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University, Library Offer Lifelong Learning

By LINDA COMINS

Staff Writer

WHEELING — Area adults want to be lifelong learners, as evidenced by the popularity of West Liberty University’s Community University and the Ohio County Public Library’s Lunch With Books and People’s University programs.

WLU’s Community university offers learning opportunities to people age 50 and older. The public library’s adult programs are open to all ages.

Ronald Witt Jr., executive director of alumni and community relations at West Liberty, said the Community University, launched a few years ago, is a thriving program. “We want to be involved with the community,” he said. “Being in the business of education, it’s our mission. It’s another way to reach out to another audience who are lifelong learners.”

Community University classes are conducted at the West Liberty University Highlands Center, but occasionally entail a field trip to another area location.

Witt said class members enjoy the site tours. West Virginia Independence Hall, Grave Creek Mound, SMART Centre Market, Wheeling Brewing Co. and Good Mansion Wines are among local venues they have visited.

Typically, classes are held in the morning or early afternoon. Witt said, “We try to avoid evenings and weekends.”

He added, “There are no entrance exams and no tests. It’s for the sheer joy of learning.”

The Community University has been charging a flat fee that entitles participants to enroll in as many courses or lectures as they want.

However, Witt said, “We’re looking at different options with structure and costs that we plan to roll out later in the spring term.”

Two terms of classes are offered each year. The director said, “The fall term typically starts in September or early October and runs through the end of November or first part of December. The spring term typically starts in late March or early April and runs for about two months.”

The Community University offers 14 to 16 classes a semester. The schedule for the spring term is expected to be released by late February.

Regarding attendance, he said, “It does vary. It depends on the topic and presenter. Some of the presenters have a great following no matter what they’re talking about. On average, we have 20 (people) per class. Sometimes, we’re at capacity; the classroom holds about 50. Sometimes, we have only eight or 10.”

Citing popular topics, he said, “Anything having to do with local history they love. That’s been very successful. We have had a number of presenters over the years. They make it enjoyable and interesting. They usually turn out in big numbers for local history.”

Health and wellness courses and a series on movies also have been offered. Every semester, a former professor presents a film-related class in which participants watch a movie and discuss it.

“We shape the courses based by requests from the participants,” Witt said.

“We do surveys at every session, (asking) if they like the topic and the presenter, for consideration for future classes, is there anything they would like to see us offer.”

The Community University “really has grown in popularity. Our base has grown significantly,” he said.

He added, “I know how popular the Lunch With Books series is at the library. We schedule around Lunch With Books. We have people who attend Community University who also attend Lunch With Books. It gives another offering for the community. It’s all about lifelong learning.”

Lunch With Books sessions are held at noon on Tuesdays at the public library in Wheeling. Programs include authors’ visits, film discussion, history-related talks and presentations on topical subjects.

Dottie Thomas, library director, conceived the idea of the People’s University as a way to further the mission of public libraries as sanctuaries of free learning for all people.

Designed for adults who want to continue their education in the liberal arts, the People’s University features courses that enable patrons to pursue lifelong learning in classic subjects. Both Lunch With Books and the People’s University are free and open to the public.

Every People’s University course runs for several weeks, usually beginning at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays.

Patrons may attend as many classes as they want. There are no tests or other requirements.

Sean Duffy, the library’s programming, publicity and archives coordinator, said, “Since we started the program in 2010, we have had 19 series featuring 137 classes, attended by 8,243 people.”

The 20th series will begin April 4 and end May 23. “The topic will be the First World War, in observance of the centennial of U.S. involvement,” Duffy said.

Previous series have included two courses on Wheeling history, three courses on American history, a cartoon history of the United States and courses on art history, world philosophy, world geography, government, archaeology and astronomy.

Courses also have explored Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust; the Civil War 1865 and the Lincoln Legacy; American literature; music appreciation; biology, regional flora and fauna; Shakespeare and Appalachian music and folklore.

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