Four musicians play instruments.

OLLI Celebrates 20 Years at CSUEB Concord with Annual Jazz Gala

  • BY Elias Barboza
  • PHOTOGRAPHY BY Catharyn Hayne
  • December 15, 2021
Attendees chat at OLLI gathering

After almost two years of COVID-19 restrictions preventing large indoor gatherings across the Bay Area, Cal State East Bay's Concord Campus hosted this year’s All That Jazz Concert and End-of-Year Gala on Dec. 8. The three-hour event was catered to Osher Lifelong Learning Institute members who celebrated last year’s gala online.

“This event is important because it’s live on our campus, and because it’s a social experience, especially for the OLLI crowd,” said interim program coordinator Kathy Cutting. “It’s an opportunity for board members, staff, and OLLI members to see each other and enjoy the concert and reception.”

This year’s sold-out gala marked the 20th anniversary of OLLI at CSUEB Concord, and included a live jazz band performance featuring several former CSUEB faculty members. Guests listened to music and short lectures about jazz in the standing-only Oakland room, before migrating to the Redwood room for the reception. Wine, hors d'oeuvres and refreshments were served to all 50 guests. OLLI’s four founding members were also honored in a short ceremony. COVID-19 vaccination was required for all attendees and social distancing was encouraged.

Since 2001, OLLI at CSUEB Concord has provided learning opportunities for members and participants age 50 and over in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, and online throughout the United States and Canada. The program offers approximately 120 courses and lectures per year in subjects that range from liberal arts to natural sciences. Each course is presented by CSUEB emeritus faculty and other subject matter experts. OLLI’s mission is to provide a rich learning environment for mature learners which fosters creativity, self-discovery and peer education. Instructors do not assign homework, tests or grades to its members.

There are 170 OLLI programs offered around the country, most of them affiliated with a university. Many lost significant membership due to the pandemic, but OLLI at CSUEB Concord was able to quickly transfer its lectures online and currently has more than 1,100 members. It’s one of the largest OLLI programs in the country.

“I’m proud of our OLLI members and the board on how well they’ve adapted to moving online due to COVID,” said Cutting. “They were able to take on the challenge and keep this program viable and growing even in these circumstances. It’s great to see it flourishing.”

In the past, OLLI courses were hosted at CSUEB Concord by local lecturers and retired professors. Since most courses have moved online during the pandemic, OLLI was able to thrive by inviting professors from other parts of the country, including two from University of Maryland and Carnegie Mellon University. Expanding the courses online eliminated class size limits and also inspired more students outside the Bay Area to join, including one from New Zealand.

“There’s lots of research that shows keeping the mind active is important when we become older and that we stay younger by continuing to learn,” said Carl Bellone, chair of OLLI’s marketing team and a board of advisors member. “OLLI is a great way to keep learning and find out about things that you may not have had time in your professional career to study. It’s a way to fill in the gaps of things you wanted to know but never had the time.”

Both Cutting and Bellone enjoyed the event, each saying how fun it was to see everyone mingling and attending an in-person gathering after not being able to in 2020.

“It was great to hear the live performance, and this night was a chance to visit with friends we hadn’t seen in a long time,” said Bellone. “It was a wonderful, warm experience.”