Siegal Program connects greater community with academia

Maryam Iqbal, Staff Reporter

The Laura and Alvin Siegal Lifelong Learning Program at Case Western Reserve University has commenced a series of new eight-week long courses covering a wide variety of topics this September. The Siegal Lifelong Learning Program was created with the aim of connecting the academic world to Northeast Ohio’s wider community.

Through the program, community members can attend classes, workshops and lectures, engage in conversation and attain further educational opportunities.

As Brian Amkraut, executive director of the Siegal Lifelong Learning Program, explains, new course offerings are based on requests from participants and the faculty’s areas of interest. One can attend weekly courses about the wives of King Henry VIII, the world history of salt and even conversational Hebrew. Some of these programs have a long history at CWRU and in the Greater Cleveland community, and for many years, they were primarily focused on humanities and liberal arts—particularly art, music, literature and history.  

In the last few years, the Siegal Lifelong Learning Program has worked with other areas of the university to expand offerings to include a dinner series with the Institute for the Science of Origins and a Mini-Med program with faculty from the School of Medicine.

The bulk of the constituency taking these programs are retired adults in Northeast Ohio and most programs are off-campus, aimed at connecting with people where and when it is convenient for them.

At the core of all this outreach is a belief that intergenerational learning experiences are incredibly valuable for everyone who participates. Amkraut explained, “We believe in the value of lifelong learning for its own sake in meeting the demand to continue one’s education that we see in the greater community; particularly for our older students, there is great health [and] wellness value in remaining intellectually engaged and curious.”

Since the Siegal Lifelong Learning Program primarily offers non-credit courses, it does not appear to have caught on with the younger demographic yet. However, several coding and data analytics boot camps and intense workshops in deep learning and artificial intelligence appeal to CWRU students.

In addition to directly benefiting participants through positive learning experiences, the programs have managed to extend the sphere of the university to reach individuals and communities not often engaged by the research and teaching which goes on every day on campus. As the labor market continues to evolve, the overall notion of lifelong learning is critical for employers and working professionals to remain competitive in a rapidly changing environment. This area falls within the purview of the Siegal Institute’s continuing professional studies initiative.  

On Sept. 20 there was a discussion titled “Changes in the Lives of African-American and White Women in the South” at the Cuyahoga County Public Library’s Orange Branch. Professor Sylvia Abrams, former dean of the Siegal College of Judaic Studies, led the class and discussed the book “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett.

Abrams said that one of the most interesting realizations from meeting at that particular location was that all the participants turned out to be white, female and mature in age. If this talk had been given on the CWRU campus, the group would have been more diverse not only in age, but also in ethnic background.

The discussion highlighted the evolution of expectations for women and how these changes have resulted in more free will for women than in the period when “The Help” takes place. Among them was the shift from expecting a white woman to marry, even if it meant not finishing college, while the black women in the novel chose not to do domestic work despite societal precedents.

For women in both racial communities, more educational opportunities are available than ever because of trailblazers like those celebrated in “The Help.” The conclusion of Abram’s discussion returned to the underlying theme showing why this book is among the 100 best-loved books in America.

A full list of the Siegal Lifelong Learning Program’s courses, lectures and other events can be found on its website. The Siegal Lifelong Learning Program is especially excited to host The New York Times columnist Roger Cohen on Oct. 9 at the Maltz Performing Arts Center, where he will be giving a talk titled “Crisis without Catastrophe: The Mysteries of TrumpWorld.”