LLI Spotlight:  Marilyn Schorin, President, Veritas Society, Bellarmine University, Louisville, Ky.

By Peter Spiers

The Veritas Society at Bellarmine University was founded in 1995 by a group of Bellarmine alumni who wanted to bring the lifelong learning experience into their community.  They approached the university about the idea and found a receptive ear — Bellarmine strongly supported continuing education for people 55 and older.  Today Veritas has 400 members and reaches well beyond Bellarmine into the broader Louisville community and is non-denominational despite the university’s status as a Catholic institution.  Members pay dues of $40 per six-week semester ($20 for the shorter summer term) and $10 for each class they take.  Privileges of membership include on-campus parking, access to the library and the gym, and a weekly lunch and learn program featuring speakers from Louisville’s civic as well as academic communities.  Marilyn Schorin works as a corporate consultant and her role as president is a volunteer one, supported by two half-time administrative staff in the Bellarmine School of Continuing and Professional Studies.  Oversight at Veritas is provided by a Board of Directors with a president, vice president, secretary and representatives from standing committees that include Curriculum, Field Trips, Special Events, Volunteers, Lunch and Learn, Finance and Newsletter.

What do you consider your major responsibilities at Veritas? I have both a strategic and a tactical responsibility.  Strategically, we want to plan for a vibrant, sustainable future in the community.  Tactically, I must ensure, in conjunction with the board, a transparent organization that is responsive to its members.  In addition, I serve as liaison to the university, working with Continuing Ed, IT and other departments to help create a smooth operation.

How is your relationship with Bellarmine?  We have a brand-new president who will be installed in October, so that’s a relationship that is developing.  Veritas continues to maintain a very constructive relationship with the VP for Continuing and Professional Studies.  Although classroom space is limited, we have not explored classroom space outside the university because our members really like the energy they feel when they come to campus, even though some of our special interest groups go off campus for activities like movies and dinner or healthy eating, where group members learn how to decode restaurant menus to make wise nutritional choices.  

What role do volunteers play at Veritas?  We have 15 or 20 volunteers who help with everything, from producing the newsletter to organizing field trips to helping plan events and getting brochures in the mail.  Veritas has an active, participatory group of members — one of the strengths of the program is that it’s not just a set of classes, but a community.

What are some favorite courses you offer?  We have a number of extremely popular instructors and it’s very competitive to get into their courses.  One is a retired Foreign Service Officer who regularly teaches courses on the Middle East.  Others include Bellarmine professors of history and music.  My academic and career background is nutrition science and I teach that subject.  Like a lot of LLIs, we have members who have a recreational passion for a topic, such as a financial advisor who is encyclopedic about Winston Churchill.  We don’t offer craft or “how to” programming — our curriculum motto is “Understanding the World.”  We have no shortage of people who want to teach.  Veritas doesn’t formally coach on teaching or techniques for classroom facilitation, though we solicit evaluations from members using Survey Monkey and work with certain teachers to change their approach or scope or, rarely, not invite them to teach another course.  New subjects of interest — like Russia or the U.S. Constitution — reflect current issues and concerns. 

What developments do you see in the future for your LLI or for the Lifelong Learning Movement more broadly?  We’re anticipating increased demand as Baby Boomers retire, and our challenge will be how to adapt to that generation’s interests.  Though we don’t see adding classrooms off campus, we do see more interest in experiential learning in the form of field trips to museums, historic homes, other college campuses, or nearby cities like Indianapolis and Cincinnati.  Our Lunch and Learn program also satisfies an interest in learning in smaller increments than a full semester.  Our Lunch and Learn speakers have included Ed Hamilton, an internationally renowned, Louisville-based sculptor who has created statues of Booker T. Washington and Abraham Lincoln; Jerry Abramson, the former mayor of Louisville; as well as speakers from regional arts institutions and even utilities.  Our members can bring their friends to Lunch and Learn presentations, so it’s also a new member marketing tool.  Lastly, we’re considering shorter courses to better fit into Baby Boomers’ busy schedules.

What did you do before you came to Veritas?  For most of my career I’ve worked for big food companies.  I moved to Louisville to work for Yum! Brands, the parent corporation of KFC, and led the effort to eliminate trans fats.  Now I’m consulting on nutrition with food companies around the country, so I have a lot of flexibility in my schedule.  I came to Veritas as a member first and got interested in being more involved in this learning community where there’s so much wisdom and experience.  I took some classes, then taught some classes, and chaired the Finance Committee before becoming president. 

Where would you most like to travel to that you haven’t visited already?  I traveled a lot for work, and even wrote a guidebook to Asia, but I’ve never been to Russia and would like to go in the coming year.  I really want to see the Kremlin, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, and will definitely include the Baltic countries in my trip!   

Tell me about a book you’ve read or podcast you’ve listened to that you would recommend to others?  I loved Michael Lewis’ The Undoing Project, about the research partnership of psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky.  They demonstrated some of the ways human decision-making is naturally prone to errors.  Their work has had wide-ranging impact in economics, medicine and human behavior.  Today, it is even being used to develop algorithms behind self-driving cars, which might someday help our members get to Veritas when they can no longer drive themselves!