Time passes, they say, when you’re having fun. I must be having a great time, because the Levan Institute of Bakersfield College is now beginning its 11th year of operation, and it feels like we just started.
The purpose of the institute, made possible because of an endowment by Norman Levan, is to provide interesting and useful learning experiences primarily to those 55 and older who are interested in continuing to gain knowledge throughout their lives. It is the only program of its kind in Kern County and, as such, plays an important role in our community.
Are such programs needed? A 2016 Pew research study certainly indicates that they are. A selection of its findings included the following: most adults (73 percent) consider themselves lifelong learners, 80 percent of adult learners “wanted to learn something that would make their life more interesting and full,” and most thought that more education would help them become more “well rounded” and “connected to the community.” A majority thought it would help them make new friends, too. According to Census Bureau 2016 data, about 75,000 people aged 55 and over live in Bakersfield.
The Pew results square with the attitudes of Levan, who continued learning until almost the day he passed away at age 98.
Our experiences also are consistent with the Pew study outcomes. In developing the Levan Institute program, we found that students prefer classes that are relevant to their lives and interests, provide information and skills that they can use and/or are enjoyable. If we can combine all of those characteristics into one class, all the better.
Levan classes all, of course, involve learning something – new information, skills, insights, concepts, even points of view. But for the educational process to be really effective, it is necessary to engage students so that they are part of that process. That engagement can be in the form of creativity, development of new skills, the love of learning itself or even entertainment. In other words, we want students to not only learn but enjoy their classes. Indeed, many Levan Institute students enjoy their classes so much that they sometimes repeat them term after term. We don’t give grades, so that is not a problem.
I am frequently asked what kind of classes the Levan Institute offers. The answer: anything that interests people and is consistent with our purpose.
Thus, we have had classes as varied as wine tasting, the afterlife, Photoshop Elements, ukulele, weight training, golf and creative writing. We even had a class on the history, tasting and brewing of beer (with lab!). Field trips are popular, particularly our annual wine trip. The fall 2018 term includes new classes in ceramics, watercolor painting, religion, history, fitness, website construction, making your own videos, kitchen remodeling, a trip to the Peterson Automotive Museum, and others.
We started in 2008 with 27 classes and a total enrollment of 192. Last spring, 60 classes were scheduled and 829 enrolled. Over our first decade, thousands have experienced Levan classes.
I believe we are fulfilling our purpose, but there is always more to do. After 10 years as director and 55 years from beginning my career at BC, I am retiring (again). I leave the next chapters to my successor.
Many people helped to make the Levan Institute possible, including Miriam Valenzuela, my fabulous assistant. Much of the success of this enterprise is due to her skill, hard work and devotion.
The fall 2018 Levan Institute class schedule is now online, and class registration is open. Those new classes, as well as many old favorites, are there. Visit www.bakersfieldcollege.edu/levaninstitute or call 661-395-4431 to register or for more information.
Learn and enjoy.
Robert Allison is the founding director of the Levan Institute for Lifelong Learning.