$1 million endowment keeps Sierra College adult classes alive

By: Lauren Weber, The Placer Herald
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Classes like ancient Rome, Tai Chi and creative writing are taught at Sierra College. But not to the crowd one would typically expect. Enter the classrooms and you may be surprised at the students’ ages. The courses are offerings through the school’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute that provides lifelong learning opportunities to adults. And thanks to a $1 million endowment recently received from the Bernard Osher Foundation, the program will continue in perpetuity. Emil Augustine, chairman of OLLI advisory council, said the arrival of the check was a surprise. The excitement didn’t come with the package – an unassuming white envelope – but what was inside – a check for $1 million. OLLI began at Sierra College in the spring of 2001 with about 30 courses and 1,000 students. Now, it has risen in popularity to more than 200 classes and 1,500 students. “We think we are an idea whose time has come,” Augustine said at Thursday’s press conference to publicly announce the endowment gift. “We are receiving it because we know we can do something with it.” OLLI at Sierra College was one of only three community colleges in the nation to receive this endowment, along with Yavapai College, a community college in Arizona and Berkshire Community College in Massachusetts. “We have one of the largest OLLIs in the country,” Jennifer Coleman, OLLI program director, said. “We are among great company.” She said the recent gift was the result of a “five-year journey to this endowment.” The classes through the OLLI program are designed for students ages 55 and up, but adults 18-years and older are welcome to attend. Classes are held at the four Sierra College campuses, in Rocklin, Nevada County, at the Roseville Gateway campus and at the Tahoe/Truckee Center, in addition to five to 10 sites throughout the surrounding communities, Coleman said. Sierra College President Dr. Leo Chavez said he was able to teach an OLLI course and saw the first-hand benefits adults get from the courses. “Clearly they were active, engaged, vital participants,” he said. “We’re very, very proud of this endowment.” Tom Fisher of Rocklin, has been teaching courses at the Sierra College OLLI program since it’s foundation. He’s taught subjects such as archeology, volcanology, space, China archeology, the chicken, rain forests of the world and more. He taught in the Bay Area for 30 years previous and also worked with a company assisting with NASA projects, he said. Fisher said he finds the classes helpful in keeping the adult mind stimulated and engaged. These are “classes with astute people, many retired, that are incredibly intelligent and sponges that soak up this information. I have to be as prepared to answer questions as I am to give the presentation,” Fisher said. Fisher teaches courses to groups averaging 75 to 100 people, for weekly two-hour classes held for four to six weeks, he said. He is one of many instructors of OLLI classes at Sierra College, which he said serve a great purpose. For more information on current classes, go to or or call 781-6290 Placer Herald’s Lauren Weber can be reached at