Siegal Lifelong Learning Brings University to the Community and the World

Brian Amkraut, PhD, expected about 70 people to show up for the new fall Senior Scholars program lecture. That’s what the executive director of the Laura & Alvin Siegal Lifelong Learning Program knew he could count on from this successful Case Western Reserve continuing-education initiative.

Instead, nearly twice the number crammed into the 11-week program’s opening lecture by Kenneth F. Ledford, PhD, an associate professor of history and law. “We actually had to turn people away from the class,” Amkraut said. The course, offered during thefall Senior Scholars program, features lectures by Case Western Reserve and Oberlin College faculty members on World War I, the history of food, censored movies and enduring literature.

The lifelong learning program was born two years ago when Siegal College, formerly a degree-granting institution of Judaic studies, forged a partnership with Case Western Reserve. The program continues to receive important support from the Siegals, who donated $3 million to the new incarnation in 2012. It also is supportedby the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, the Association for Continuing Education at Case Western Reserve and individual donations. The offerings range from traditional classroom lectures to national symposiums that use videoconferencing to link experts and program participants.

Last year, some 2,500 people attended lifelong learning programs throughout Greater Cleveland. Classes and lectures cover broad subject matter, including writing, medicine, Jewish studies and medieval Christian pilgrimages. There’s a travel program, which has trips to Hawaii, Germany, Amsterdam and Great Britain on tap. And there is a three-day Winter Institute in Sarasota, Fla.

“We’ve increased the breadth and scope of the lifelong learning programs,” Amkraut said. “Our goal is to expand programs so that they represent the range of the faculty at Case Western Reserve.” In what Amkraut hopes will be a continuing program offering adult education to surrounding neighborhoods, Siegal Lifelong Learning offered courses last year at the Fatima Family Center in Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood, one on public policy and one on the Constitution.

Center Director LaJean Ray, who had asked the lifelong learning group to present a program at Fatima, at first worried that these programs wouldn’t catch the interest of center participants. But when she sat in on classes, her concern disappeared. “Our people were very engaged,” she said. “I was amazed at the wealth of knowledge they brought to the program.”

“The program worked so well,” said Amkraut, who wants to extend such programming to suburbs and city neighborhoods across Greater Cleveland. “Participants had such a great time and the instructors felt it was one of the crowning moments of their teaching.”


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