UCALL pivots to remote during the pandemic

Publication Date

For more than three decades, retirees and other community members have come to campus to participate in UCALL – the Union College Academy of Lifelong Learning.

Offering non-credit courses taught by retired and current Union faculty, along with area experts, the program aims to “provide opportunities for intellectual development, cultural stimulation and social interaction for adults through courses, excursions and special events.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, organizers were forced to cancel the spring program. After months spent investing in software and infrastructure needs, they offered a robust remote program for its members in the fall.

UCALL session Zoom screen capture

Members were initially skeptical going online, with about 250 participating, about half the typical attendance. Soon, though, they adapted to the change.

“At first, we were uncertain if our members would be comfortable with remote learning, but they are a vibrant and intellectually curious group who welcomed the challenge,” said Valerie D’Amario, UCALL’s director.

Although it was disappointing not having members on campus, pivoting online expanded the program’s reach.
“We had participants logging in from the local community and across the United States, and as far away as France,” she said.

Among the highlights was a course on the 2020 election taught by Cliff Brown, the Robert Porter Patterson Professor of Government; a history of the 19th Amendment presented by Andrea Foroughi, associate professor of history and chair of the History Department; and a course on baroque music taught by Josef Schmee, the Kenneth B. Sharpe Professor of Management Emeritus.

Buoyed by the success of the fall program, UCALL has assembled an impressive mix of remote courses for the winter term, which begins Jan. 5.

Offerings include a course on cultural diversity in India taught by Bidhan Chandra, a professor in the School of Business, SUNY Empire State College; an appreciation of the French composer and pianist Erik Satie, presented by Frank Strauss ’63, a retired dentist and classical music fan; and the history of art in Northern Italy taught by Louisa Matthew, professor of art history at Union.

When members can return to campus, D’Amario said UCALL would consider hybrid presentations for those unable to attend in-person. In the meantime, organizers are preparing for the winter and developing extra online programs to increase interaction between the speaker and the audience.

“Providing members with opportunities for intellectual and social stimulation is especially important during this winter when so many of us will be socially isolated due to the pandemic,” D’Amario said.

To learn more about UCALL and to register for winter programs, visit the website.

UCALL was created in 1988 by Arnold Gussin, dean of Graduate and Continuing Studies, at the suggestion of Charles Van Wormer ’36.