Hundreds of older adults enjoy learning with PLATO

While you may associate Plato with ancient Greece, about 900 senior learners in Dane County look to PLATO—the Participatory Learning and Teaching Organization—for invigorating low-fee activities that explore everything from classic literature and current events to the Green Bay Packers and world travel.

Linked to the University of Wisconsin-Madison through Continuing Studies, the nonprofit organization is celebrating its 25th year in 2012, having grown from a dozen people in 1987.

“The group is flourishing,” says PLATO president Tim Otis, former executive director of the Mental Health Center of Dane County. “With the boomers retiring we expect even further growth. Because we offer many options for learning, our members are active and curious. They love learning whether it’s about history, jazz, or writing memoirs.”

Otis, who joined PLATO in 2007 after hearing about the organization from friends, says he became a member two years after his retirement because it was “potentially more challenging than most volunteer opportunities that I had explored.”

Since he enrolled, he’s participated in 13 courses. His top favorites are: Whither the State, Wither the State; Short Stories and Essays; and Current Affairs and the Media.

This year he’s leading Our Country’s History and Culture: 1945-Present, his first attempt at class leadership. “I’m offering this course because most PLATO members have lived through this entire era.”

At the start of each term, members attend a Preview program (the next one is Feb. 15) to hear presentations describing each class and to meet the class coordinator. Members can enroll in as many courses as they like.

“Members suggest course topics and then lead the discussions,” Otis says. “New ones are added each semester. Last spring a trip to Lambeau Field was popular and our members love to visit museums and public gardens.”

“We try to keep the locations of PLATO classes convenient, so they meet most often during weekdays in public libraries, senior centers, banks, and churches throughout the city,” adds Otis.

The annual membership fee is $50. “In addition to classes, membership includes admittance to lectures and socials; special events like bus tours may have an additional fee,” explains Otis.

Members also obtain a guest card for UW libraries (worth $40); newsletters and weekly emails; and an annual member-written literary journal.

Prof. Barry Orton, Continuing Studies, the group’s liaison with UW-Madison, says, “Most members are approaching or actively enjoying retirement. Also, people should understand they don’t need a formal education; PLATO is open to any older adult.

“Continuing Studies supports PLATO because the group aligns with its mission of linking the community to campus resources, and, because we share the goal of lifelong learning,” Orton notes.

For information, call 608-262-5823 or email plato-slp@dcs.wisc.edu .

On the Web, see more information about PLATO and other UW senior learning opportunities.