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The All Volunteer Alma Mater

There is a team working at Senior College now that did not exist before Covid.

In the Spring of 2020, shortly after registration for classes was complete, the UMA campus was closed. Some of the volunteers who had signed up to help during the days of registration at the office, took on the task of unraveling the payments and authorizing refunds.  As they were finishing, the office building was locked.

This group, including Pam St. Peter, the administrative specialist from the University, were all relatively new to each other. And now they could not even meet in person. They were all seniors social distancing. The word was that Senior College would be suspended indefinitely. There were no vaccines. They had responded to a call to help with registration for just one week. So none of the individual volunteers knew if any of the others felt an obligation to try to continue facilitating Senior College activities into the future.

They held a meeting on Zoom, a new experience for them, where they discovered that they were all willing to commit, agreeing that Senior College would be even more important during the national shut-in period. From that virtual group handshake, many hundreds of volunteer hours ensued.

The group became expert in Zoom so they could train and assist instructors with their Zoom presentations, sitting in classes when needed to handle the issues students encountered so the class and instructor would not be interrupted.

The team scheduled duty days for themselves, so anyone who called to request help with Zoom or computer use would receive it. Usually, a special private Zoom session was set up for the caller to learn to log in and use the software. This made it possible for board and committee members to meet and for students to attend classes.

In the beginning, Mike Bell had agreed to present his canceled Roosevelt class on Zoom as a test case and learning experience for everyone. The process went well, and next came summer lectures and then full fall and spring semesters. In short, the heavens opened up, a light shone through, and Senior College did not suspend it’s classes!

What qualified these people to succeed? Among them they had life experience being at various times unemployed and/or on public assistance, the director of admissions for a Maine college, the art director for a regional magazine, a public school teacher, a manager for a small private company with 20 employees, an environmental specialist for a state Department of Environmental Protection,  and an electrical engineer for a large international corporation.

The group, however, did not succeed because they had or had not held positions of authority, or because of particular training, or because of or in spite of their age. They were up to the task mostly because of a strong sense of purpose and a commitment to each other to share the burden.

The Office Volunteer Committee:

Kay Fiedler, Louis Fontaine, Shelly Gerstein, Gale Mettey, Robert O’Halloran, Elizabeth Reinsborough, Pam St. Peter, and Ann Sullivan

If there is a separate list of zoom classes, it would go on this page.


Where do free classes come from?
UMASC has a problem that most organizations would envy. Our coffers are overflowing. Our members support the organization with generous contributions, we’re frugal, and our compliance with the tenants of the Osher Foundation with regard to (1)classroom space from a supporting educational institution (UMA) and (2) a commitment to a totally volunteer workforce (instructors and support staff)means that we have almost no costs for labor or rent.
The board began to tackle the problem a couple of years ago when a large donation pushed our savings above $200,000. They were comfortable with the cushion, but were not comfortable to keep it growing.  And then when Covid forced the college to virtual classes, we discovered the answer.
Participation in Zoom classes was high.  People were taking more classes than they had been.  And it appeared one of the reasons was that Zoom classes were free, which made a second or third class possible for many who would not previously have thought it affordable. To serve as many people with as many classes as possible without regard to economic status,  the $30 fee for classes has been removed.
One counter argument is that commitment to the class will wain if it is free.  Consistent attendance and participation  at classes for the last 2 semesters, where classes have been free, does not support this conclusion so far.
For now:
1. There’s a new word for savings around campus – endowment!  As of now,  the interest from our savings and our membership fees and contributions are sufficient to support us. If our savings start to dwindle, we will adjust. We believe we need to continue to have a “cushion” as the full force of the boomer generation may not yet have placed a demand on our services.

2. Based on committee recommendations, the Board of Directors approved the proposal to offer free classes for the 2021-22 year with the following conditions:
·        No books or supplies will be furnished
·         If other materials are needed (art supplies, etc.), the instructors may provide them at the students’ expense
·         Any expenses that may arise relating to field trips will be the students’ responsibility

3. To ensure that cost does not prevent anyone from participating, the board has established a self administered scholarship level membership for $10.  The traditional membership remains $25 dollars and  higher increments up to $100 have been added.  So far, there is no evidence that people have shifted from $25 down to $10.  The $10 memberships are new people and our average income is higher than $25 per membership.

4. The Winter Lecture Series in February (formerly Brown Bag) and the new Summer Lecture series in August are free and open to the public,


Links including articles on this page:

  • Fall classes
  • help from Klahr Center
  • General info about classes and lectures
  • Where do free classes come from

New commentary section

To inaugurate our new commentary section, both Cheryl Fontaine and Peter Whitkop share the challenge and sense of lifelong accomplishment they experienced as they prepared to teach their first Senior College Class. Ann Sullivan talks with Chck Acker, the real “not-founder” of UMASC as the organization traveled a winding road to its first semester in 2002. And Kay Fiedler zooms in to personalize the décor choices and quality time many of us spent with our four legged friends during the shut-in.

General Information
for Potential
Students and Instructors

(Especially during Covid restrictions, some of this information is occasionally modified.  Always check a specific class, lecture, or activity for current information.)

  • There are two semesters – Spring (begins mid-March) and Fall (begins mid-September) – about 25 to 30 classes per semester.
  • Classes are typically 1.5 – 2 hours long and run 8 weeks.
  • Not including our Concert series, we produce about 25 lecture and forum events per year, in addition to classes. Lectures are one or two-part presentations on a wide variety of subjects  This is often how volunteer instructors get started.
  • Our long-running Concerts at Jewett series, sponsored by local businesses and private contributions, featured talented Maine performers representing a variety of musical forms. The concert series has been temporarily suspended.
  • During the winter months of January and February, Brown Bag lectures are held Tuesdays at noon. The topics and lecturers vary. (Suspended and replaced with Zoom Winter Lecture Series due to Covid restrictions.)
  • The Granite Hill Lecture Series is a regular course lasting for 8 weeks that is taught each semester by 8 different instructors. (Suspended and replaced with Zoom lectures due to Covid precautions at the Granite Hill Estates facility.)
  • Classroom facilities include white boards, overhead projectors, computers, etc. You can usually set up a video or PowerPoint presentation on your laptop or thumbdrive, and project it. Some classrooms are Zoom friendly.

The information above describes what have been our historical norms. Don’t hesitate to ask about something different.  In particular, although we serve retired seniors well, we believe our classes are not easily available to those still working.  We are looking to inaugurate Saturday classes and evening classes. It would help to know if you are interested or have other suggestions.r