Every Tuesday, students on campus peek into the Pegasus Ballroom, curious as to what 500 senior citizens are doing roaming UCF.

They’re there for a weekly continuing education class for the elderly who are members of LIFE, the Learning Institute for Elders.

On Feb. 5, LIFE celebrates its 20th anniversary as a partner of UCF. LIFE invited many of its founders and contributors to talk about its history.

LIFE is independent of UCF and operates as a nonprofit equal opportunity organization. Only requiring a $125 tuition fee, the program allows members to learn about news and developments in politics, science and history topics.

Tuesday’s class discussed the fossil fuel reserves on Earth and was presented by Dan Britt, an associate professor from the UCF physics department.

After a 30-minute break, the second session recognized LIFE’s achievements throughout the last 20 years and included UCF President John Hitt in attendance.

Richard Tucker, the liaison for LIFE at UCF and former Chair of the Psychology Department, said that committees formed by the organization decide which topics are to be covered during the classes. Afterward, members are formed into discussion groups and can review the materials presented to them.

Every college and department at UCF has, in some way, presented at LIFE.

Parking decals, student IDs and use of the UCF Library are all provided along with a membership. The UCF Athletics department also provides tickets to sporting events, such as football games.

“The partnership is really unique and that is so appropriate for UCF, because the president loves to remind people that we are America’s leading partnership university,” Tucker said. “He has been our partner for 19 of our 20 years.”

The university runs most of the programs. Professors and faculty from the political science department, for example, teach the most number of classes.

While those attending the classes are considered lifelong students, Tucker did point out differences between LIFE students and current UCF students.

“I would say that the most frequent question that faculty get is, ‘is that going to be on the exam?’ ” Tucker said. “Instead, we’ve got retired professionals here who might be just as knowledgeable in a particular area as the presenter.”

Many of the presenters at the organization’s events face questions from members that can be significantly more difficult to answer. Some members in the audience could have once been professionals in the field being presented, for example.

Over the course of its activities, LIFE has contributed more than $300,000 to UCF in the form of grants. Used by faculty and some students, they are considered to be seed grants that get a certain research project started.

The grants range from $500 to $2,000 per applicant.

Outside of monetary contributions to UCF, LIFE was explained during many of the presentations at the event as a program that values lifelong learning. Students who have an understanding of the LIFE program would take some of its values away with them, Tucker said.

To those involved with LIFE, both faculty and members, the program serves as a way to interact with peers, learn and potentially meet younger people on campus.

James Buchanan, a member who attended the event on Tuesday, has been attending the program for six years.

“What impresses me most about the program is the quality of the UCF faculty that does the presentations,” Buchanan said.

Among the speakers at the event was Louise Sheehy, who was described as “LIFE at UCF’s mother.”

Sheehy was the first seed planter for the program.

Sheehy said that the first class, held in 1991, expected 12 attendees but received 200 instead. Currently, there are 500 members of LIFE, and would have more if not for limitations of space in the Student Union.

Members are admitted on a first-come-first-serve basis, with 137 currently on a waiting list.

Sheehy also said that from the very start, it was apparent that the interactions between the elders and students on campus were a success.

President Hitt, who also gave a speech during Tuesday’s event, expressed pride in the program’s overall $300,000 contribution to UCF.

“I wish for LIFE at UCF another 20 years [that are] at least as exciting as the first 20,” Hitt said.

Also at the event were faculty from the political science, history and various other departments. Both professors and organizers were recognized for their lectures and contributions to the program.

Professors dedicate their time to the program outside of their regular schedules, covering topics that the committees would like to have covered.

A member and once history student, Adrienne Katz, said that her experiences with LIFE made her feel as if she were back in school and attending classes again.

“We even have to fight the students for parking places,” Katz said.

At the end of the event, associate professor Thomas Potter of the music department sang “Happy Birthday” along with many of the members in the crowd. Food, drinks and time to interact were given to the group afterward.

LIFE at UCF is held on Tuesdays in the Pegasus Ballroom.

Source: Central Florida Future, LIFE at UCF celebrates 20 years, by Emre Kelly, Editor-in-Chief. Published: Wednesday, February 2, 2011,  updated: Wednesday, February 2, 2011 17:02