Twelve years ago, former Greenfield Community College administrator Risky Case buttonholed GCC Dean for Community Education Bob Barba at a College event and said, “I’d like to talk with you about the College doing more for seniors.” Within a few weeks, Barba met with Case and about twenty-five others that Case helped bring together. That October 2002 meeting led to the then-named Senior Education and Enrichment Program at GCC, now called Senior Symposia, which opened with a slate of six titles in January 2003. A collaborative effort between Greenfield Community College’s Office of Community Education and area senior citizens, the Senior Symposia provide a way for area seniors to continue their education in a format that best suits their needs, interests, and resources. Clearly popular given a recent jump in attendance, the Senior Symposia present intellectually stimulating topics in single or multi-session formats, held during daytime hours in convenient, accessible locations. Since 2003, 7,606 seniors have attended 200 Symposia. Currently, about 400-500 people per semester attend Symposia on topics ranging from history and music to current events, travel, and art. Participants in this fall’s Symposia will learn about baseball, post-cold war nuclear risk, Chinese laborers in Berkshire County, Emily Dickinson, department stores, and more. Topics and presenters are chosen and developed by the Senior Symposia Planning Board and Risky Case still serves on that Board.
While most Symposia are held at GCC’s Downtown Campus on Main Street, some are held in alternative locations, including Stinchfield Lecture Hall and the Sloan Theater at GCC’s Main Campus and the Arts Block and The Pushkin in downtown Greenfield. The café-style seating of the Arts Block was the venue for last year’s jazz improvisation Symposium featuring pianist Jerry Noble and clarinetist Bob Sparkman. Noble, staff accompanist in the music department at Smith College and classical music writer for the Springfield Republican, and Sparkman play traditional jazz of the 1930s and 40s. For the Symposium, they mixed performance with conversation with the audience about how improvisation works.
Noble said, “The Symposium was a new format for us, an opportunity to give a peek into the process of what we do with improvisation. The back and forth of interaction with the Symposium participants was terrific. They were a super literate audience that brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to the event. They brought up ideas we’d never considered, we were improvising with the audience. We enjoyed it so much that we’ve since presented a similar program to several music clubs.”
Barba said, “The Planning Board is committed to exploring new kinds of programming, a range of formats, and different venues to reach new audiences. The October 8 program on archguitar featuring Peter Blanchette will be a performance/conversation combination and the October 21 program includes a film created for the Emily Dickinson museum and presentations by the film’s scriptwriter and producers. The Arts Block is just one example of alternative venues the Senior Symposia program has used and is exploring. Although recent developments with that building make the location of the October 8 Peter Blanchette program uncertain at press time, the symposium will go forward either at the Arts Block or at the GCC Downtown Center.”
Risky Case continues to encourage the Planning Board to find programming that meets needs not yet being met. She said, “You never know what’s going to happen until you try. Since the beginning of the Symposia, we’ve made sure that the people who we’re trying to serve are involved in the decision making about the programs.”
John and Betts Bednarski of Greenfield are long-time Symposia participants who served on the Planning Board for a number of years. John said, “The Symposia are a tremendous opportunity for older people to extend their knowledge of interests they already have and to learn about new topics. Along with learning, Betts and I have developed very good friends among Symposia participants, including those who share our interests and some we would never have met otherwise. The Senior Symposia is a wonderful extension of GCC’s efforts in our community. They help everyone have a chance to keep on learning later in life.”
For information about this year’s Senior Symposia, visit http://www.gcc.mass.edu/creditfree/senior-symposia/ or call (413) 775-1605.
By Mary McClintock, ’82