LLI Spotlight: Julie Martenson, Ph.D., OLLI Director, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, University of Texas at Austin

By Peter Spiers

Julie Martenson joined OLLI at The University of Texas in 2015. The OLLI @ UT has 1,914 total members and uniquely among OLLIs and LLIs has five separate and distinct programs —each with its own membership — under the larger OLLI umbrella.
What do you consider your top 3-5 responsibilities at OLLI? The advantage of our decentralized program structure is that our members can find more intimate social engagement and make strong friendships in a small group that would be more difficult if we were one large program with nearly 2,000 members. Each of our five programs not only has its own membership but also its own personality and culture, and members are so fiercely loyal to their program that there’s even a little competition between them. From an administrative point of view it’s unwieldy, and so far I’ve been focusing on working to introduce more universal processes that go beyond just encouraging each program to follow a set of best practices. We’ve pulled together volunteer leadership from each program to draft a “foundation document” containing rules for the governance and use of each program’s Excellence Fund — member-raised funds for expenses not covered by regular operational funds like grants awarded to university departments or buying wine for guests at social events. That document has been completed and submitted to the membership for comment.