Learning in Retirement with Nina Scott: Encore presentations offer a bit of everything, from science to travel and history

  • Katy van Geel’s will present “Coffee” at the Learning in Retirement encore presentations this fall. The U.S. Postal Service recently came out with a set of stamps on different kinds of coffees. Submitted photo

  • As part of the Learning in Retirement’s encore presentations this fall, Chris Waters will lead a presentation on the biography of first lady Lou Henry Hoover. Submitted photo

For the Gazette
Published: 9/16/2021 7:58:47 AM

Editor’s note: This is part of a monthly series about the offerings from the Five College Learning in Retirement program.

Encore presentations are seminar papers that are presented as individual lectures to the public. The presentations give outsiders a fine (and free) look at what courses in Learning In Retirement are all about.

Moderators choose papers for encore presentations that are accessible to a wide audience. Some courses, such as discussions of literary texts, are not usually suitable, but there are exceptions: Janet Spaulding created a fine visual presentation for George Saunders’ novel “Lincoln in the Bardo.”

All of these presentations are held via Zoom on Friday mornings from 10 a.m. to noon. To register, visit the current newsletter (https://bit.ly/3EjokoW); the site also lists the dates, times and a summary of the topics to be presented. I find it easiest to register for all presentations offered. Zoom links to the lectures are sent out a day or so before they are to take place.

This fall’s presentations seem to fall into several categories: entertainment, travel, food, literature, history/biography and science, including science in film. There are also two papers from the “Writing to Remember” seminars I discussed last month.

Being an inveterate foodie, I zeroed in on Ellen Kosmer’s presentation on “Cajun and Creole Culture,” and Katy van Geel’s on “Coffee.” Just to show what trendsetters Learning in Retirement members are, the U.S. Postal Service came out last spring with a set of stamps on different kinds of coffees, and the Sept. 6 issue of The New Yorker had a whole article on crawfish boils, the main topic of Ellen’s talk.

Another food-related talk is Chuck Aulino’s presentation on “The Harvey Girls,” Fred Harvey’s successful answer to the wretched food and accommodations available in the late 19th century to passengers on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. It also provided excellent employment to unmarried females.

Other travel-related presentations are Mary Ann Lowen’s look at the architecture of New York City Railroad stations, old and new, and Tyll van Geel’s focus on the art of the car culture of the mid-1950s.

Chris Waters was in the seminar on “First Ladies” (as was I) and did a splendid biography of Lou Henry Hoover. There were many notable first ladies discussed (Abigail Adams, Eleanor Roosevelt, etc.), but Chris revealed riveting facets to Lou no one had suspected.

The largest category of topics revolved around science. The seminar on the “Solar System” generated two encore presentations: Carol Mac Court’s on “The Rosetta Mission” (the first mission to orbit and land on a comet) and Jim Scott’s on “Galilean Moons of Jupiter.” Galileo’s discoveries in the new field of optics (he ground his own lenses and built his own telescopes) were truly revolutionary.

Gordon Wyse, retired professor of biology at UMass, focused on “Animal Navigation and the Senses” — how salmon, sea turtles, birds and butterflies migrate thousands of miles to return miraculously to their homes.

Paul Cooper and Sandi Albertson-Shea took the seminar on “Science in Film.” Cooper chose the 1956 horror film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” while Sandi opted for “Hidden Figures” (2017), which dealt with three immensely talented Black women scientists involved in NASA’s 1962 launch of John Glenn’s orbital space flight.

So: a rich menu!

Nina M. Scott is professor emerita of Spanish from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and a member of Five College Learning in Retirement, which features peer-led seminars and workshops for semi-retirees.


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