The United States of Emeritus

Instructor Lyndelle Stonick goes over different methods of watercolor techniques in which students apply to their projects. (Breanna Greenup / Lariat)

Instructor Lyndelle Stonick goes over different methods of watercolor techniques in which students apply to their projects. (Breanna Greenup / Lariat)

I want you to picture what you think the average college student looks like. I bet you just envisioned an 18 to 22 year old who is broke, sleep deprived and is doing their best to get through school and start a career. Now think of the opposite.

Think about a student who is eager and passionate to learn, purely for the simple joy of learning. This is a student who does not feel the pressure to attain a degree, but simply takes classes to feed their hunger to learn more and pursue their passions. What if I told you there was such a student here at Saddleback College and that these students make up almost a quarter of our student population.

The Emeritus Institute at Saddleback College is what makes up this student group. These students truly are the opposite of what is typically envisioned when thinking of a college student. This is why they are unintentionally placed under the radar here on campus.

It’s mainly because not many students on campus actually know about Emeritus or its students, particularly due to the fact that most classes take place off campus in Laguna Woods or in local community centers. This is why it has become a particular goal of the Emeritus faculty to make people more aware of the program.

“The program is entering into its 40th anniversary in 2016 and we’re really focusing on different ways we can make people aware of it,” said Dan Predoel, director of the Emeritus Institute.

The Emeritus institute is a program that is catered to and is primarily made up of the elderly population here in Southern Orange County. This division of Saddleback College is set up to provide and meet the educational needs of Orange County’s senior community, with the goal, in which Predoehl says, to ultimately enrich their lives.

“The program is focused on four key areas,” Predoehl said. “Our mission is to promote lifelong learning by providing an academically rigorous, mentally stimulating, socially engaging and physically strengthening courses for older adults.”

The program originated back in the ‘60s as a government sponsored research project to study the effects of physical activity in the older population. Fast forward to 2015 and this research project has developed into a fully fledged educational program that offers nearly 220 sections of classes ranging anything from fitness to history and art.

Even though the program has significantly grown over the past four decades, Predoehl recognizes that there is still a lot of room for growth and improvement.

“The goal is to reach more older adults,” Predoehl said. “Even though we have about 5,300 students, there are thousands of older adults in South Orange County, who aren’t yet taking Emeritus classes.”

What’s unique about this program is that there is no enrollment fee for the classes and compared to the typical college class, there are no tests, no grades and no pressing deadlines. This makes it simple and easy for an Emeritus student to enroll and participate in the class. All that is needed is a sense of personal motivation and desire to learn something new.

Professors of the program, such as Professor Lyndelle Stonick, recognizes that this aspect of the program is important to its success. It is this factor of the program that allows students the freedom to explore different interests and possibly develop a new passion.

“The students here don’t get graded,” Stonick said. “My students are eager to get their homework done, they apologize when they don’t get it done and most of them find a way to make it up.”

That’s not to say that teaching these classes isn’t a challenge. Most of the students of Emeritus are former professionals, with years of life experience under their belts. Even Professor Gerald Binder, Emeritus Professor of the Year, has been noted to say that ‘it’s his students that have taught him, and what he’s learned from them are life skills.’

It’s because of his student’s life experiences that Binder says he has to stay mindful when planning lessons.

“You don’t really know who’s here, they can be former district attorneys, novelists, ambassadors, CEOs or professors,” Binder said. “So you have to be mindful of who your audience is and understand that much of what I’m lecturing about in a book, they’ve lived.”

Another element of Emeritus is its presence in the community and how it encompasses the idea of what it is to be a community college. There is often the misconception that a community college is catered strictly to the younger adult. However, it’s catered to all age groups ranging from kindergarten to senior citizens. Elsa Amadin, an Administrative Assistant of Emeritus, believes that by supporting Emeritus, Saddleback College lives up to the idea of a community.

“We are a community college and I really feel that Saddleback College does cover all the generations,” Amadin said. “Saddleback offers college for kids, the primary population [18 to 22 year olds], adult education and the Emeritus Institute.”

With that said, there is also the notion that although Emeritus is catered to elder adults, its classes aren’t limited to that of a particular age group. Dan Predoehl says if a younger adult felt inclined, they could apply to enroll in a class.

“The program is designed and meant for older adults, but anyone can take the courses,” said Predoehl. “There is this concept of inter-generational learning that happens within courses if people are willing to let it happen.”

While the program does have cases in which younger adults enroll in the courses, Professor Lyndelle Stonick recounts that it’s a very rare occurrence and that these students often feel intimidated.

“Emeritus does not exclude young people in classes and we do get them,” Stonick said. “It’s been sort of on and off and I know sometimes they feel a little bit intimidated because everyone is older.”

Despite the unlikelihood of a younger adult enrolling, Elsa Amadin even entertained the idea of inter-generational learning, saying that she would like to see it in the future.

“I would like to see more interaction between the seniors and the younger students,” Amadin said.

Perhaps the interaction between younger adults and elder adults in the classroom would prove to be beneficial socially and intellectually for both parties and could be an added aspect to the program in the near future. This alone could enrich the social aspect of the Emeritus Institute.

Student’s themselves even recount the positive effects Emeritus has had on both theirs and their classmates lives. Leigh Gaston, a comparably younger student of Emeritus, has seen firsthand how the program helps the more elderly students.

“It’s better than just sitting, especially for older people,” Gaston said. “Instead of being alone, they have all of this social interaction, they’re healthier and they make friends.”

Penny Stein, another student of Emeritus also recognizes how critically important it is for herself and other seniors to stay active and to have something to be involved in. Stein recently moved to Orange County and Emeritus gave her the opportunity to meet new people and try new activities.

“To me, taking these classes are really important because it keeps you involved and it keeps you being able to learn,” Stein said. “And as a senior that’s really important because it’s easy to become isolated.”

It seems that the goal of this program is to find and maintain a passion, while developing new relationships in the process. Professor Lyndelle Stonick recognizes the importance of maintaining a sense of curiosity, while continuously finding ways to grow in everyday life. It is in these key concepts that we find ways to maintain lifelong learning and health in not just old age, but any age.

“If you don’t have something that motivates you, makes you curious and makes you want to grow—you’re stagnating,” Stonick said. “And stagnation is death.”