Prominent men and women regularly come to speak in La Jolla, but without the usual hoopla you probably never heard that they were in town.

People like 1988 presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, “M*A*S*H” executive producer Gene Reynolds, and Nixon Administration counsel John Dean attracted an exclusive audience: members of UC San Diego Extension’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

Access to prominent speakers isn’t all the 700 members — each aged 50 and older — get for their annual $255 fee. The institute offers sophisticated classes four or five days a week all year long, dozens in the fall of 2014 alone, and a huge variety of other activities from luncheons to tours all across Southern California.


“It keeps my mind alive. Nobody’s too old to learn,” said retired CBS director Stanley Faer, a former president of the institute who now serves as treasurer. “The program is very enriching. A lot of people have made new friends, and some romances have even started.”

The institute’s purpose is to provide high levels of intellectual stimulation to retired and semi-retired community members, retired Navy rear admiral and vice president of the institute Steve Clarey said.

“Unlike a lot of learning programs for retirees, ours tends to have a rather academic focus. Most of our members, almost 70 percent, have advanced degrees,” Clarey said.

The institute, the original brainchild of current UC San Diego Extension dean Mary Walshok, began boosting the brains of community members about four decades ago. More recently, The Bernard Osher Foundation has provided valuable financial assistance through donations of $350,000 in grants and a $1 million endowment.

Volunteers manage the institute with the assistance of program manager Amy Patterson. Every member can attend multiple classes at the UC San Diego Extension campus in La Jolla.

“We have classes all over the board in subjects like language, science, medicine, social sciences, politics and current events, law and society, and history,” Patterson said. “We try to develop a curriculum that’s as diverse as possible and pulls from the plethora of wonderful experts we have at the university.”

Osher Institute President Jim Wyrtzen speaks at the institute’s 40th anniversary celebration.

The courses regularly include lengthy question-and-answer sessions and are designed purely for learning’s sake. There’s no required homework, but institute members are welcome to spend time designing the curriculum and inviting speakers, including a variety of notables from outside San Diego. Several governors have spoken to institute members along with an Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations and a retired general, and that’s just to name a few.

Now, for the first time, the institute is allowing non-members—anyone from the public—to get a glimpse of its extraordinary education opportunities.

“We’re recording two classes a day, 10 classes a week, and making them available via the Internet,” Faer said.

For $25 per year, an individual can sign up for a remote Affiliate Membership giving them access to the compilation of the recorded classes via the online video library. The institute is also working to bring videos of its courses to senior-living communities so people can benefit even if they’re not able to visit the UC San Diego Extension campus.

The institute, however, continues to focus on serving local retirees in person.

“A lot of people will retire to La Jolla, but not have a base of community and friendship,” Patterson said. “The institute offers a central location to not only meet people, but also broaden your horizons.”

Want to get involved?

Interested individuals can sign up as an Osher member any time through the website or by calling UCSD Extension Student Services at 858-534-3400.

For a one-time fee, members are offered unlimited access to the entire Osher curriculum –individual class fees and registration are not required. The only exceptions are the two Master Class series, which require a separate registration of $10 per series.

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