- Associated Press - Monday, June 20, 2016

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - Joan Schwenk insists she never pressured her daughter to attend Indiana University, but she admits all the trips to Mini University may have affected her decision.

Schwenk first brought her daughter Lisa Ritchel to the week-long program as a toddler in the 1970s. Back then, Mini University students stayed in residence halls and the program included separate activities for children.

“I loved the cafeteria in Forest,” Ritchel said, referring to the residence hall along East Third Street. “When I got older, we went to the HPER and Lake Monroe for canoeing when they were in class.”

Mini University no longer provides activities for children, and students must find their own lodging for the week, but in its 45th year, it still offers classes on an ever-changing array of topics to promote lifelong learning. And Schwenk is still spending the week with her daughter, who earned a degree in music education from IU in 1998.

The two have been to Mini University together 19 times. There were some years when they couldn’t go, like when Ritchel was in high school and her marching band schedule conflicted, but now, the program has become an annual tradition.



“It’s a whole week of school,” Ritchel said. “That might sound crazy to some people, but there are no tests and no homework.”

There is an opportunity to engage with the professors, who volunteer their time for Mini University, as well as get ideas for new books to read. Schwenk just finished James H. Madison’s book “Hoosiers: A New History of Indiana.” Ritchel carried a copy of the book with her as she and her mom walked through the IU Memorial Union earlier this week to hear the author and IU emeritus professor give a lecture titled “Cars, Hoosiers, & Twentieth Century Change.”

Inside the Frangipani Room, Madison was pleased when several members of the class correctly identified a Maxwell automobile as comedian Jack Benny’s car.

“We’ve either got a lot of smart people or a lot of old people in here,” Madison said.

Betsy Watson, co-director of Mini University, said many of the students have been out of school for quite some time.

“It’s open to anyone, but the vast majority are older or retired because they have the time and the means.”

This year, $335 got more than 550 Mini University students the opportunity to choose from more than 100 classes on everything from “Big Changes in the Brewing Industry” to “Espionage Stories of WWII in Portugal and Spain.” IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs professor Paul Helmke’s lecture titled “Isn’t There Anything We Can Do About Gun Violence in the U.S.?” scheduled for Friday morning has generated a lot of interest from the public in the wake of the mass shooting at an Orlando night club over the weekend, said Kyla Cox Deckard, director of public relations for IU’s Lifelong Learning unit. Unfortunately, Mini University is sold out, she said.

Those interested in attending next year’s Mini University can find more information on the IU Alumni Association’s website by hovering a computer mouse over the “Get Together” tab and clicking on the Mini University link from the drop-down menu. An email about the 2017 Mini University will be sent out in February for those who sign up, and registration will open in March. It’s important to register as soon as possible, Deckard said, because Mini University has sold out for several years in a row.

“Some people say this is their favorite week out of the whole year,” she said. “There’s nothing else like it.”

It’s certainly something Ritchel and Schwenk look forward to. Schwenk, who earned her master’s in library science from IU in 1971, said the classes help her stay up to date with what’s going on in the world. It also gives her a chance to spend a week with her daughter.

“We’ve got each other to ourselves,” Schwenk said.

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Source: The (Bloomington) Herald-Times, https://bit.ly/1Ouwf74

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Information from: The Herald Times, https://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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