association (CURA), of which Watson is the treasurer, runs the CUALL. Founded in 2006 to represent the interests of retired faculty and staff, the CURA keeps members informed of events, opportunities and their rights as retirees.

It was after his own retirement that Watson assisted Art McDonald’s research at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO). He was one of the hundreds of physicists who contributed to the Nobel Prize-winning work that discovered subatomic neutrinos have mass.

“I can’t claim any credit for that work but I wanted to remain active in the research community,” said Watson. “Many people who have done research at Carleton wish to stay involved.”

The interest in continuing education is prevalent in retirees. Though they are separate initiatives, CUALL was inspired by LinR’s successful 16 years of programming, and both post-career learning organizations are supportive of each other.

Instead of the six-course template, CUALL organizes one-off lectures in various parts of the city. The 130 members of CUALL want to learn about new things, not necessarily tailored to their generation but something with material as interesting and challenging as in an undergrad course.

Typically, retired professors offer CUALL lectures in their respective specialties. The one-off lectures take place in the Glebe, Kanata and even in Almonte, where the past president of the CURA, Don Wiles, is still very active at 90. Popular talks on campus like the annual Dick, Ruth, and Judy Bell Lecture [1] and Discovery Lecture [2] are also well attended by retirees. Organizations such as the Canadian Theatre Company, Little Ottawa Theatre and the Ottawa Chamber Music Society sometimes partner with CUALL for events that usually involve audience participation or a look behind the scenes.

“Retirement from Carleton does not mean the end of an active and fruitful relationship with the university,” says Peter Ricketts, vice-president (Academic) and provost.

“I am continually impressed by the dedication of so many of our retirees who continue to contribute to the life and work of Carleton. Last year we signed an agreement with the Carleton University Retirees Association (CURA) and we meet regularly to ensure that the relationship between Carleton and our retirees remains active and productive.

“As Carleton approaches its 75th year in 2017, we have a wonderful opportunity to remember and thank all of those who have made Carleton what it is today through years of dedicated service during their employment with the university and in their continued engagement into retirement.”

Carleton is hosting the fifth annual Colleges and Universities Retiree Associations of Canada (CURAC) conference in 2017. Current CURA President David Holmes described the conference as an annual general meeting and symposium to discuss issues dear to retirees.

“It started out as an AGM and gradually built up into a conference,” says Holmes. “We’re bringing in speakers from different walks of life to touch on education and health policy, pension and retirement benefits.”

In 2012, the CURAC health-care committee drafted discussion papers on the national health-care plan. The National Retiree Associations forewarn needed changes to the health-care to deal with increasing demands, just as education institutions are also preparing.

Luckily the LinR, CUALL and CURA are already in place and growing to welcome a deluge of older student enthusiasm.