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ILEAD, now in its 10th year, offers continuing liberal education

Posted 09/15/00

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Instititute for Lifelong Education at Dartmouth. ILEAD was originally patterned after a 1962 effort at the New School for Social Research in New York City and the Harvard Institute for Learning in Retirement. The origins of ILEAD can be traced to 1989 and a man named Steve Calvert, who was at the time was the Director of Continuing Education and Conferences at Dartmouth.

It was originally designed to serve the needs of the growing numbers of retired persons, including Dartmouth alumni, settling in the Upper Valley. In discussing this concept with similarly minded people, Calvert encountered a resident of New London named Bill Meckley, who had the same general idea. Together they assembled a cadre of 35, some of whom had ties to Dartmouth. This group called themselves the Founders.

An administrative structure with the usual officers and committees, each chaired by a Founder, was put in place. With the help of the College, office space was located, a full-time secretary was hired, and ILEAD was launched.

The pilot program consisted of only five courses led by eight study leaders. One course on The Scarlet Letter involved four study leaders, but the rest had the more conventional solo guide. In the fall of 1991 a full three-term curriculum was put in place that paralleled the term system of Dartmouth. The first winter term included a namesake course on the Iliad.

Study leaders have a great deal of flexibility in the design and content of their courses, functioning as discussion groups. There is, however, a minority of courses, especially the summer term, that leans more heavily toward the lecture format. The average class size is 20. No formal credits are awarded, and there are no examinations or grades.

In academic year 1991-92, 38 study leaders offered 36 courses. Total membership had grown to almost 500. The Founders had projected a plateau in membership of only 300. As of today, there are more than 1,000 members. Like most organizations of its kind, ILEAD is affiliated loosely with the Elderhostel Institute Network, a chain of adult travel and education groups in 50 states and 70 countries. The EIN attracts 270,000 people each year to its campuses and conference centers. ILEAD is among the 10 largest EIN groups.

ILEAD's Dartmouth campus headquarters have moved several times, last year from Parker House (behind the Church of Christ) to the Dartmouth Outing Club on the north end of Occom Pond. In addition to the offices on the second floor of the Outing Club, ILEAD shares with the College two classrooms on the ground floor. Since the beginning, Dartmouth has provided additional classroom space as available all across campus, and during each term the College extends full library privileges to members enrolled in any ILEAD course.

Although it was originally assumed that ILEAD would appeal to people 55 and older, there has never been an age restriction. Today adults of any age are welcomed for membership, but some found daytime classes inconvenient. The scheduling is in part due to the availability of classrooms. The Executive Council, ILEAD's governing body, is discussing the feasibility of holding some night or weekend sessions.

The summer program, which has been filled to capacity for every session since its institution, differs in structure from regular courses in the other three terms. It is a lecture format, and there is only one offering for the entire membership. Lecturers are drawn from a wide range of backgrounds and from both within and outside of Dartmouth. The lectures are structured around a central theme such as "Ethical Issues in the 21st Century," which sold out to more than 300 attendees last year.

ILEAD also offers study/travel opportunities. These programs often consist of two or three preliminary ILEAD courses to study the language, culture or history of a particular destination followed by a one or two-week visit to that area. Offerings in the recent past included "Castles and Cathedrals of England", "A Spanish Mosaic", and "The Passion Plays in Oberammergau." Last year ILEAD sponsored a day trip to the Boston Museum of Science for an exhibit titled "The Mysteries of Egypt," a trip to the New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks, Conn., and a visit to Boston's "Big Dig," among other trips to exhibits and concerts.

Often Dartmouth's visiting Montgomery Fellows lecture to ILEAD members. After a first-run sellout announcement, one of last year's Fellows, Endel Tulving, Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto, spoke two nights in succession to ILEAD members on the subject "What is Memory?"

ILEAD's curriculum reflects the strong liberal arts tradition of Dartmouth with most course offerings in the areas of literature, history, art, government, cinema, poetry, religion, and, in recent years, with the expansion of the membership, a few courses in science and medicine.

ILEAD is officially classified as a Dartmouth department, but it is independent financially, renting administrative space from the College. Click here for additional information.

Dartmouth has television (satellite uplink) and radio (ISDN) studios available for domestic and international live and taped interviews. For more information, call 603-646-3661 or see our Radio, Television capability webpage.

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