Instead of young whippersnappers whizzing through the Student Union on longboards, you may have noticed gray-haired fogeys inching by with canes and walkers. But this group shares the same desire as its younger counterparts: to learn at UCF.
Every Tuesday morning, the Learning Institute for Elders at UCF, otherwise known as LIFE, holds lectures at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. on topics ranging from music to biomolecular sciences, all to aid in “successful aging.”
“I think the basic thing is that one never stops learning. … Learning is, in fact, a lifelong process, and particularly for older adults, many of whom have retired, this is a way to keep the mind active,” said Richard Tucker, UCF liaison and one of the founders of LIFE.
The nonprofit, which began in 1991, has become a hub of information for its about 580 members.
Speakers come from the Central Florida area, nearby colleges and UCF itself, with professors, experts and even fellow LIFE members speaking on a number of topics. Members get to choose the topics that interest them, and the presentations and speakers are booked up to a year in advance.
Since its inception almost 25 years ago, LIFE has contributed more than $500,000 to UCF through its awards and grants programs, according to the LIFE website.
“We turn over more than half of our tuition back to the university through our grants program,” said Tucker, who noted that the $150 membership fee is among the lowest in the nation, due to its reliance on the volunteer efforts from the members.
At the beginning of each semester, LIFE hosts a food drive to benefit Knights Helping Knights Pantry. Last year, it collected almost 1,500 pounds of food, toiletries and personal supplies for the Pantry.
Lynn Trivett, a LIFE member of five years and food drive coordinator, said LIFE collected 1022.5 pounds of food at the Sept. 29 drive.
LIFE will be collecting food again Tuesday by the bus loop behind the Student Union for people who could not make the last event.
“It’s hard to imagine that any of the kids in college will be hungry, but then when you stop to think about what they have to pay — for tuition, for their books and for their housing — and the other things that they have, it doesn’t leave them a lot left over,” Trivett said.
He also noted a higher financial donation amount this year than in years prior. Members have already donated $255 to the Pantry fund, in addition to the $500 LIFE gives to the Pantry at the beginning of every year.
“Our members have been really generous and really responsive to this Pantry. They like the idea of it,” he said.
LIFE is a popular program to join, and the wait list can take up to two years to get through, according to the website. Members range from around 55 to 90-plus, and most are retired.
As learning is the No. 1 priority at LIFE, anyone, including UCF students, are welcome to join the presentations that take place in the Pegasus Ballroom.
When LIFE first started, lectures were held across from campus in a movie theater that has since gone out of business. However, the members felt that the connection to UCF and its students wasn’t as strong as it could have been, sparking the move to the high-traffic zone of the Union in the early 2000s.
“[LIFE members] are very much invigorated by being in the heart of campus,” Tucker said.
Tucker, who has also been an emeritus professor of psychology since 2006, specializes in gerontology, or the study of aging, and has had experience both presenting to LIFE members and lecturing in front of UCF students.
“It’s a pleasure to be a faculty member and speak to a group that’s there because they want to be. They are particularly attentive and they ask great questions. … It’s been my experience in classrooms that probably the most frequently asked question is, ‘Is that going to be on the exam?’” Tucker said with a laugh. “We don’t worry about that in the LIFE program; we don’t have exams.”
Noelle Campbell is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @Noellecampz or email her at NoelleC@CentralFloridaFuture.com.