March 31, 2023
Bucket List: Eckerd College stresses lifelong learning early in retirement
Eckerd College has two learning programs for seniors.

Southwest Florida Roundup

Bucket List: Eckerd College stresses lifelong learning early in retirement

Art Levy | 5/29/2018

Choices made during the first six months of retirement typically dictate habits during the rest of retirement, says Kelly Kirschner, Eckerd College’s vice president of executive and continuing education.

“The analogy I would use is cigarette smoking or reading a newspaper when you’re a teenager,” Kirschner says. “If you don’t hook them early, they won’t do it when they’re older.”

Recently retired people, he says, “fill their buckets quickly” — golf, bridge, travel, for example. Kirschner’s job is to get them involved — early — in learning programs.

Eckerd has two — the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which has 1,700 members, mostly from Pinellas County, who pay $59 for the right to enroll in a variety of classes; and the Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College (ASPEC), with 300 members who each pay annual dues of about $1,000 to interact with Eckerd faculty, students and experts in various fields, from economics and foreign affairs to artificial intelligence and the human brain.

“Intellectual stimulation is the core,” says Ken Wolfe, ASPEC’s director. “Social interaction is the second thing that starts to happen. You start to know people. You like them. There’s a sense of community — like at a good college — where a lot of the good education takes place outside of the classroom.”

Minnesota native Gene Skluzacek, who served in the U.S. Air Force for 20 years before becoming a college physics professor, joined ASPEC 10 years ago and appreciates lifelong learning’s ability to spur individual growth.

“I’ve had so many, many wonderful experiences here,” Skluzacek says. “I can't believe how set in my ways I used to be.”

Brain Benefits

According to an Australian study published by the American Psychological Association, older adults who enroll in college-level classes may increase their cognitive capacity. The study, called the Tasmanian Healthy Brain Project, tested the cognitive capacity of 359 participants between ages 50 and 79 before and after they enrolled in a year of classes. More than 90% boosted their cognitive abilities, compared to 56% among a 100-member control group that didn’t take college courses.

More business news items for Southwest Florida:


DUNEDIN — The Fenway Hotel is projected to open this fall downtown. The hotel will have 83 rooms.

LAKEWOOD RANCH — The 128- room Even Hotel Sarasota, owned by the InterContinental Hotels Group, has opened just off I-75.

LONGBOAT KEY — The historic Rufus P. Jordan House has been deemed unsafe and uninhabitable by a structural engineer. Ed Chiles, the building’s owner, has offered to donate the building to the Longboat Key Historical Society. The building is one of a dozen in the area that survived a devastating hurricane in 1921.

LUTZ — Pasco County commissioners agreed to give an Atlanta company a $6-million loan to build a $37-million office complex near the Suncoast Parkway. The loan will be financed by Penny for Pasco sales tax revenue. The complex will include two 75,000-sq.-ft. office buildings. The county estimates the office buildings will eventually result in 400 jobs.

NAPLES — Construction is underway on the Collective, a 154,917-sq.-ft. mixed-use complex.

OLDSMAR — Nielsen is cutting 328 jobs, mostly research interviewers, at its Pinellas County office. Nielsen has begun to measure TV viewership by using electronic tracking devices rather than paper diaries.

PINELLAS COUNTY — The sheriff’s office has begun hiring deputies to abide by the state mandate that an armed guard be assigned to each public school by next summer. Pinellas County has more than 140 public schools.

PINELLAS PARK — The Shoppes at Park Place, a 42-acre open-air shopping center is for sale. The owners are facing a $73-million foreclosure suit.

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