Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Program for older learners has record enrollment

In its 10th year, the Vibrant, Intellectually Vigorous Adults (VIVA) program, designed for learners age 55 and older, has reached record enrollment this quarter with 625 students in 31 courses.

VIVA Director Vonnie Wheeler says all of the fall classes are full and most have waiting lists.

VIVA is offered by DU’s University College and geared to attract baby boomers who wish to exercise their mental agility in a non-competitive atmosphere. VIVA courses have no tests, no grades and often no required books to purchase.

Retired attorney Bob Backus has been taking VIVA courses since they were first offered a decade ago. His first course was in chaos theory. Since then, he’s enrolled in approximately 50 VIVA courses on topics ranging from science to creative writing.

“It’s intellectually stimulating, fun and a chance to meet new people,” Backus says. “It’s an opportunity to learn about new things.”

The most popular courses this term include More and More Jazz, which covers jazz history and includes performances; Genetics for the Consumers, which offers an overview of genetics and discussion about the benefits and pitfalls of genetics’ use in medicine; and the Search for Modern China, an in-depth look at the country’s political and economic changes since the 1800s.

One of the more unusual aspects of the program is that course instructors are not academics, says Wheeler.

“The majority of VIVA facilitators have never taught a class in their lives but find that one of the most enjoyable ways to learn is to delve into a topic and pass the knowledge along,” Wheeler says.

Backus ended up facilitating a chaos theory course of his own. He says VIVA facilitators have the freedom to design courses to be more than just reading and discussing books. Students, too, have more freedom in VIVA classes.

“There’s no pressure [on students] to do anything. If you don’t want to participate in a discussion, no one pushes you,” he says.

Courses cost $100 per term or $290 per year (three terms) for individuals and $475 per year for couples (two people living at the same address). Courses last ten weeks. For more, call 303-871-3090 or visit VIVA.

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