Education, at any age, has the power to uplift and transform—just ask Ann Nikolai, program director and member of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Chico State.

Each year, OLLI classes, workshops, events, and trips provide a community of exploration to more than 1,000 North State residents who are 50 years and older.

“There are people who would say that OLLI saved their lives.”

—Ann Nikolai, OLLI program director and member

“There are people who would say that OLLI saved their lives, Nikolai said. “If they’ve had a partner die or their families moved away—where else do you connect like that?”

Members who develop, lead, participate in, and donate to support OLLI programs range from distinguished faculty members and retired industry experts to seasoned hobbyists passionate about sharing their know-how with others.

“That’s one of the first things that that the peer leaders will tell you, too: ‘I go in and get something back every time I teach a class,’” Nikolai said.

Members make circular shapes with their arms and body in a gym-like room.

Ann Nikolai (center) and other OLLI members Pamela Beeman, Zoe Race, and Lynne Grimes (left to right) at a human movement workshop led by San Francisco-based theatre master Joe Goode. (Photo by Jason Halley)

The reciprocity of giving and receiving is woven into the fabric of OLLI’s approach. Together, members swap wisdom—learning and teaching in tandem—and fee-paying members generously provide additional support for scholarships and much-needed

“It kind of builds on itself,” said Nikolai, who sees an incredible sense of ownership and shared responsibility among OLLI members. “Without that partnership, OLLI sort of doesn’t exist.”

This commitment to co-learning and cooperation is at the heart of why Chico State was part of the exclusive group of universities to receive a second $1 million endowed grant from the Bernard Osher Foundation. The generous endowment will allow OLLI to broaden its reach, possibly by funding traveling classes or distance-learning technology.

“It’s our responsibility to try to connect on a bigger level,” said Nikolai, who hopes the grant will fund new opportunities for members to engage their intellectual breadth and ambition, including developing cross-generational programs. “There’s such a range of people’s skills that, literally, you put the right person in the right place, and they can go make that program happen.”

Last year
  • Members funded four college re-entry scholarships.
  • OLLI held 285 classes in Chico, Oroville, Paradise, and Willows.
  • Members took an average of 3.9 classes.
  • 134 members served as peer leaders of classes, workshops, and events.
  • Members developed and delivered 76 new courses.
  • 1,188 members participated in OLLI as learners, teachers, and volunteers.