By JOHN OLIVER, Guest Writer
Many traditional-aged University of Michigan-Dearborn students may find themselves sitting next to grandparent-aged counterparts eager to share their recollections of decades past. These classmates just might participate in the Retired Persons Scholarship Program (RPSP).
Program Coordinator Carol Ligienza doesn’t try to conceal her enthusiasm for the RPSP, which she has administered from her second-floor Social Sciences Building office for the past 10 years. “We have fun,” she says.
Ligienza estimates that 95% of the 70 or so program participants “are just learning for learning’s sake, having fun keeping their brains active.”
A few of the program students take classes for credits and grades, which is an option. They may also apply separately to the CASL Admissions and Orientation Office for admission to bachelor’s degree programs, or even apply for the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies degree.
The RPSP program was founded at UM-D in 1984 with the dual aims of providing educational opportunities for area retirees, while “bridging the generation gap with traditional students,” according to the program brochure.
Program students are limited to three CASL courses (9 credits) per semester at a discounted rate. The costs vary by the number of credit hours taken, and the course premiums. One typical student paid $452.00 for two undergraduate journalism classes, and one undergraduate history class for the Winter 2013 term. Books are an additional out-of-pocket expense.
To be admitted to the program, students must be high school graduates, at least 60 years of age, and retired from their main occupation. They must also show evidence of potential for success in college as demonstrated by a personal statement of purpose; and factors such as life experience, career history and education.
According to Ligienza, both Professor Joe Lunn, History; and Professor Ron Stockton, Political Science, among others, have told her that they love to have RPSP students in their classes.
“They are proponents of the value of older students sharing memories and perspectives with the rest of the class,” she said.
RPSP students gather each semester to socialize. This term they met for a luncheon at Park Place and at Kochoff Hall for a continental breakfast at registration time.
New scholars might strike up a conversation with someone like 90-something Betty Ihlenfeldt, who, with her son Larry, like to recall memories of their family-owned Daly restaurant chain (down to one Livonia store now from 17 in its heyday).
Diners also swap intelligence on who their favorite professors are, and the not-to-be-missed courses in subjects as diverse as philosophy, and Arab-Israeli relations. And they always praise the younger students for being so polite, and their strength in surviving the rigors of finals weeks.
While RPSP students get a lot out of their college studies, Ligienza points out that program alumni have made significant contributions to the campus as well. Arthur Kochoff, for example, funded Kochoff Hall in the University Center. Bill and Marge Sandy gave the Sandy Conference Room (Room 2021 in CASL), and Jim Tottis donated contemporary art works to UM-D’s collection.
One of Ligienza’s most touching memories of a former student was a Jack Walsh.
“He was a construction worker all his life,” she recalled, “then came here to college and became a poet.” She said that the program printed a few copies of his book, “Seeds and Silos” and distributed them to fellow program students. Walsh’s family had been devastated by Alzheimer’s Disease, and he devoted one poem in his volume about that dread disease.
“One day, the last time I saw him, he came to my office to say good bye,” she said. “He realized that he, too, was succumbing to that disease.”
Ligienza loves to recruit new students to the program. She’s talked to people at the Dearborn Seniors Expo, for example. She also speaks at the Newly Admitted Students Receptions, where she encourages students to send their grandparents over to her office to sign up for the RPSP program.
“Their brain receptors are still being formed,” she tells them.