Noon Talk: Scherry Barra, Director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at William and Mary
Posted on May 31, 2019 5:00 PM by Mary Cheston
“Osher helps us to be successful” without any onerous oversight or requirements, explained Scherry Barra, Director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at William and Mary. Scherry gave an interesting historical perspective on what led to the 2018 switch from the Christopher Wren Association to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute during the May 8th Noon Talks in New Town.
The Christopher Wren Association had operated for 28 years without State funding as an independent agency associated with the College of William and Mary. Largely as a result of William and Mary’s review of about 20 independent agencies associated with the university as well as increased operating expenses, the Christopher Wren Board began considering whether to become an independent 501c3 nonprofit or an official part of the University.
When Scherry attended a conference of many lifelong learning programs in the Southern United States, she met Bernard Osher Foundation representatives and learned more about the funding opportunities they provide to 122 other “mature student” programs. (The Bernard Osher Foundation is a philanthropic institution supporting higher education, integrative medicine, and the arts. Four other Osher Lifelong Learning programs exist in Virginia at George Mason University, University of Richmond, Hampton University and UVA.)
She approached Osher management about sponsoring the Christopher Wren program. Working with the Board and William and Mary, the program demonstrated that it met the Osher Lifelong Learning’s criteria for success and sustainability and earned their financial support.
In July 2018 the Bernard Osher Foundation provided William and Mary with an initial $100,000 grant that will be subject to review in February 2020. The grant funded increased programming in the Spring 2019 semester and a variety of projects including the purchase of portable audio-visual equipment to provide greater flexibility in locating classroom space, upgraded equipment for the Wightman Cup classroom, and scholarships for students who may find the membership fee cost-prohibitive (55 scholarships are available to those in need in the community). If these projects are deemed successful, Osher at William and Mary hopes to become the recipient of a $1 million grant that would become an endowment for the future to help support annual operating costs.
Scherry explained that among the constant challenges are enrollment which fluctuates seasonally, and keeping fees reasonable. A future marketing study will help assess what options are available to balance these needs. Attendees asked for more information on the endowment funds, the 2019 summer program and suggested ways to enhance awareness of the program’s attractiveness to part-time residents. Scherry acknowledged that word of mouth has been a great advertising tool and that through Osher’s National Resource Center, the William and Mary program now has access to many new experiences and ideas. “It’s like joining a new family,” she said.