July 30, 2013 9:52:02 AM
William Browning - [email protected]
Three years ago, a friend of Pam Cunningham's took a yoga course.
The course was part of the Life Enrichment Program at the Mississippi University For Women's Center for Creative Learning, and Cunningham decided to give it a try, too. The experience stuck. Since then she has taken a handful of courses on diverse subjects: Pilates, archery, buying and selling on eBay and playing the dulcimer.
"It has to be the neatest program," said Cunningham, who came to town 10 years when her husband was stationed at Columbus Air Force Base. "It gives you the opportunity to taste so many different things."
The program began at MUW in 2009. Based on a similar, successful program at the University of Alabama, the program gives members of the community a chance to take non-credit courses at the university for a low price. The fee is $35 for each term and that allows participants to take up to five courses, which are taught by volunteers from the community who are "experts in their fields who have a passion," said Debbie Swartz, coordinator for the LEP.
The program -- which has more than 100 volunteers each term and is entering its fourth year -- has grown steadily.
In 2009, six courses were offered and 24 people took part. In the spring of this year, there were 43 courses and 259 participants. This summer online registration began being offered because of the volume of people looking to enroll.
Why the growth?
"It just meets a need in the community," Swartz said. "And it's laid-back. We have a good time."
Initially, retirees filled the classrooms because, Swartz said, "they basically had the time." But the university has begun seeing participants from younger generations. Some are looking to go back to college who want to get their "feet wet" first, she said. Others are spouses of people stationed at Columbus Air Force Base. And some are just people looking to expand their horizons.
The classes are eclectic. Some of the courses offered this fall include, "Resume Writing," "Not Your Mama's Quilting," "Latin: A Guided Tour," "Medicare 101" and, always the most popular, "Wine Tasting."
The diversity is not by accident. A 15-person advisory board and curriculum committee decide which courses are given each year. They try to mix it up with creative pursuits, health and wellness, humanities and technology courses.
There are two, six-week terms each semester. Each course meets once a week for roughly one hour. The first of the this year's two fall sessions begins Aug. 12.
Cunningham, who has two children in college, is taking three courses again this fall: dulcimer, resume writing and cooking techniques. She admits you won't leave the classes an expert in the topic. But you leave with the skills needed to take that step, she said. Since taking the archery course she has bought a compound bow and built an archery range on her property. Since taking the eBay course, she has sold a few things online.
"You're never too old to learn," she said. "I know it's a cliche but it's true. I never would have had the opportunity to learn these things otherwise."
For more information on LEP, contact Swartz at (662) 329-7150, or visit the website at muw.edu/lep.
GROWTH OF THE LIFE ENRICHMENT PROGRAM
Fall 2009 6 courses 24 participants
Spring 2010 12 courses 87 participants
Fall 2010 28 courses 165 participants
Spring 2011 21 courses 165 participants
Fall 2011 29 courses 212 participants
Spring 2012 32 courses 224 participants
Fall 2012 36 courses 196 participants
Spring 2013 43 courses 259 participants
Summer 2013 24 courses 156 participants
William Browning was managing editor for The Dispatch until June 2016.