Lifelong Learning Classes Keep Seniors Sharp

Entering their third year, Rollins lifelong learning courses for adults aged 50 and over continue to grow in popularity, with 1,300 students and more than 130 classes scheduled for this fall.

STARS students in the Mah-jongg for Beginners class learn the game’s fundamentals. (Photo by Scott Cook) STARS students in the Mah-jongg for Beginners class learn the game’s fundamentals. (Photo by Scott Cook)

From canasta to bridge, Nancy Weinsier knows her way around a card table. There’s not much out there she hasn’t mastered.

So when a couple of friends took up mah-jongg—a complex, rummy-like game that originated in China and uses domino-sized tiles instead of cards—Weinsier decided it was time to “move my brain in a new direction.”

“When you become a senior, you need to keep it moving,” she says.

It’s 11 a.m. on a Monday, and Weinsier is fervently strategizing with other seniors—10 women and a man—in Meril Salzburg’s Mah-jongg for Beginners class, offered through the Rollins Center for Lifelong Learning.

(Photo by Scott Cook) (Photo by Scott Cook)

Overcoming initial feelings of bewilderment, Weinsier and her classmates have quickly grasped the fundamentals and transitioned into a mock game. Now, they’re getting expert advice from Salzburg, a former entertainment industry executive whose fast-paced style keeps participants on their toes. Soon, they’ll be ready for Intermediate Mah-jongg (also called “Mahj”), sharpening their skills in a cultural phenomenon that’s enjoying a resurgence in the West after gaining popularity in the 1920s. 

“Mahj is mental exercise that, according to psychiatric and cognitive behavioral studies, can have powerful effects on improving memory and reducing dementia,” says Salzburg, who learned the game from her mother and now teaches it to several groups across Central Florida. “Rollins is providing a great service to the adult community, and it is my honor to play a small role in helping to keep one’s mind active and vibrant by playing mah-jongg.”

Exceeding Expectations

When Rollins launched the STARS (Senior Tars) program through its Center for Lifelong Learning in fall 2013, the goal was to have 125 students the first year, 250 the second, and 500 the third. STARS just wrapped up its second year with 1,300 students, all over the age of 50. And this fall, at least 130 classes are scheduled—four times more than the goal from two years ago.

“Our growth has been a wonderful ‘problem’ because it shows that we are providing for a demand,” says Jill Norburn, director of RCLL. “There was a definite need for this in the community.”

(Photo by Scott Cook) (Photo by Scott Cook)

With subjects that range from contemporary art and foreign languages to history and constitutional law, RCLL has something for everyone. Classes, which are $65, meet once a week for four weeks. They last 90 minutes, usually include six to 35 participants, and can be taken in the morning, afternoon, or evening. The atmosphere is relaxed, there are no tests or finals, and scholarships are available.

A small sampling of classes being offered this fall includes:

Writing Your Inner Child
Strategies for Retirement
Speak with Confidence
Reading Renaissance Portraits
History Explorers: Behind the Scenes in Winter Park
Navigating the Social Security Dilemma

In addition, the VOICE program (Volunteers Organized in Community Engagement) organizes seniors to teach healthy-habit lesson plans to local children.

“Seniors are taking these courses to learn new and interesting things without the cost of college tuition or the worry of tests and finals,” Norburn says. “Some are newly retired, others are looking to meet that special someone with similar interests, and others just like saying they are ‘college kids’ again. It’s a great opportunity to socialize and meet new people, especially for seniors who are experiencing loneliness or depression. We’ve had multiple people tell us these courses have changed their lives.”

Interested in learning more about STAR courses? Attend an information session Thursday, August 13, at 7 p.m. in the Rollins College Bush Auditorium. Seating is limited, so please RSVP to jnorburn@rollins.edu by August 8.