Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Learning as a lifelong activity

When Cindy Albing was hired as education and resource coordinator at
Lyngblomsten 18 months ago, one of her main jobs was to find some good
speakers to put on programs at the community center on the campus of the
senior-care provider in St. Paul. She was looking for current or retired college
professors who could speak on topics related to their field of expertise and
who would appeal to persons in the surrounding community as well as
Lyngblomsten residents.

Albing found a resource that fit her needs like a glove in the “College of the
Third Age,” a program of Augsburg College that seeks to keep older teachers
and learners mentally alert and engaged in the community. The Lyngblomsten
coordinator set up a series of five one-hour weekly classes employing
speakers from the Augsburg program in the fall of 2008, followed by a six-
week series in the winter and another in the spring.

“It’s been very nice because of the wide variety of topics — art, history,
theology, music, the underground railroad, all sorts of things,” Albing said.
“It’s been a good pastiche.”

The feedback in a survey she took following the fall series was strongly
positive, according to Albing. Those who responded described the teachers
as “well-prepared, interesting, and enthusiastic about what they’re teaching.”
Participants said, “Bring on more!”

Albing plans to continue the series, titled “Learning for Life,” in the fall. There
are some speakers the Lyngblomsten audience would like to hear again, she
said. “We’ve already had three back.”

One of the teachers that College of the Third Age audiences consistently ask
to hear again is Irene Khin Khin Jensen, retired professor of European and
Asian history at Augsburg. A native of Myanmar (Burma), Jensen came to the
United States as a Fulbright scholar and earned a Ph.D. in history from the
University of Wisconsin. She taught at Augsburg for 35 years before retiring
in 1994. She specializes in Asia and the Middle East for the College of the
Third Age.

Jensen has traveled widely and incorporates slides and videos and even music
into her presentations. She thinks the reason audiences ask her to come back
is that she tells history like a story. And, she said, they like the way she
relates a particular topic in history to their own American history. For
example, when talking about the mid-19th century in China, she relates it to
the Civil War period in the United States.

Jensen, who is listed as the teacher for 19 of more than 100 courses in the
College of the Third Age catalog, says there are clear benefits for both learner
and teacher in the program. “It keeps them mentally alert,” she says of older
adult learners, adding, “I think it keeps them from getting dementia.” For
herself, she says, “We go into senior residences, and it engages me mentally,
and I make new friends.”

Like Jensen, the majority of the 42 teachers on the roster of the Augsburg
program are retired or emeritus professors from metro-area colleges and
universities. That includes 10 from Augsburg College. But the program also
enlists older non-academic members of the community with expertise in
specific fields as instructors. Among these are jazz music expert Arne Fogel,
Lutheran composer and choir director Ronald Nelson, missionary leader Arne
Sovik, and Frank Wright, retired foreign correspondent for the Star Tribune.

The College of the Third Age has had a somewhat checkered career since it
was founded in the mid-1970s. It was patterned after a program at the
University of Toulouse in France which Augsburg professors Mimi and Einar
Johnson encountered while on sabbatical. It probably experienced its greatest
growth in the late 1990s when it was directed by Karen Lindesmith of the
Augsburg staff, according to Jessica Fox-Wilson, who currently heads the
program in her role as coordinator of Augsburg programs for adults.

“We’re seeing a return to that growth, but it’s a slow climb uphill,” Fox-
Wilson said. However she believes the program will increase in the future as
the number of retired persons expands significantly.

Two advantages she believes the Augsburg program has over other similar
programs are its highly qualified faculty and the fact that it functions in
partnership with community organizations that work with senior citizens,
conducting its classes in locations where the seniors are. Those sites include
senior residences, churches, community centers, and senior centers. The host
organization pays $125 for each one-hour class. Of that amount, $95 goes to
the instructor.

For more information, contact the College of the Third Age at 612/330-
1139 or thirdage@augsburg.edu.