By Alyssa Tremblay
With over a dozen lecture series under her belt and a stack of notebooks, Louise Rachlis is one of Carleton University’s keenest learners.
Rachlis is a regular participant in the Lifelong Learning Program (LLeaP), a community education program based out of Carleton’s Centre for Initiatives in Education.
For nearly a decade, Rachlis has attended LLeaP lecture series on topics like Canadian musical theatre, pre-Raphaelite painting in 19th century Britain, and the history of rock and roll.
“As you can see, I’m a right brain person in my choices,” she says. “My husband, on the other hand, has taken many different courses, often on scientific and political topics.”
For 20 years, LLeaP (which evolved out of the Learning in Retirement Program) has offered adults of all ages the opportunity to enrol in workshops and lecture series taught by Carleton experts – including current and retired faculty members, contract instructors, alumni, and PhD candidates.
Pre-pandemic, the program offered up to 150 in-person series and single lectures per year, with annual registration numbers clocking in at over 5,000.
These lectures are held at a variety of locations, from stunning university-run spaces like the Carleton University Art Gallery, and the Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre, to fieldtrips to the National Gallery of Canada. LLeaP is also planning to expand to the new CU@Kanata innovation space, to engage and inspire Kanata residents.
The first lecture series Rachlis ever took was “The Neuropsychology of Being Human” taught by Dr. Peter Fried, a Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Psychology.
“I like the opportunity to sit for a few undistracted hours and learn, to meet others,” she says. “I also like the fact that there are no exams or marks.”
There are also no prerequisites, assignments, or required readings. Rather than formal assessment, the goal for LLeaP participants is to listen, learn and discuss topics of common interest with a community of fellow knowledge-curious folks.
Many of the program’s participants are older adults, while others rearrange their work hours to attend. Attending with friends and relatives (including grown children) is also popular.
In the last two years, LLeaP moved its sessions online and expanded the scope of its community beyond Ottawa. Two popular – and particularly timely – lecture series offered via Zoom were the “Plagues and Pandemics” series taught by Dr. Alan Mortimer, a Carleton alum and former Director of the Centre for Biologics Research at Health Canada, as well as the ongoing series “Behind the Headlines,” in which retired Political Science professor Dr. Elliot Tepper provides commentary and context for current news and world events.
Amitabh Mukerji has been participating in LLeaP’s online offerings since Fall 2020. The “Life After Death” lecture series, led by retired Religion professor Dr. Angela Sumegi, was a personal favourite of his.
“The professor was objective while discussing various faith-based belief systems without being judgemental. She also has spent several years living and studying overseas some of the religions,” Mukerji notes.
“I felt my knowledge and understanding of the subject matter improved significantly. This included Hinduism, a religion I was born and raised into, but never looked at it as an outside observer.”
While the move to online learning in Fall 2020 presented new technical challenges to LLeaP’s administrative team, it also reinforced to them the importance of their program within the Ottawa community – especially in a global pandemic.
“A participant reached out to us saying they couldn't understand Zoom, but really wanted to use it and join our series,” recalls Jessica Sukstorf, LLeaP’s Program Administrator. “I offered to assist them one-on-one and set up a Zoom call. When we finally got connected, with her camera and mic working, she looked at me and said, ‘Oh! It's working! You're the first person I've seen in a while.’”
Now, almost two years later, Sukstorf sees participants who once struggled to register for a series or join a Zoom call, using reactions, selecting fun backgrounds, and setting up video calls with friends they made through LLeaP, even after the lecture ends.
Alongside the more topical lecture series, LLeaP continues to offer a rotating roster of long-time favourites, including a quintet of physics series taught by Carleton professors Dr. Peter Watson and Dr. Andrew Robinson, and a popular local history lecture series called “Ottawology” run by Dr. Tonya Davidson (Department of Sociology), which includes walking tours of downtown Ottawa.
Going forward, the program will continue to offer both in-person and online events.
To learn more about LLeaP and register for the next session of lecture series, visit https://carleton.ca/lifelong
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