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It's College In A Way For Day With Top Scholars

December 3, 2006
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer

Ed Kepler got his master's degree from Princeton more than half a century ago, but that hasn't kept him from going back to college - even if only for a day.

Kepler and his wife, Eleanore, were among an estimated 250 people who came to Hartford Saturday to hear an all-star lineup of Ivy League professors give their signature lectures on topics ranging from astronomy to the movies.

The program at the Hartford Marriott Downtown was the sixth in a series that brings together some of the nation's leading minds in a new project known as One Day University.

"I think it's a great idea," said Kepler, a retired United Technologies Corp. aeronautical engineer. "You get some of these experts together - they're so much more enlightening than the average teachers."

That is the main idea behind One Day University, where participants paid between $189 and $289 to hear experts such as Columbia University astronomer David Helfand give a lecture titled "Astronomy: We Are Not Alone" or Brown University's Rachel Friedberg discuss "Fear, Myth, Reality and the Economics of Immigration."

"At each of these top schools, there are two or three professors [whose courses] are fascinating to take - and everyone on campus knows it," said Steven Schragis, co-founder of One Day University. "Sometimes they're in the political science department, sometimes the theater department. Almost all have a touch of entertainer in them."

Schragis got the idea two years ago when he took his daughter to Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., where several professors introduced themselves to parents by giving brief talks.

"It was really fascinating," said Schragis, former director of the Learning Annex, a national organization offering courses and seminars to adults. "My reaction ... was I'd rather be going to college than paying for college."

After running Learning Annex seminars on practical topics such as getting a better job or improving your golf game, Schragis said he wanted to try starting a program that was "education for education's sake."

So far, he said, the programs have appealed mainly to middle-aged and older adults, including retirees such as the Keplers, of Manchester. "It's primarily people over 55, relatively affluent. Most are very well educated," Schragis said. "We have plenty of people in their 70s."

Among those attending Saturday's lectures was 70-year-old Tony Hanley, a retired high school principal from Virginia who now lives in Stamford. "I have other things going on in my life, but here is one day you can [sample] all kinds of things," he said. "I'm a student at heart."

Linda Gabianelli, a librarian from Bloomfield, said she came to be inspired by experts - "just the idea you're going to school and don't have to do homework. ... Just come and let it wash over you."

To find the right mix of professors, Schragis and One Day University co-founder John Galvin study college websites, read student newspapers and sometimes go to hear the professors in person. The roster has included mostly Ivy League professors so far, but Galvin said lecturers have also been scheduled from other schools such as Tufts University and the Rhode Island School of Design.

"We've tried to find the great speakers, the classic lecturers," he said.

Helfand, the co-director of Columbia's astrophysics lab, gave a lively lecture on the question: Is there intelligent life in the universe? "The answer is undoubtedly yes," he concluded in a speech sprinkled with humor as he explained an equation calculating the probability of other intelligent civilizations in our galaxy.

In addition to Helfand and economist Friedberg, Saturday's speakers included Yale University's Brigitte Peucker on "Film: the Movies and Emotional Manipulation;" Harvard University's Daniel Donoghue on "Literature: Medievalism in the 21st Century;" and Dartmouth College's Christopher Schmidt on "Constitutional History: the Emergence of a Powerful Court."

After stops in New Jersey, Florida, Massachusetts and New York, One Day University is scheduled to return to Hartford March 17 with another Ivy League roster of professors lecturing on topics such as medical ethics, psychology and security in the 21st century. Details are available online at www.onedayu.com.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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