Two years ago, New Yorker Steven Schragis dropped his daughter off for her freshman year at Bard College. "I remember thinking, 'I wish I was in college instead of paying for it,'" Schragis says. "It was a very different world than the office buildings in Manhattan. It was exciting."
Whether you're now ferrying your own kids or just watching others return to school, do you too wish you could go there instead of to work?
Well, you can, even if it's just for one class. At One Day University, it's possible to duplicate the mental stimulation of learning under prestigious professors without any of the aspects you may have dreaded in your school days: quizzes, tests and term papers.
Schragis approached his journalism colleague John Galvin in 2005 with the idea of recreating the college experience, and a year later, One Day University was born. "It's about distilling the most perfect day of college," says Galvin, in which an engaging professor brings your favorite subject matter to life.
What does this dream day consist of? Typically, four miniclasses on topics including history, sociology, psychology, political science and Middle Eastern studies. The day is split by a lunch break between the classes, each of which run just over an hour; cost ranges from $219 to $259 for the day, and students can register online.
"It's really a health club for the mind," says Galvin.
According to Schragis, over 5,600 people have participated in the program so far. Even at the first One Day University event, held last year in Rye Brook, N.Y., 300 students showed up.
The initial schedule included five lectures, which ended up being too many. "Students got brain fatigue,
and if one professor went 10 minutes late, it threw off the whole day," says Galvin. As a result, now there are only four classes, which offers a better balance.
The faculty has also been carefully considered and includes John Stein, professor of neuroscience at Brown University and a two-time winner of the Brown undergraduate student council excellence in teaching award; Shawn Achor, head teaching fellow for Harvard's most popular course, "Positive Psychology and the Science of Happiness," which he also teaches at One Day University; and Craig Wright, music professor at Yale and a Guggenheim foundation Fellowship recipient.
What prompts these professors to participate? "It's really energizing for them,
because we give them an audience outside of academia," Galvin explains.
Richard Pious, professor of political science at Barnard College, is drawn to his new students. They "are lifelong learners with a great thirst to continue learning in a two-way, interactive sense," he says.
Tufts University history professor Sol Gittleman initially came on board as a favor to Schragis, who was a former student of his. Part of the draw of teaching at One Day University is coming in contact with people from his generation. "I enjoy teaching people who lived through the same things I lived through," says Gittleman.
Jennifer Lawless, a Brown professor and the author of
It Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don't Run for Office
, has taught two classes on women in politics for One Day University. She is also attracted by its older student base: "Adults have different questions and comments and let me think theoretically about my research."
Achor, too, enjoys the new audience. "The exciting thing about One Day University is getting to speak to people who are not just college students. While I think college is a wonderful time, I wanted to bring these ideas to people of all ages," he says.
Achor and other One Day University professors try to recreate the regular college classroom experience for their more-mature students, without toning it down. For example, Achor gives One Day University students the same exercises he uses in his class at Harvard, including writing a grid of three to five positive aspects they want to incorporate into their daily routine.
The formula clearly works: Former One Day University students are effusive about their experience.
"It's a very interesting way to spend a day," Bob Frisch, 51, says. "It gets the mind working." He attended Lawless' class "The United States of Men (Why Are There So Few Women in Politics?)" and describes her as "very bright, entertaining and interactive."
Marion Feigenbaum, 61, who has taken multiple courses with her husband, says, "It's very interesting, informative, and makes you feel like you're back at school again -- but in a good way." She has already signed on for additional classes later this year.
"It's nice to be with a group of people who are as excited about
learning as we are," Feigenbaum adds.
Of course, there is a huge potential student base well outside the program's New York City and Philadelphia metro area locations. One Day University is looking to expand to Boston and Princeton, N.J., as well as to the West Coast. "We've gotten about 150 emails from the West Coast, saying, 'We like intellectual stimulation, too,' explains Galvin.
A partnership with
Barnes and Noble
is also in the works. The details are not yet complete, but the two companies are working together to develop a retail facility, says Schragis.
So if you're feeling nostalgic about college, here's your chance to relieve it. Just think: This time around you won't have to worry about cramming for those final exams.
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