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An enriching experience

In the University College Enrichment Program, community members learn and share ideas on topics including the art of the organ. Photo: Michael Richmond

Earning a master’s degree in business management and going on to retire from a career as a training director for a bank system is a pretty good way round out a resume.

At least that was what Jane Nielsen thought until she started taking courses through University College’s Enrichment Program, where she’s been a regular for past two years. When Nielsen first enrolled in the program with a friend, she didn’t expect that the experience would compel her to return to her former graduate-student status. She’s now pursuing a second master’s degree — in liberal arts at DU’s University College.

“Sometimes you forget how exciting it is to learn and share new ideas,” Nielsen says. “Once you start doing it, you get hooked. And I’m hooked.”

Since fall 2003, University College has been offering enrichment courses, lectures and seminars — sans the grades and exams — to adult learners. Through partnerships with organizations such as Opera Colorado, the Denver Botanic Gardens and several DU schools and colleges, the program offers noncredit courses in subjects including art, nature and science, religion and literature. Upon request, participants can receive a certificate of completion.

“Students’ desire to engage themselves in lifelong learning is what drives the success of the program,” Nielsen says. It was that desire that made her husband, Wayne, an investment banker, want to get in on the action, too.

Over the past two years, the couple has taken enrichment courses in topics ranging from politics and globalization to health care and antiques.

“The University has made an enhanced effort to reach out to the community,” Nielsen says. “It’s one of the hidden jewels of living in metro Denver. It seems almost insane not to take advantage of it.”

This fall, Stephen Seifert, executive director at DU’s Newman Center for the Performing Arts, taught an Enrichment Program course that focused on the opera Carmen and Denver’s Ellie Caulkins Opera House. Over four sessions, the class participated in a tour, met the opera house’s architect and the opera company’s artistic director, and attended the opera.

The course helps people deepen the quality of their opera experience, Siefert says. “They’re doing it for the love of learning and the opportunity to get in-depth about a particular topic. They don’t need a grade or degree.”

Members of the community can take Enrichment Program courses for $170-$210 for a three or four-week session.

“There is a demand out there. If you offer a good, reliable product that provides knowledge, people will take advantage of it,” says Seifert, who notes that part of DU’s mission is to serve the community.

English Professor Eric Gould knows first hand that there is a population of adult learners who want to talk seriously about literature and culture. Gould’s Travel by Book course is always filled, and he says he thinks of the participants as co-readers rather than students.

“I’m very impressed by the quality of the participants in the program,” he says. “They are not just arguing facts but trading opinions with peers and professors.”

He says the older students typically have had interesting and exotic life experiences. “Many of the students have lived in foreign lands, which has changed their perspective of the world,” he says. “They are able to look to their international experience and relate to the literature.”

Gould adds that DU’s enrichment courses are not better or worse than graduate or undergraduate courses, but different.

“The function of the University is to feed the mind at every stage of its development,” he says.

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