LLI Spotlight: Liz Tiley, Manager, Five College Learning in Retirement

By Peter Spiers 

Five College Learning in Retirement was formed in 1988 and is sponsored by Five Colleges, Inc., a consortium of four colleges and one university in Western Massachusetts—Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mt. Holyoke College, Smith College, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Liz Tiley as been the organization’s Manager since 2013.

What do you consider your top three to five responsibilities at Five College Learning in Retirement (5CLIR)?

My two main responsibilities are helping current and prospective members, and supporting the officers, nine-member council and committee chairs that govern 5CLIR. Beyond that I have three other big tasks—handing all the administrative details like scheduling venues, processing payments and disbursements, designing our catalogs and website, and managing our member database.

What did you do before you came to 5CLIR?
I still do it! I own a blacksmith shop called Williamsburg Blacksmiths. It’s been in my family for three generations and I’ve worked there since I was 16 years old. I can do basic blacksmithing but for the most part I do all the same small business tasks that I do at 5CLIR. It was great training!

What are some course favorites at 5CLIR?
A big favorite now is a course called “1,000 Foods to Eat Before You Die” where participants take turns hosting the class in their homes with food which they prepare and discuss. Because of the format and our ten-week term, the course can only enroll eight, so there’s a long waiting list. “Writing to Remember” is also very popular. Retired seniors think a lot about their extensive life experiences and are eager to write and share them with others. Our members are widely dispersed so we offer two sessions of this course, one on each side of “the [Connecticut] river”. Another favorite is anything led by member Jim Harvey, who usually moderates seminars integrating current events and history and has a knack for engaging both students exposed to the material for the first time and those who know it well.

Tell me about a member of 5CLIR who has made a significant contribution to the organization’s success…
It’s really a core group of about 40-60 people who have been leaders and volunteers for many years. Hy Edelstein compiles detailed statistics about the organization gathered from new member surveys. Chuck Gillies, one of our past presidents, is now taking a formal role in development and fundraising. Larry Ambs, a retired UMass professor, has really helped us foster strong relations with Five Colleges, Inc. And there are so many others.

Is there another LLI you admire and have learned something from?
There are two here in Massachusetts. I’ve learned and copied a lot from the OLLI at UMass Boston catalogs, and I’m inspired by the work they’re doing to provide courses and lectures through video conferencing for location bound members. And the OLLI at Berkshire Community College is another source of inspiration because, like us, they work with a group of colleges. Their website has a page dedicated to acknowledging community partners and I plan to add a page like that to our website.

What developments do you see in the future for 5CLIR or for the LLI movement more broadly?
I’m very interested in the potential for online learning. I enrolled but never completed an edX course, and I’m currently enrolled in the UMass Amherst graduate program in business, most of which is taught online.

What was your formal education?
I started out as oboe performance student at the Hartt School of Music at the University of Hartford in Connecticut but transferred and graduated from Smith College where I majored in government.

Where would you like to travel to?
My most memorable experience was snorkeling with sea lions in the Galapagos Islands and now I dream about visiting New Zealand. I’m really attracted by its lushness and the variety of natural environments.

Is there a book you’ve read for pleasure recently that you would recommend to others?
With 5CLIR and the blacksmith shop keeping me busy, the only reading I’m doing is for my graduate business program. I find it fascinating but I’m not sure anyone else would!