Assumption Welcomes Worcester’s Seniors to WISE Up
The following article appeared in the Winter 2021 issue of The Chamber Exchange newsletter, a quarterly publication of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce.
WORCESTER - The Worcester Institute for Senior Education (WISE) hosted by Assumption University makes it easy for lifelong learners to stay engaged with 30 rotating courses. Offerings range from uplifting to mysterious with unique selections like “Great Movie Music,” “Introduction to Bird Watching,” and “Imposters, Con Artists and Their Webs of Deception.” Assumption President Dr. Francesco C. Cesareo says religion and politics courses have become the most popular programs in recent years, adding that WISE has grown a great deal since its inception in 1992.
“WISE began with a small group of individuals who were about to retire,” Cesareo explains. “They were wondering what the next chapter in their lives would be like.” He credits the leadership of Maddie Levine and Shirley Weinstein who sought the assistance of Assumption’s former dean of Continuing Education, Charlene Martin. Martin agreed to organize an open house, anticipating a small turnout.
“They didn’t know how many people would show up,” recalls Cesareo, “Maybe a handful — maybe 20.” Martin was shocked when 300 people arrived at Assumption to learn more about opportunities for senior peer-to-peer education. The initial gathering demonstrated a powerful need in the community. Organizers began recruiting former professors, attorneys, and the like to develop a curriculum for older adult learners. WISE was gaining momentum, fast.
Seniors on Campus and Abroad
In 1993, WISE signed an ofﬁcial site agreement with Assumption, distinguishing their status as an independent autonomous entity. Soon, senior citizens began turning up in the dining hall and the library. Assumption immediately recognized the positive impact WISE was having on its campus culture. WISE members began traveling together to far-off destinations like Israel, the United Kingdom, and Italy. Membership skyrocketed to over 400 “older adults” in the ﬁrst two decades of WISE’s existence.
Cesareo believes WISE speaks directly to Assumption’s mission for undergraduates by demonstrating learning as a lifelong process. He says, “Our undergraduates get to witness that learning does not end once you get your degree and go out into the world; learning is constantly taking place throughout your life.” Cesareo especially enjoys seeing WISE members participate in guest lectures, band performances, and theater productions at the university. “It’s really an exchange between generations,” he concludes.
Programming in a Pandemic
Enthusiastic participants were not deterred when COVID-19 pushed WISE into the virtual learning space. On the contrary, Zoom classes made it possible for seniors to work re-motely from wherever they might be quarantining. Students are currently enrolled from as far away as Washington State and the Caribbean.
Organizers continue to encourage enrollment with the moniker, “Join us wherever you are, wearing whatever you’re wearing.” Still, WISE members are eager to get back into the lecture halls of Assumption as soon as possible.
Look back through the WISE Face-book page for a taste of normalcy. Photos reveal smiling seniors hiking together on New England trails, trips to historic landmarks, brown bag lectures, and outings to the Worcester Art Museum’s annual ‘Flora in Winter’ event. The feed is ﬂush with interesting articles from The New Yorker and Smithsonian Magazine, and even an invitation to a virtual night in “The City of Lights” — Paris. WISE is a model of perseverance.
For Assumption, generational diversity is only the beginning. Along with Vice President Conway Campbell, Cesareo is pushing a diversity initiative within WISE to better reﬂect the demographics of Worcester. WISE’s Diversity Initiative aims to achieve the following goals, “To give opportunities to members of other cultures, minority groups, religions and genders to participate in WISE membership, including leadership positions” and “to break barriers of communication among members of different com-munities and learn about the rich culture of diverse populations.” Campbell is in the process of meeting with a variety of community leaders in hopes that WISE continues to grow as a welcoming resource for seniors of all identities from every corner of the city.
Not sure if you qualify for WISE? The term “senior” is self-deﬁned. Members are free to enroll in as many courses as they’d like. Spring memberships start at $165 with a limited number of scholarships available by request. Members can upgrade to a full-year membership for an additional $100. WISE also facilitates movie and book clubs, along with a number of special interest groups (SIG) like ‘Environmental SIG’ and ‘Supreme Court SIG.’
Visit www.assumptionwise.org to browse spring course offerings and learn more about what WISE can do for you.
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