By Sheryl De Leo (Photo by Tim Hanger)

The Osher Institute at the University of Richmond is always looking for new, intriguing, and unusual course offerings to be part of our volunteer-taught curriculum. But many people are daunted by the prospect of putting together a class. Rocket science it is not. Osher members have a love of learning and a zest for life. These are two of the reasons we join Osher. The question is how to turn those assets into a class to present to/with our peers.

First off, you do not have to be an expert in a given field to lead a class on the topic. Think of a subject that has interested you for a long time, a new found interest, or something you would like to learn more about. I have a love of history and mystery. So, I proposed combining them into our history/mystery Literary Gems classes. When I did so, I had no idea if anyone else might be interested in this combination and was most pleasantly surprised to find myself far from alone.

Do enough research on the topic to formulate a class proposal (the submission form may be found at the Osher website at – click on “Lead and Volunteer”). Get a basic grasp of what you want to do and do some research on your topic. So much is available on line that this step is really not a chore. This is why Google is such a success. You will have plenty of time to flesh out your ideas between your proposal and actual class. Trust me on this one. I learned quite a lot between the proposal and the first class when I prepared for the “Mississippi: Misunderstood Marvel.”

Always remember, you will know much more about your topic than anyone else in the classroom. And, if you don’t, say: “That is a really good point/question. I’ll find out and get back to you.” No one expects our class leaders to be omniscient; we are mostly volunteers who just happen to be very motivated. I am always grateful to learn something from my peers who have done the research/preparation work for me to explore a new topic.

Talk to leaders of classes that you have enjoyed to find out their method of preparation, which may take some simple footwork. In preparing the class proposal for the Civil War program this past spring, I made a few phone calls and visited a site or two to meet the people who would be doing the actual work. I facilitated rather than taught the class. There are more options out there for similar topic approaches. Think about team teaching with another Osher member, or a non-Osher member, you might have come across who shares your interest. It’s a great way to add another member.

Your fellow Osher members will appreciate your efforts and, who knows, you may inspire someone else to step up with a new class idea. But most of all, have fun leading a class!