New OLLI at ASU assistant director brings experience at expanding membership, energy for lifelong learning

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When Sue Anderson started in 2015 as director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB), the program had just 400 members engaged in its continuing learning opportunities at the Palm Desert campus.

Six years later, that figure had more than doubled to 1,000, and the programming had grown to include a wide range of volunteer committees, discussion groups, social events and educational travel.

Now, Anderson is bringing her expertise to Arizona as she begins work this month as assistant director of OLLI at Arizona State University. Following a national search, she was selected to come to ASU based on her experience and success at CSUSB, said OLLI at ASU Director Richard Knopf.

“OLLI was the perfect place for me,” Anderson said of her time in Palm Desert. “I’m a passionate lifelong learner, so I’m very aligned with the organization’s mission. My role also allowed me to combine my educational credentials with my significant experience in program administration, marketing and volunteer management. Plus, it was just really fun.”

She pointed to OLLI at ASU’s stellar reputation among OLLI’s 125-chapter national network and its high-quality programming as factors that have always impressed her.  

With over 2,600 members and multiple sites throughout the greater Phoenix region, OLLI at ASU offers plenty of exciting growth opportunities, she said.

In addition to the university being home to a model OLLI program, Anderson said she is excited by ASU’s commitment to innovation, community engagement and lifelong learning.

“ASU takes those pledges very seriously,” she said. “As an OLLI leader, it’s really exciting to me to know our work is highly regarded and the university can offer ways to engage and connect across the university community. I look forward to exploring how we might expand our lifelong learning programs locally and across the globe. Arizona State is in a unique position to do that, and I see so much potential.”

Knopf, a professor in the School of Community Resources and Development, said he and his colleagues are thrilled by Anderson’s enthusiasm to serve here as OLLI at ASU starts moving to its next stage of development.

“Sue’s arrival during this era of great social isolation and disconnect is perfect for bringing her extraordinary talents to bear: for building connections, establishing feelings of belonging and weaving deep community,” Knopf said. “In addition to her proven professional capacities, she has a caring heart that will resonate with our OLLI community.”

Knopf said that OLLI at ASU has already enjoyed great results from her service on its advisory committee, which will help move OLLI at ASU ahead in strategic planning and member engagement.

One of Anderson’s colleagues at CSUSB said he and others “really miss her here,” but he is happy for her in her new role.

“Sue brought a whole new level of energy to our program resulting in a myriad of changes and tremendous growth,” said Dr. Kevin D. Sweeney, a physician and chair of the OLLI at CSUSB’s curriculum committee. “She is a true people person whose organization skills, attention to detail and management style were exactly what we needed. Sue’s dedication to our OLLI was remarkable, and it was always a pleasure working with Sue, a leader who gave everyone a voice and made them feel valued.”

Tracy Grewe, OLLI at ASU’s business operations specialist, was on the committee that interviewed Anderson for her new position.

“Sue’s experience and expertise will bring great value to OLLI at ASU,” Grewe said. “It was clear not only from speaking with her, but also from her references from CSUSB OLLI members, staff and administrators, that she exudes pure joy and an unwavering commitment to her work.”   

Anderson said she has two early objectives in her new role: to create a member-driven strategic plan, and to expand the breadth of OLLI at ASU’s core programming.

“I think it’s very important to involve a lot of stakeholders in the strategic planning process,” she said. “Together, we’ll define our shared vision and establish clear priorities that will guide our future programming. The process will confirm what our members, staff, instructors and volunteers are willing to support.”

One idea she said she hopes to imitate from her former OLLI program in California is to offer free social events as a bonus for OLLI membership, such as film screenings, art exhibitions and wine receptions. Building community is an important part of the OLLI experience and addresses concerns about isolation for some older adults, she said.

Anderson said she also wants to expand the role of volunteers at OLLI at ASU.

“By creating member-driven committees and other volunteer roles, we’re giving people an opportunity to engage in something meaningful and use the skills they’ve developed over their lives,” she said. “We all want to feel valued and appreciated, and volunteering at OLLI is one way to help our members feel a sense of purpose and connection.”

Mark J. Scarp
mscarp@asu.edu