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For OLLI Instructors, the Best Way to Learn is to Teach

George Mason University alumna Kay Menchel BA English ’09, MA English ’11 has an insightful twist on the familiar saying that “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”

In truth, Menchel says, “teaching is a kind of doing in itself.”

Menchel was one of the instructors honored at the recent 2017 Teacher Appreciation Breakfast, held by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Mason.

A record 486 instructors and speakers volunteered their time for OLLI courses in the 2016-17 academic year, offering 520 classes and events to OLLI members. That number includes 67 Mason faculty (and eight current Mason students).

Menchel, who was born and raised in the United Kingdom and received a law degree from the University of Liverpool, is known as “the purveyor of all things British” at OLLI, especially literature. She offered another lesson to her fellow teachers attending the April 26 celebration at the Country Club of Fairfax: “I’ve discovered that the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else.”

OLLI members, 1,200 strong, attend non-credit classes taught pro bono by Mason faculty, local experts, and OLLI members while building friendships and creating community. Since founding their organization in 1991, members have also made their mark through their generous philanthropy at Mason. Twenty-eight students who received scholarships this year thanks to donations from OLLI members were recognized at the breakfast. Daniel Howe, a graduating senior in the Volgenau School of Engineering who transferred to Mason from Northern Virginia Community College, was honored with the OLLI Mason Pathways to Advancement Scholarship, presented annually to a high-achieving transfer student.

Theater instructor Kathie West BIS ’88, an actress who taught theater at area high schools for two decades before “retiring” and joining OLLI in 2006, also spoke at the event. “I love OLLI and I love Mason,” said West, who teaches improv, history of theater, and more. “I love teaching. It’s in my bones to keep on giving back.”

West also directs the OLLI Players, a company comprised of about 20 thespians ranging in age from their early sixties to their late eighties. When she proposed to the group that they move from presenting readings to performing plays, said West, some members replied “Oh no, we can’t memorize lines. We’re too old!”

Oh, yes you can! I told them,” West recalled. “And they did!” By this fall the OLLI Players will have performed 40 shows around the region.

May 30, 2017 / RR