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55-plus set has its own “university”

It’s not just youngsters who headed back to school this fall. At one Tucker institution, about 330 select students are taking a range of courses, from art and music to geology and great books after they’ve met a specific admission guideline: They must be 55 or older.

The Senior University of Greater Atlanta launched 40 years ago at Mercer University's Atlanta campus.However, Four years ago,SUGA moved its residence to the Rehoboth Baptist Church on Lawrenceville Highway, became a nonprofit and established a board of directors.

Over time, the curriculum has been updated to appeal to students’ interests but still focuses on favorites around history, politics, literature, music and health. In some cases, classes go back to material the students learned long ago.

“In our literature classes, we may read things we’ve read in high school or college, but now we see things from a different perspective,” said Arthur Slavin, who has been part of SUGA for 16 years as a student, past president and teacher of courses in cinema, literature and trivia.

“You learn different things from different angles. And we offer such a variety, from chamber music to quantum physics, but if you don’t like something, you can move onto the next one,” he said. “It’s an organization for people who want to grow educationally and socially.”

Classes meet from 9 a.m. until noon Wednesdays and Fridays in four-quarter sessions. Most of the volunteer instructors are retired professors and professionals, with guest speakers on special topics such as health or police procedures providing additional insight.

“Some people have instructors they like so much, they take whatever they’re teaching,” said Bill Beeson, SUGA’s executive director, who added that students come from across the metro area to attend. “We thought we’d lose some people when we moved, but we actually picked up a little bit. Many people keep coming because they miss seeing everyone and want to stay in touch.”

Beeson’s wife, Gretchen Turner, likes the academic atmosphere.

“When I think of senior centers, I think of computers and yoga,” she said. “These classes are much more academic – but with no tests, no quizzes and very little outside work.”

Tucker resident Lyn Conley, a former president of the SUGA board, began attend six years after ago hearing positive comments about the programs from friends as well as her mother, who was a student for several years before she passed away.

“I wanted the mental stimulation,” she said. “I like that there’s such a wide variety of courses all the time. I enjoy current events and history, but I’d never taken an art class, and I did that here. And there’s a book club and day trips as well.”

Slavin became a SUGA regular after his initial visit. “It was love at first sight, and it was one of smartest decisions I’ve ever made,” said the retired banker.

“When you’re retired, you need to find important, worthwhile things to do that are not only educational but social as well. I’ve made very good friends there, and I love to teach there; the student body is very responsive and receptive,” he said. “There’s a lot of good interaction.”

SUGA tuition is $175 for an entire year. More information is online at su-ga.org.

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Each week we look at programs, projects and successful endeavors at area schools, from pre-K to grad school. To suggest a story, contact H.M. Cauley at hm_cauley@yahoo.com or 770-744-3042.