Seniors welcomed into the classroom

Seniors welcomed into the classroom

Professor Alan Teich (right) discusses psychology related topics Nov. 13 in 210E Biddle with Roberta Dostal.

Taylor Fowler, Features Editor

For more than 30 years, Pitt-Johnstown faculty has welcomed senior citizens into the classroom.

The Learning Plus program offers UPJ credit courses to Johnstown citizens aged 55 and older at no cost.

Alumni and Community Relations Executive Director Robert Knipple said the program began as the Sixty-Plus program, which was limited to citizens aged 60 and older and offered courses at a nominal fee.

According to Knipple, when the Johnstown Plant, Bethlehem Steel Corp., closed in 1992, it put many workers into early retirement.

Pitt-Johnstown faculty secured a contract with Bethlehem Steel to provide transitioning workshops to ease employees into retirement, which included keeping them active on campus. This was cause for lowering the age restriction to 55 and offering courses for free, according to Knipple.

“Any member of the community can apply to audit any credit-bearing course at no charge,” Knipple said, meaning that citizens attend a class for no academic credit.

Classroom space and instructor approval must be gained before the citizen can join the class.

Since the citizen audits the course, no grade or transcript record is kept. Citizens take courses simply by choice.

According to Knipple, citizens may not take any course requiring them to have a Pitt-Johnstown computer network identification, which restricts them from taking computer-science courses.

“We’ve had individuals take one course, and others who have taken a series of courses,” Knipple said. “My father, for example, was a retired engineer who always had an interest in accounting. He enrolled in several business classes.”

Knipple said Learning Plus is one of the ways Pitt-Johnstown faculty promotes lifelong learning.

“I think the program can enhance the learning experience by creating an intergenerational classroom,” he said.

An active participant in the program is Roberta Lynn Dostal.

Dostal is from East Conemaugh Borough and attended Pennsylvania State University, receiving a vocational agriculture degree. She also attended Wesleyan University in Connecticut to get a geology degree.

Dostal has three master’s degrees and taught earth and space science for 35 years, beginning in 1958. Her final teaching experience was as a ninth-grade science teacher in Johnsonburg, Elk County.

She has been taking two classes per semester every year since 2005. Most of her classes have been in the English Department.

“It has been my salvation, in all reality, for surviving since my mother passed away,” Dostal said.

She said one of her favorite professors was Allesandra Lynch, who she had for poetry.

Since entering a contest through the class, Dostal was given an opportunity to read poetry in Denmark.

Dostal ended up spending summer 2006 in Europe, reading poetry in Amsterdam at the European Biannual Conference of the Society of Science, Literature and Arts, and attended a summer program in Prague.

“It was all a result of having classes (at Pitt-Johnstown),” she said. “They should promote (the program) more.”

Dostal is enrolled in Creative Nonfiction writing. She also meets with Professor Alan Teich on Wednesdays to discuss psychology topics.

She said she plans to take more classes next semester.

Dostal said being involved on campus rejuvenates a certain amount of her youth.

“It is utterly amazing what (students) know that I don’t, and what I know that they don’t,” she said. “It creates a certain amount of nostalgia.”