‘It seems like a secret that needs to get out to everyone.’

Jo Ann Olson

Jo Ann Olson

A few years ago, Jo Ann Olson was surfing the web for classes around San Diego and discovered the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at SDSU, which offers intellectual and literal adventures for adults age 50 and better. Not sure if it was for her, Olson took no immediate action until recently.

“I looked more closely at OLLI at all three San Diego schools (UCSD, SDSU, and CSUSM) and realized they all ran a little differently,” she said. “Then I finally got a chance to visit the OLLI office at SDSU in April while checking out the SDSU Adaptive Fitness Clinic. I met with Rhonda [Beard, OLLI lead program coordinator] and immediately felt this was the place for me.”

Olson not only joined and signed up for summer classes, she dove right in as a volunteer with the Speakers’ Bureau to represent OLLI at local service organizations to raise awareness and increase membership.

Olson shared her impressions about her OLLI experience so far.

What was your career before you retired?
One of my last full-time careers was a financial caseworker with the Fleet & Family Support Center. I gave presentations, workshops, and counseled Navy sailors on their finances. Before that, I was a special education elementary teacher for seven years.

What was the first OLLI class you took and what was your impression?
My first OLLI encounter was the ice cream social in May where I got to meet other volunteers. Then my first class was also in May when I attended the Speakers’ Bureau training. I was so impressed with the trainer [Kathi Diamant] as well as the other volunteers. The first lecture I attended was on June 12, which is part of a four-week series entitled, What Makes Supreme Court Decisions “Landmark”?  My impression from all three encounters is the enthusiasm of the staff, members and volunteers at OLLI. I can’t believe no one I know has heard of it, and it seems like a secret that needs to get out to everyone. I feel so fortunate that I decided to take the plunge and join.

Did any course open your eyes to a subject you previously knew little about?
I’ve now only taken three classes, but the current one on Supreme Court Decisions is teaching me so many things I had no idea about. I never took a law class and just casually followed the news on Supreme Court cases. I know about as much as the next average American about the most popular cases, like Roe v. Wade. But I have learned so much more in just two sessions. It makes me want to get the instructor’s book, The Constitution for Dummies.

Either from a course or a fellow student, did you learn something that has stuck with you, changed your outlook, or made any other kind of impact?
Since I just started with OLLI, all I can say that it seems every time I take a class (I’ve taken four so far), I learn something new that opens my mind and broadens my perspective. So far I can tell that “What Makes Supreme Court Decisions “Landmark” is going to be hard to beat in terms of relevance, enjoyment, and impact in my life.

Can you speak to the caliber of instructors?
The instructors are of the highest caliber. I feel so lucky to take university-level and even graduate-level courses for as little as I pay.

Can you speak to the social aspect of learning with like-minded peers?
I have really enjoyed interacting with the other members. It’s wonderful to be with a group of people who are educated, have lived such full and interesting lives, and want to give back as much as they receive from this program. I have never met a more welcoming group of people, and felt at ease from day one.

Would you recommend OLLI to others?
In a heartbeat! I know many people in the other places I volunteer as well as who live around me who would truly enjoy the courses at OLLI. I have passed on a catalog to a few people already. The trick is getting them to realize that it’s so easy to find parking at SDSU and it takes minimum time and effort to get so much out of this program.

Where else do you volunteer?
I volunteer with READ San Diego, an adult literacy program with the San Diego Public Library. I’m a member and volunteer with AAUW (American Association of University Women). I was a financial caseworker with the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society for 3 1/2 years. I will also be volunteering with the used book store at one of our library branches.

What would others be surprised to know about you?
I am very physically active, as I was once a personal trainer. I have taken many different career paths, but am able to retire early since my husband still works and allows me to take care of our home. I had never volunteered while working full-time, so it’s such a pleasure to be able to do this on my own time and for the causes I really enjoy.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I think I wanted to be a doctor because that’s what my mother wanted me to do! After realizing I didn’t enjoy the hard sciences, I went into psychology. But I never had a real career aspiration. I like the fact that I’ve allowed myself to learn so many different things (pension benefits, elementary education, special education advocacy, personal training, adult literacy, and financial counseling). I want to keep evolving as I grow older. I still have a dream of earning my Ph.D. someday, even though I already have my Master’s of Special Education.

Anything you’d like to add?
I hope I’ll be able to reach out to other older adults to go back to school for the fun of it. OLLI presents a wonderful opportunity for older adults to keep learning and connecting with others.