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'Never stop learning'

In PCC's Senior Studies Institute, older adults find friendship and fulfillment through continuing education

REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Louise Lowe facilitates a weekly current events discussion at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center through Portland Community Colleges Senior Studies Institute. The pockets of Susanna Bates’ paper folder are spilling over with newspaper clippings — stories she’s eager to study and share.

“Want to be More Empathetic? Try Reading Chekhov,” advises one headline from The New York Times. An opinion clipping offers “The Cure for the $1,000 Toothbrush” and explores the confusion in health care costs.

Bates is particularly taken with a Times article from a year ago about the link between handwriting and learning, and she’s marked her favorite sections with brackets and stars.

Every week for the past six years, Bates has brought her newspaper clippings to a Lake Oswego current events discussion, where she’s found a community among people who are equally fascinated by the world.

“This is the crème de la crème, it really is,” she says of the group, which meets at the Adult Community Center on Wednesdays from 1-3 p.m. “They’re all interesting and interested. And they’re interested in many things.”

Bates, 86, is one of about 28 older adults who regularly attend the meeting — part of Portland Community College’s Senior Studies Institute. With the slogan “We learn from each other and never stop learning,” the institute provides opportunities for education, inquiry and intelligent conversations around the Portland metropolitan area.

In addition to the weekly current events gatherings, the Senior Studies Institute (SSI) every year offers 120 unique two-hour lectures at locations throughout the Portland metro area on everything from the Armenian Genocide and banned books to genetically modified organisms and the Cascadia Fault.

REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Robert Samuelson takes part in the discussion during a meeting of the Senior Studies Institute's current events group in Lake Oswego.Bates discovered the group six years ago, after moving to Lake Oswego from Southern California. The group not only helps her make friends nearby, she says, but it also taps the extensive knowledge of her fellow seniors; most presentations are given by the members.

“We’ve got retired physicists, we’ve got teachers galore,” she says. “We’ve got such a gold mine of both life experience and knowledge, because all of these retired people have careers behind them.”

The camaraderie of learning

The program was started in 1991 as a way to reach out to seniors in PCC’s community. Board member Peggy Keonjian, a member from West Linn who volunteers with the program, says SSI currently has more than 350 members.

“It’s a very well-educated group — all interested in the world around them,” Keonjian says. “You find out that underneath that white hair are some of the most interesting people.”

For many seniors, finding a social community can be difficult, she says. Some leave established communities and friends behind when they move to be closer to family, she says, while others may become disconnected from their coworker relationships after they retire.

SSI brings people together on one wide-reaching common interest, Keonjian says: “We’re in it for just the joy of learning, and friendships.”

The program is offering 40 lectures this fall. Membership costs $30 a year, with no additional costs besides occasional parking fees, and members can attend as many presentations or meetings as they want.

SSI also offers a weekly play reading group in Southwest Portland, where members gather to casually read a script and enjoy the ensuing comedy and camaraderie.

The weekly current events group also maintains a lighthearted tone, says Lake Oswego facilitator Louise Lowe. While the two-hour discussion may sometimes touch on hot political topics — such as gun control, which the Lake Oswego group discussed at a recent meeting — Lowe says participants remain respectful and avoid raising their voices with one another.REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - About 28 seniors come to the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center each week for a lighthearted and respectful discussion of local and global current events.

Lowe, 76, says being part of the group has given her new insight into topics such as energy, health and wellness, space exploration and 3-D printing. On a recent week, she says, they spent about an hour talking about the global refugee crisis and discussing ways to help the people involved.

It’s a lively, diverse group, with some members ranging into their 90s, she says. Some attend an SSI meeting every day of the week.

“It keeps them going, really,” Lowe says. “It keeps them involved in what’s going on in the world.”

For more information about the Senior Studies Institute, visit www.pcc.edu/ssi.

Contact Kelsey O’Halloran at 503-636-1281 ext. 101 or



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