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Note Book

Fall 2004 • Volume 10, Issue 4

ILR celebrates 10th year: Because learning never stops

By Nancy Ridgeway

IRL ClassWhen people refer to seniors at Bradley, they could be talking about students in their final year of undergraduate study, or they could be talking about participants in the Institute for Learning in Retirement (ILR). Celebrating its 10th year at Bradley, ILR offers learning opportunities for Peoria-area residents 55 years old and older.

Each spring and fall, an array of classes ranging from history and current events to the arts and religion to science and technology are offered one day a week for four consecutive weeks. Participants may enroll in several classes and spend the day learning from emeritus faculty and other experts who volunteer to lead classes.

The idea for an ILR began to grow when Janet Lange MA ’93, executive director of Continuing Education, was working on her master’s degree. Lange says, “During my research, I found out about ILRs. At the time, many Elderhostels were being created, but we were more interested in doing something similar to that but without the travel.” Dr. John Shorrock, then vice president for Advancement, took an interest in her idea and provided seed money for a joint effort between Continuing Education and Alumni Relations.

She adds, “Our goal was to bring adults to campus who are not only alumni, but also friends and others who wanted to be connected to the University.”

Nancy Hinrichs Proehl ’64 MA ’70 was hired to oversee the program. She met with a focus group to begin planning the first ILR. “The group decided they didn’t want to meet too often, and not in bad weather. They wanted to meet on campus,” she says.

A “Winterim,” where participants meet for four consecutive days in January, was added in 1997.

Jon Neidy MA ’01 joined the University in 1998 as the second director of the program. Neidy added technology-related initiatives during his first year and expanded the educational travel aspect of the program. The popular “Commerce Unseen” series allows participants to visit local businesses for rare behind-the-scenes glimpses at places such as the Sanitary District, Caterpillar, and others.

Noting that educational, rather than hobby classes are the emphasis at ILR sessions, Proehl comments, “Nobody had classes that were essentially academic. We wanted to focus on what Bradley is known for. I think having the University sponsor this program gave it a lot of credibility. A lot of people who never went to college or who went somewhere besides Bradley now feel a connection to Bradley.”

Typically, about 30 volunteers plan classes, considering about 150 suggestions from participants and committee members. Once ideas are chosen, members must find volunteer instructors. Some classes are so popular they are offered each semester.

Lange says, “Along with staff member Wanda Lane, Nancy set the tone to have extensive, meaningful use of volunteers. Jon has perfected it. It’s an art to involve the volunteers, but not burden them. Jon guides it. The volunteers set the curriculum, and we provide the administrative backbone.”

Neidy says, “We look for a balance when choosing classes. We have people interested in science, gardening, music.”

Lange adds, “Among ILRs, our structure is different. Because everyone comes together on one day per week, we have a very strong community. Members, especially those who have participated in other ILRs, appreciate what Bradley does.”

Looking toward the future, Neidy says he doesn’t anticipate the program getting bigger. “We’re at an ideal size. We started with 10 classes and 84 people. Now we have 41 classes and 350 people, plus the travel program. We don’t want to hurt the quality of the experience, so we will look at doing new and different things,” he says, noting a recent addition to the program has been art displays in the Student Center each week during ILRs.
Lange comments, “We started out and continue to be a group about peer learning. Our success comes back to the people. We have to have the right people who genuinely care.”

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