PROFILE: Director of Communiversity Cultivates UC's Commitment To Lifelong Learning

Donna Burns marked her 21st anniversary with UC’s Communiversity in December – 21 years of developing and coordinating quality, non-credit classes that are open to any adult who has an interest in learning something new. The variety of courses covers everything from designing a stained glass window to learning about world travel, boosting a career, inspecting a new home, gardening, planning for retirement, dancing, or learning a language.

 The list goes on an on. “We now offer 125 different classes per quarter,” says Burns, Communiversity director. “We’ve come a long way. It’s fascinating to look at the classes that we’ve offered throughout Communiversity’s history, because you see how much we’ve changed and how some things are just timeless.”

Burns has 54 years of Communiversity catalogs in her office, dating back to its introduction in 1949. The name that merged the community with the university didn’t come about until 1968. Leafing through the earliest brochures, Burns finds the program was simply titled, “Short-term courses,” later evolving into “Short-term courses for busy men and women.”

“I think the emphasis was always on the convenience of learning something new – an invitation to come to the university in the evening, where you can enjoy doing something after work,” Burns says. “Eighty-percent of our classes are still held on UC’s campus.”

The program’s very first brochure in 1949 offered seven classes that met once weekly for eight weeks. Burns says Communiversity now offers more variety in both topics and scheduling. “The average is about five meetings per class, but a number of them may meet once or twice. Others may run between eight to 10 weeks.”

There are the classes that remain popular through the decades, such as exploring antiques. In a 1949 brochure, learners were invited to take a course on youth and marriage, or to discover music and musicians.

On that note, this winter, Communiversity is offering a new course that covers the history of rock ‘n’ roll— but just remember that “The King,” Elvis Presley, didn’t make his TV debut on the Ed Sullivan show until 1956, seven years after that first music appreciation course was provided at Communiversity. And Hip Hop dancing, another selection for winter quarter, didn’t exist for decades after that. However, a Communiversity course examining “the turbulent teens” dates back to 1951.

Donna Burns

Donna Burns

The old brochures also reflect advances in technology, as color printing stands out in 1952. That was also when there was a Communiversity class offered on “the age of jet propulsion,” an age when frequent flier miles were as foreign as owning more than one family car.

“As you look over this 1956 brochure, you see the beginnings of an awareness of worldwide learning. This course revealed the people and lands of Latin America with a look at Portugal, Spain and the Caribbean,” Burns says.  She adds that a 1961 course that delved into the “troubled areas of the world” in respect to the U.S. examined “the Middle East and its conflict.” A description for a 1969 course on the Middle East and world affairs reads, “The conflict in the Middle East remains, but why and for how long? How well informed are you about one of the most taxed areas in the world today?” The course promised a timely look at American foreign policy, the Israeli conflict, and issues resulting from social and economic change.

A Communiversity course this winter that reflects how American society has changed since the 50s is titled, “Woman and Finance: Lessons Mother Never Taught You.”  The course examines how women can protect themselves from financial catastrophe by learning survival tactics that can lead to financial independence.

A hobby that might stir memories of Grandma is now gaining interest among the much younger set. Burns says that because of the demand, winter Communiversity is offering two courses, “Knitting for Novices,” and “Knitting II: Taking it to the Next Level.”  The growing interest among Cincinnatians toward knitting is reflecting a national trend, according to a survey reported by the Craft Yarn Council of America. That survey, reported in 2002, suggested that the number of women under age 45 who knit or crochet has doubled from nine percent to 18 percent in the past six years.

Burns is always on the lookout for new topics to be taught by qualified instructors. To submit a program for consideration, contact Donna Burns at 513-556-9197 for information on how to get a proposal form.

For more on Communiversity courses and registration, check the web site.

About Communiversity:

  • Average number of non-credit, personal enrichment courses per quarter: 125
  • Average cost: $69
  • Average number of class meetings: 5
  • Average number of students per quarter: 1,200
  • 68 percent of Communiversity students are women; 32 percent are men
  • 41 percent of Communiversity students are between 25-39 years old;
  • 13 percent are younger than that age group.

Adult and Continuing Education web site


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