LLI Spotlight:  Lifelong Learning at Wofford (Spartanburg, S.C.), Morgan Jordan, Director

By Peter Spiers

Lifelong Learning at Wofford was founded in 2015 by Charlie Gray, a graduate of Wofford and for many years the college’s director of alumni and parents associations.  The organization attracted 180 students in its first term; at the end of Lifelong Learning’s first year of operation Gray retired and Morgan Jordan was hired as Director.  Since then membership has grown to 400.  Members pay an annual fee of $50 which covers catalog mailing costs, participation in all Roundtable Discussion (on topics ranging from politics and culture to history and the local community), and participation in one-time events and workshops.  Eight-week classes cost an additional $40 per class.  Lifelong Learning is part of the college’s Advancement Office but a volunteer advisory committee, composed of instructors, members, and faculty liaison, works “in the interest of the program to develop course material, promote and market the program in the community, and strategically grow the program with members and support.”  Other volunteers serve as class liaisons.  They’re typically enrolled in the class but volunteer to come early and assist the instructor with tasks such as classroom and audio-visual setup, and making coffee.  Two-thirds of Lifelong Learning’s members are from Spartanburg, a city that boasts affordable housing, professional theater, and a philharmonic orchestra.  People have moved there from all over the country, attracted to Spartanburg’s small town feel.   

What do you consider your major responsibilities at Wofford?

I’m a staff of one—with an administrative assistant I share with two other departments—so I do a little bit of everything involved with planning and executing the classes and events. I also work at maintaining support and the great relationships we have within the college for the program.  No one expected us to more than double our membership in just three years. While we are all excited about the progress, double the membership means double the work!

How does curriculum development work?  What are some favorite courses you offer?

Ideas come from many sources.  Members make suggestions, instructors submit their ideas, or I’ll get an idea and go out and approach someone to teach it.  Our instructors include retired faculty from Wofford and other colleges, members with a passion for a particular subject, and people from the community.

Some instructors have taught for several semesters and have developed a following.  Dr. Maxine Appleby is an expert on Appalachian women.  She’s teaching a course this term called “Folktales, Folk Medicines, and Folk Music” and in the class she demonstrates how to make tinctures, poultices, and other herbal medicines.  Brenda Lytle teaches a series in her own home called “Eat to Live, Eat to Thrive!” for a limited group of eight people each term.  Dr. Gregory Boeshaar, a retired NASA scientist, has taught classes blending science and science fiction, and this term is teaching a course on how humans and dogs communicate.  Coming up for the fall we’re planning new courses on wine appreciation and science and art in the Renaissance.

We don’t formally train our instructors since many have either taken classes and know the format or are retired teachers and professors who know a lot about teaching.  We do provide a short orientation focusing on how to create a participatory classroom environment for older students, and we ask members to fill out course evaluations after each class, and twice a year fill out a survey about their satisfaction with and ideas for the entire program.

Are there other LLIs you network with or have learned from? 

Advisory Committee chair John Simmons and I took a road trip to learn from Catherine Frank, Executive Director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UNC-Asheville, and I continue to learn from that program by talking to them at conferences and looking at her catalog.  They’ve done such a great job of building relationships with the Asheville community.  We also talk to the Osher folks at Clemson, where they have a small staff like ours. I like how their building is set in a senior residential community where people can walk to classes, go out afterwards for pizza, and walk back home. 

What is your major longer-term or strategic focus?

We need to update our information management systems.  Now we’re managing enrollment and other tasks manually and with spreadsheets, and we use the college’s system for membership lists and emails.  A system that brings all of these pieces together would be a big help.

As we grow, we will also need to explore the best locations to hold classes.  At the moment, we hold our classes at Central United Methodist Church, where they have an education building and a big parking lot.  It’s close to campus and the church and college have a history of collaboration and support. However, if the growth continues at a rapid rate, we’ll want to explore how we can best suit the classroom and support needs of a growing member enrollment.

What did you do before you came to Wofford? 

I’m one of those Millennials who graduated from college at the worst time, just as the 2008-2009 recession was hitting and, to put it positively, I got the opportunity to explore many jobs.  My degree is in professional writing, and I’ve been an adjunct professor teaching writing and English, but I’ve also worked at gas stations, interned at a farm in North Carolina, and I spent a summer teaching English in China.  I heard about the job at Wofford from someone who knew Charlie Gray who I met while I was taking a blacksmithing course at the John C. Campbell Folk School.  I’ve got stories and I’ve been places, and I learned what I am made of and how to live on a budget!

Where would you most like to travel to that you haven’t visited already?

I loved my time in China and I would really love to go to Tibet.  I’ve always dreamed of going to Lhasa and to the Himalayas, and also to the Australian Outback, Japan, and Cambodia.  My dream would be to bicycle through these places, and stop and drink tea on the side of the mountains with the local people.   

Tell me about a book you’ve read or podcast you’ve listened to that you would recommend to others? 

I’m typically reading four books at a time, and right now I have the travel writing bug.  I’m reading “Walking the Himalayas” by Levison Wood and “The Buddha Walks into the Office:  A Guide to Livelihood for a New Generation” by Lodro Rinzler.  My friend who works in a bookstore in town loaned me an advance copy of a book coming out this summer called “Lands of Lost Borders:  A Journey on the Silk Road” by Kate Harris.  I’ve learned from these books that in life you have to be like a bamboo pole so you’ll bend—but not break.