For more than four decades, Virginia Fowler has taught English at Virginia Tech. And although she recently retired, she’s not out of the classroom just yet. This fall, adults 50 and older can take her course on the work of author Toni Morrison through the Lifelong Learning Institute at Virginia Tech.

The institute, part of Continuing and Professional Education and the Office of Engagement in Outreach and International Affairs, is a member-driven, volunteer organization that draws on the wealth of academic and community resources in the region.

Fowler is one of many former and current Virginia Tech faculty members who, along with other experts, share their passions and expertise with older adults through the institute.

“We don’t stop learning until we die. The Lifelong Learning Institute is an important kind of program for every community to have, but not all do. We are very fortunate to have one here in Blacksburg,” Fowler said. “It’s important to learn new things and to have other people to learn with.”

Her six-week course — held at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center — will examine Morrison’s novels “Jazz” and “A Mercy.” Unlike college courses, there are no grades or tests, but Fowler said that frees participants to feel “excited about the amazing Toni Morrison, her magical prose, and her exploration of human relationships.”

Literature is just one topic covered by the institute’s 27 courses this fall. From foreign policy to local history, cooking to doodling, technology to travel — courses cover a wide variety of interests. Five field trips invite participants to get out into nature or learn more about local history as well.

Membership is open to anyone 50 and older, with registration held in two terms — spring and fall. Registration for the fall term opens Sept. 7, and classes will begin Sept. 19.

Classes run for a single session to up to six weeks and require a fee of $15 to $35 in addition to the $60 membership fee. Members also gain access to four free Zoom webinars and three in-person programs during the term.

Steven White, a creative producer for communications and marketing and the university doodler, will hold a one-time session on electronic drawing, demonstrating how he creates his daily doodles using a tablet.

“For me, drawing is kind of a meditation thing,” White said. “I just get lost in it.”

Most classes take place in person, but there are online options, too. For example, the always popular “Sampler” course treats participants via Zoom to a wide range of speakers and new topics each week. This year, the course will include presentations on music and mental health, sorting fact from fiction online, slavery and freedom at Smithfield Plantation, and the theatrical process.

The virtual format allows increased access for many participants and also allows the institute to add speakers from outside Blacksburg, said Pat Hyer, associate provost emerita of academic administration and a volunteer who helped start the institute in 2015.

Local experts include Jessica Pace-Berkeley, a professional fellow of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and artist in residence at the Don and Catherine Bryan Cultural Series in the Outer Banks, North Carolina, who will share her passion for “plein air” painting. The course will focus on a variety of painting techniques at several outdoor locations.

Other courses are just plain practical, such as one offering “what you need to know before you buy a computer.”

Travis Carter, who will be leading that one, is the systems manager for Continuing and Professional Education. He said that buying a new computer, tablet, or other device does not have to be a confusing or a high-stress process, but not understanding the tech-heavy terminology used by websites, commercials, and salespeople can lead to spending way too much money. His class will offer sensible advice to help participants get what they need.

“Most seniors rely on technology to connect with their family and friends, and it is important for them to be educated on the process so they can find the right device at the right price,” he said.

Shelly Jobst, director of Continuing and Professional Education, said the Lifelong Learning Institute is one of the ways Virginia Tech continues to fulfill its land-grant responsibility and share the expertise of the university with the community.

“Over the past seven years, the institute has built a lively learning community for older adults by tapping into the abundant academic and community resources of our region,” she said.

Course descriptions are available online. Registration also may be completed online, by phone or mail, or in person.

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