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ALUMNI EDUCATION

Back to the Books, Er, Listserv

Bills and mortgages. Day care and diaper changes. Making partner—or simply making the morning train. Life after college zooms by, and before you know it, it’s been years since you’ve picked up a syllabus or argued over the significance of Shakespeare.
   
For alumni desiring an intellectual tune-up or the chance to explore a field entirely different from their major, Penn is developing lifelong learning opportunities to suit a wide range of interests.
   
The Department of Development and Alumni Relations, in partnership with the College for General Studies, launched its first round of online, alumni-education courses in September. Plans are underway to continue and expand upon these offerings in the coming semesters while soliciting the input of faculty and alumni.
   
Dr. Martin Rapisarda, director of alumni relations, says the department is putting together a faculty advisory group to help select future courses, as well as professors to teach them, and to "highlight centers of excellence across the University [all] in such a way that alumni education is seen as part of the entire academic enterprise and not just a side business."
   
"Part of our plan," he adds, "is to offer a broad menu of life long learning opportunities, from semester-long courses to day-long or two-day-long symposia or special lectures."
   
In addition, the department will form an advisory group of alumni whose professional experience or technological expertise "would lend themselves to the marketing or delivery of alumni courses or events."
   
While course enrollment has been small so far, Rapisarda emphasizes that the alumni education program "is in the start-up phase—and we’re hoping we can build this over time."
   
This semester, Dr. Stuart Fleming, scientific director for the Museum Applied Science Center for Archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, is teaching an alumni-education course about "Roman Glass: Reflections on Cultural Change." Based on a traveling exhibition by the same name, the course shows how "every glass vessel, in its shape or decoration, is … a silent record of the times in which it was made."
   
In "History of Jewish Civilization I," Dr. David Ruderman, the Joseph Meyerhoff Professor of Modern Jewish History and director of the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, is presenting an overview of Jewish culture and society in its late rabbinic, medieval and early modern settings. Jewish history, he notes in his audio introduction to the course, is unique in its "spatial discontinuity and also unique in its temporal discontinuity." One of the issues the class will examine, he says, is how the Jewish people, without a common land, government or language, "have a history."
   
Dr. Daniel Traister, curator of the Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg Rare Book and Manucript Library at Van Pelt-Dietrich Library, is leading alumni through a study of three Shakespearean plays: Merchant of Venice, Hamlet and King Lear.
    "I’m finding them to be an exciting group of folks," says Traister, just a couple of weeks into his "Rereading Shakespeare" class. "Many of my students identify themselves as Wharton alumni. Clearly these are people who are very bright, but who also feel as if in some sense, they haven’t gotten quite as much out of the non-professional aspects of a place like this as they wish they had gotten—and are thinking it’s possible at this point that they might be able to do something reasonable in terms of its time demands that helps make up for a missing liberal-arts curriculum."
    "That’s exactly what we should be doing," observes Rapisarda. "Whether it’s the chance to read Shakespeare for the first time or to reread Shakespeare, that’s the spirit in which these courses have been selected."
    Although his students hail from places as far away as Australia and Israel, Traister hopes a few alumni may be able to join him for a production of Hamlet in New York this fall.
    Indeed, future courses probably won’t be limited to the online format. According to Rapisarda, the department will explore the possibility of combining Internet delivery of courses with intensive residencies, either on Penn’s campus or any number of other sites appropriate to the course subject, be it Egypt or the Yucatan.
    Although next semester’s alumni-education offerings have not yet been determined, some possibilities include a course on the 1960s taught by Dr. Sheldon Hackney Hon’93, professor of history and former president of the University; a course on Jewish history that picks up where Ruderman’s leaves off; and a course offered in connection with the Kelly Writers House.
   
For more information about the alumni-education program, visit the Web page at www.alumni.upenn.edu/education. Alumni who think they might like to participate in a future course are encouraged to sign up for the Alumni Learning listserv at www .alumni.upenn.edu/resources/listserv/learning.html.
   

   
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Copyright 1999 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 10/28/99