It’s no Cirque du Soleil, but the founder of a college lecture series coming to Minneapolis for the first time this fall promises it’ll be “a show.”
Steven Schragis is bringing his One Day University to the Minneapolis Convention Center on Nov. 2 — offering adults a chance to experience college all over again — minus the homework, exams and spring break.
In fact, there’s hardly a break for “students” who sign up for a day’s worth of lectures, delivered back-to-back by popular professors.
“We say we are just as much about entertainment as we are about education,” Schragis said. “When people say, ‘Who’s your competition?’ we say the symphony and the opera and the Broadway shows. People come to have a good time.”
Course titles for the Nov. 2 session read like a list of nonfiction bestsellers:
• “What Would the Founding Fathers Think of America Today?”
• “The Psychology of Money.”
• “Iran, Israel and Why the Middle East Is a Mess.”
• “Why Are Some People Resilient (and Others Are Not)?”
• “The Surprising Science of Mind Over Body.”
The professors coming to Minneapolis are like an all-star team, Schragis says.
One of them is Wendy Schiller. An associate professor of political science and public policy at Brown University, she’s a regular on the One Day University circuit. Somewhat of a celebrity now, she has talked politics with Bill Maher on his “Real Time” TV show and was recently profiled in a Time magazine story about college teaching stars. “WHAT A ROCKSTAR!” raved one student on Rate My Professor.com.
The first One Day University seminar, held in New York in 2006, drew 200 people. Since then, Schragis has put on 150 more events in several cities, attracting tens of thousands of adult learners.
Minneapolis joined the roster this year through a partnership with Twin Cities Public Television. The station plans special events aimed at its audience members who are over 50, and One Day University seemed like a natural fit, said Caitlin Marlotte, TPT’s manager of community engagement.
Just like real college, learning at One Day University comes with a price tag. Admission costs $239 for the full day’s program but students may come and go as they please. They don’t have to choose their classes until they arrive.
Schragis came up with the college-in-a-day idea about seven years ago when he was taking his daughter to Bard College in New York for freshman orientation. The school held a session for parents, inviting some of the top professors to give 15-minute talks about what they teach. “It was a treat for parents,” Schragis recalled. “Everybody had the same reaction: ‘I don’t want to go back to the office. I wish I were the one going to college.’ ”
In that moment, he saw the potential to feed that yearning with a new kind of seminar — giving adults a chance to experience college in an abbreviated form. But unlike their first time around, this time they would learn just for fun. In search of top-notch teachers, he consulted the experts — college students. He asked for the names of the best professors and recruited them for One Day University.
A teacher’s challenge
Teaching is always fun, says Schiller, but there’s something special about teaching to an older crowd.
“You can actually talk about Ronald Reagan and it’s not as if you’re talking about a man from ancient history,” she said. “Part of the fun is that it allows you, in politics, to look back and analyze changes from a much longer time horizon than you can when you’re teaching the kids.”
She finds older students are more apt to challenge her or disagree with her assertions. During her lectures, she likes to interact with the audience, calling on random people. “If they’re there, they’re fair game,” she said. “I’ll say, ‘What do you think, sir?’ ‘What do you think, madam?’ and they really do feel like they’re back in school.”
Schiller will be teaching on “What Would the Founding Fathers Think of America Today?” when she comes to Minneapolis.
Excited to learn
Also on deck is Laurence Cooper, associate professor of political science at Carleton College in Northfield. His topic is “What Can We Learn From the Ancient Philosophers?”
Margaret Mazzaferro of St. Paul snagged the first seat available for the Nov. 2 date.
“I’m excited about it,” she said. “I’m 70 years old. I have all kinds of leisure time and I like to use at least some of it productively.”
Passionate about learning, she holds a bachelor’s degree in English and has a collection of audio courses on art, literature and history. She also tries to watch a different “TED Talk,” the popular speaker series that can be seen free on the Web, every day.
“I just love learning about stuff that I was too stupid to learn when I was in school,” Mazzaferro said.
While she hasn’t decided yet which classes she’ll take at One Day University, she knows where she’ll be sitting.
“I want to be right up front,” she said. “I need to be up close.”