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Renaissance Institute lures seniors to College of Notre Dame

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They might not have had new backpacks and lunch boxes, but these students were as excited as any to get back in the classroom.

Mature voices echoed in Fourier Hall on the campus of the College of Notre Dame of Maryland as the Renaissance Institute, a lifelong-learning program aimed at adults ages 50 and older and taught by their peers, held an open house in the auditorium Tuesday, Aug. 9, in anticipation of the fall semester

"If you want to have joy at going to school, this is the place to go," said Dan Maguire, a second-year Institute member, who teaches classes in poetry analysis. "This place really grows on you."

For $385 for a full academic year, students can take up to 12 classes per semester. Classes range in length from 6 to 13 weeks and are offered at 9:30 and 11 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The fall semester runs Sept. 8 to Dec. 8; the spring semester from February to May.

Last year, the institute drew 326 enrollees. Many participants say the peer-taught structure and the intimacy of the program is what sets the institute apart from other adult learning programs in the area.

"There are very few (teachers) who come from the outside as teachers. Most who teach are pre-retirement age," said Sid Leibovitz, of Guilford, who will be returning to the Institute classrooms for his 20th year. He has taught more than 40 courses at the Institute, mainly in the area of history, and appreciates not only the academic aspect of the Institute, but the friendships it provides.

"The main asset is the camaraderie and the socialization," Leibovitz said.

Social groups also spring up outside the classroom. Leibovitz's wife Adrienne helps plan activities for enrollees between semesters, ranging from potluck dinners and bridge games to a movie series, a Baltimore Heroes series of seminars, and a Scholars Forum. Those extracurricular activities are open to the public and the college community.

Students have also traveled to Philadelphia to see the Cleopatra exhibit, and have taken private tours of stables at Pimlico Race Course during a Sunrise at the Preakness event.

The purpose is to "have fun, make friendships, and provide academic and intellectual opportunities," Adrienne Liebovitz said.

Some students have even organized trips, such as a cruise to New England.

The Heroes series focuses on individuals "who have done something to make them considered a hero," Adrienne Leibovitz said. The Scholars Forum includes four panelists who "speak on a cutting-edge topic of the day," she said, adding that the panelists are locally, nationally and internationally known for their expertise.

For Jim Amberman, of Sykesville, a member of the institute's governing council, there was no question that he'd be back for his fifth year as a student.

"First, it's cheap and reasonably priced to cover courses for a whole year. Two, the course offerings are fascinating," Amberman said, including ones on the Silk Road, Chaucer and papacy.

"And third, you can get up to 24 classes a year," Amberman said. "We have really high-end people here," he said in reference to the quality of students and teachers, many with life experiences as far back as World War II. "I mean, you have members of the Greatest Generation right here in this room," he said.

Amberman also emphasized the opportunities that come with the Summer and Winter in the City activities. "There's a positive social aspect to it, but there are also additional tours of Baltimore, including a Sunrise at the Preakness event, which previously included private tours of the stables by the jockeys; and traveling to see the Cleopatra exhibit in Philadelphia.

Institute members also receive the benefits of those given to "traditional" undergraduate and graduate students at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, said Institute Director Becky Straub.

Benefits include receiving a college identification card, which grants discounted admissions at venues and events, educational discounts on software; access to the campus library cafeteria privileges, and the opportunity to enroll in one undergraduate class free of charge, pending available space.

That's valued at $1,800 alone, Straub said.

The Rev. Terry Leckrone stood in line after the presentations at the open house to sign-up to become a first-time Institute student.

"I was impressed by the size of the organization and the number of activities offered," said Leckrone, of the Charles Village area, who retired at 62 after working as a foundation executive and a minister and is now part-time pastor of Emanuel United Methodist Church in Loganville, Pa. He is looking forward to taking courses in yoga and art history.

"I'm really bored, so I'd like to fill my time creatively," Leckrone said.

For more information about the Renaissance Institute, go to http://www.ndm.edu/Admissions/InstitutesAndInternational/renaissanceinstitute.cfm

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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