Learning for the fun of it

GOLD College, a place for lifelong learning, is open to students of any age who want to expand their knowledge of the world around them

Submitted photos Field trips are one of several extra GOLD College opportunities. Some take participants to regional attractions such as this winery, while others have involved far away locations like New York City.


GOLD College at Southwest Minnesota State University is a place where learning never gets graded, and where no one expects credit other than possibly a compliment for a job well done.

The six-week, twice-a-year program, a longstanding regional outreach component at SMSU, is for adults who are interested in lifelong learning opportunities for a variety of reasons. GOLD stands for Growth Opportunity Learning and Development.

For a small percentage, attending GOLD classes might be a first step toward a degree that they never had a chance to pursue earlier in life. Other purposes might involve finding new personal interests, building on previous academic and professional knowledge, and having additional opportunities to socialize.

Director Marcia Beukelman said one student signed up for a class she’d already taken. It turned out the decision wasn’t made by mistake. Instead, the student wanted the class again because of the enthusiasm and the teaching style of the instructor, retired Marshall High School social studies teacher and SMSU education professor Lloyd Petersen.

“She told me the class was fun, that the instructor made her laugh,” Beukelman said. “She’s someone who lives alone and doesn’t always see reasons to laugh every day. It showed how education can become valuable for many different reasons.”

Beukelman directs GOLD College in conjunction with other duties as an SMSU Business Services accounting specialist. She recruits instructors from throughout the region who have a wide range of professional backgrounds.

Two of her best sources of instructors are the SMSU faculty and professionals whose jobs involve working with retired senior citizens.

Both groups are often willing to teach a six-week class with a two-hour weekly time block for a $300 stipend. Some of them use the stipend for education purposes of their own. Others donate it back to scholarships.

“They’re people who love what they do,” Beukelman said. “Some of them love to teach and are willing to offer a variety of subjects. Others have a particular specialty that they’re willing to share with our students.”

She said the program operates on a scale that allows for 20 offerings that coincide with every fall and spring semester at SMSU.

Some classes, especially activity courses that require specialized equipment, are limited to as few as 12-15 students. Others that can accommodate large groups have been carried out for more than 50 of them.

The most consistently popular topic is history. Examples from 2019 included the 1950s, The Dakota War of 1862, German History, World War II, the Vietnam War, the United States and Mexico, and the history of democracy and dictatorships.

Other subjects that often prove popular include writing, art, natural science, and skills such as gardening, computers, and wood carving.

A few of the classes pertain to life situations. One includes how to prevent clutter, while another covers questions that might arise when deciding how to divide up cherished family possessions.

Beukelman said she’s also had good luck offering a sampler class with a different topic each week, which works either as an introduction to GOLD College or as a choice for students who want a class filled with variety.

“We try to have many different choices,” she said. “Every class has lots of opportunity for someone to interact with the instructor and with other students. Enjoyment is a big part of the overall goal.”

In some instances students have a chance to explore broad issues in 21st century society. One class in 2019 considered generation gaps. Others looked into financial planning and law enforcement.

Brian West, a retired captain with the Minnesota State Highway Patrol, said he aims to bring a wide variety of speakers into his law enforcement class who can offer firsthand general perspectives about their professions. The class is always popular.

“We want to give everyone an idea of what it’s really like to enforce the law,” West said. “They’re always a great audience. They ask many good questions and are concerned about the issues.”

GOLD College student Gary Nuytten of Ghent said he enjoyed West’s class, which included a final 2019 session last week on how dogs aid in drug enforcement. Nuytten participates regularly in GOLD College, and finds that it’s always well worth the class fees.

Deb Ahmann, a retired member of Marshall High School’s English faculty, said the law enforcement class was a way to round out her most recent class schedule.

“I chose some history, so law enforcement was something current,” Ahmann said. “The firsthand points of view were amazing. I was surprised to hear how often their jobs can become dangerous and unpredictable.”

Wendy Rost, a recent retiree who served as Lincoln County’s court administrator, said she learned additional things about law enforcement even though her career was closely related.

“I’d always seen things take shape on the court side,” Rost said. “It was interesting to learn more about what happens before it gets there. GOLD College is a great experience. I’ll definitely keep coming back.”


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