LLI Spotlight: Heather Jasmin, Program Coordinator, Cheshire Academy for Lifelong Learning (CALL), Keene State College, Keene, New Hampshire

By Peter Spiers

The Cheshire Academy for Lifelong Learning (CALL) was founded in 1994 at Keene State College in the southwestern corner of New Hampshire. (Keene State was one of the five college campuses in New Hampshire that hosted Elderhostel programs during its founding summer in 1975.) Unlike many LLIs, CALL is administered and run by the college from its Office of Continuing Education rather than by a cadre of volunteer members. Heather Jasmin has served as CALL’s program coordinator for 11 years and has additional responsibilities for children’s programming, summer conferencing, and assists with teacher professional development programming. About half of CALL’s 450 members were drawn to southwest New Hampshire in retirement, in part because of the state’s favorable tax environment for retirees, while other members are longtime residents. With the exception of a small satellite location offering Thursday programs in a neighboring town, all programs are offered on Fridays, on campus.

What do you consider your top 3-5 responsibilities at CALL?

Without volunteers and committees to manage and monitor, I can focus on operations —developing curriculum and setting the class schedule, hiring faculty, and in general making sure everything runs smoothly — and on marketing and publicizing the program. I carefully mine our course evaluations not only to monitor quality but also to get ideas for the next semester and the next year. I’m fortunate to have a constant flow of people from our membership, campus and community coming forward with new ideas for programming, like our campus safety director, who proposed a course on self-defense for women, and a member of Keene State’s biology faculty, who is teaching a unit focusing on the human immune system pulled from an undergraduate course he taught several semesters ago.

What did you do before you came to CALL?

I’ve worked at Keene State for 26 years, and before coming to the Office for Continuing Education I worked as an information technologist in the Institutional Research department. That’s the department responsible for reporting data to the federal government on student satisfaction and student body demographics and statistics. It was great preparation because I learned a lot about the college and made a lot of contacts in the community, and my skills in technology help me in everything from database management to jumping in to solve AV problems in the classroom. Since I’ve been at CALL, my contacts in the community have only widened, and I’ve kept my technology skills up to date by teaching computer courses at CALL and through our Continuing Education programming.

What are some favorite courses you offer?

I’m really excited about three upcoming courses. The first is an introduction to local government, and the impetus for the course came from a new member who had recently moved to the area and wanted to understand how local government in New Hampshire worked. We approached a faculty member who loved the idea but didn’t have time, and then turned to a state representative who got very excited and agreed to teach the course. Another interesting course will be offered by a KSC faculty member and will focus on forgiveness and restorative justice. Our members love to write and in this course they’ll write letters to people who they feel may have wronged them in the past but who have died or dropped out of their lives. A third course will introduce our members to the variety of Latin American cooking and will be led by a local restaurateur, aided by student interns who are studying dietary science.

I’d also like to share a story about a wonderful learning moment from a recent course. In a course on astronomy, the instructor brought in sealed boxes, passed one out to each student, and asked everyone to describe what was in his or her box. Some were heavy, some rattled when you shook them, and each had its own unique properties. He collected the boxes and the students asked if they could open them and see what was inside. He told them that they couldn’t, but that they had just learned a lesson about how astronomers have to observe the universe indirectly and over great expanses of time and distance. It was a moment that no one who was there has forgotten.

Tell me about a member, or members, who has made a significant contribution to the OLLI’s success?

All of our members are great! They are constantly advocating for our program and our college in the community, and have been a very positive force in town/gown relations, in supporting our president, and in encouraging our students. Though we’re not volunteer-run, many members have devoted themselves to our organization. I’d call out Marilyn, who helps to create a book of CALL members’ writings each year; Jimmie and Judy, who taught courses on theater and earth sciences for years without pay (most of our instructors receive a small stipend); Margaret, who has presented about teaching at CALL in lifelong learning conferences; Debbie and Dwight, who created a book club and also worked with our campus to create Intergenerational dinners; Jules, who runs our Great Decisions program; and a group of members including some of the people I’ve already mentioned, as well as Paul and Sussan, Dan and George, who formed a committee to raise money from CALL members to continue to support our program.

What developments do you see in the future for CALL or the Lifelong Learning Movement more broadly?

We are growing substantially each year, and I expect that pattern to continue. We are starting to reach capacity for Fridays, but are considering an expansion into Saturdays. We would also like to extend to other sites within our region.

We continue to strengthen our relationship with the college, with more KSC teachers also teaching for CALL and inviting CALL members to events and classes. Even more exciting, student support departments on campus are beginning to see the value in Intergenerational community-based support systems. Last semester they began a monthly Intergenerational dinner series, and this semester we’re starting to think about how our members can support the student body by hosting kids who can’t go home for the holidays. We also see Intergenerational programming for grandparents and their grandchildren on the horizon.

What was your formal education?

I have a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and Management from Keene State, and an MBA from Plymouth State.

Is there another LLI you admire and have learned something from?

In New Hampshire, the OLLI at Dartmouth is the gold standard, but the Adventures in Learning (AIL) program at Colby-Sawyer College is more like our program. Janet St. Laurent there was a great help to me, always willing to answer my questions.

Is there a book you’ve read for pleasure recently that you would recommend to others?

I have recently completed “Enrique’s Journey,” by Sonia Nazario. It’s about child immigration, where a child travels from Honduras to find his mother in America. It has helped me think about why people immigrate, and what they go through to get here. I have just recently begun “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis,” by Robert Putnam, one of the 2015-2016 selections for the Keene is Reading (KIR) project, where the community reads a book together and has a series of events that tie into the themes. The KIR project is just another great example of why CALL, KSC, and the town of Keene together make such a great learning community.