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Northwestern Emeriti Organization wins innovation award for ‘mini-courses’

Courses began in fall 2019 in partnership with Evanston Public Library

The Northwestern Emeriti Organization (NEO) has won a prestigious national award for establishing a series of “mini-courses” taught by retired faculty for residents of Evanston and other local communities.

The courses began in the fall of 2019 in partnership with the Evanston Public Library. So far, seven courses have been taught by Northwestern faculty, with course participation ranging from 50 to 300.

“It is innovative initiatives like this that are hallmarks of an ‘engaged university,’ where ‘town’ and ‘gown’ work together to improve life on both sides of the proverbial campus fence,” wrote Sumit Dhar, associate provost for faculty, in endorsing the NEO award nomination.

NEO is comprised of about 630 retired faculty who have been awarded the title of “emerita” or “emeritus” by the Northwestern University Board of Trustees.

The “Innovation Award” for the mini-courses is one of three given this year by the National Association of Retirement Organizations in Higher Education (AROHE) to organizations that demonstrate leadership, service and innovation.

"Emeritae and emeriti are effective contributors to their communities,” said Jeff Garrett, librarian emeritus and NEO president elect. “The mini-course project demonstrates that, and the fact that there has been an innovation award for it shows we are going in a good direction and might even be a model for others." 

At the beginning of her term as president of NEO in 2019, Emerita Professor Michal Ginsburg proposed launching the non-credit, no-charge “mini-courses” for local residents, with each course running for two 90-minute sessions. She thought they would leverage the expertise of retired Northwestern faculty across a spectrum of disciplines, allowing those faculty to give back to the community by donating their time.

Ginsburg and Garrett shared the idea for mini-courses with the administration of the Evanston public library system — and the partnership was created. Pre-pandemic, the courses were taught at EPL’s main branch in downtown Evanston. They are promoted in part through EPL’s biweekly newsletter, reaching 30,000 Evanston households.

Emeritus Professor David Zarefsky taught the first mini-course, entitled “Four Lincoln Masterpieces,” in late 2019 to a “live audience” of about 125 people. A course taught virtually last spring by Professor Patty Loew on “An Indigenous History of the Upper Great Lakes Region” drew a record 300 participants. In November, Emeritus Professor Wesley Skogan taught a class on “Police Reform: Progress and Pitfalls.”

Courses for the first part of 2022 include "Perspectives on French Impressionism," which drew approximately 200 participants, by Emerita Professor Hollis Clayson and “SCOTUS: Law and Politics” by Emeritus Professor Jerry Goldman on April 26 and May 3. Register to attend mini courses in person or online. In response to the continuing pandemic "SCOTUS: Law and Politics" may be changed to virtual only. 

“Like everyone else, with the pandemic we were forced to make a U-turn and offer the courses online,” said Roger Boye, NEO immediate past president who submitted the award nomination. “But the silver lining is that we have been able to accommodate far more people online, extending our reach and community involvement.”

Time will tell whether the courses return to in-person at EPL or whether they will be offered both in-person and virtually.

“Either way, these courses are at the core of NEO’s mission to strengthen ties between emeriti, the University and local communities,” he said.