By Terry Portis, Ed.D. 

Self-directed learning communities have formed all over the country in recent years. Members manage their own learning with peers and pursue interests and discussions with people who have a similar goal. This kind of rich learning environment is especially important for middle-aged and older adults who want to remain engaged and vibrant throughout their entire life.

One of those communities, the Peer Learning Partnership (PLP), was formed at Anne Arundel Community College (AACC) about five years ago. The PLP has about 200 members led by a volunteer board that plans courses, activities and discussion groups in collaboration with AACC staff. 

Interesting and Challenging Courses with Your Peers 

          Ten to 12 courses are offered in the fall, winter and spring. Thanks to PLP’s popularity, courses are now offered in the summer. On average, classes meet once per week for six weeks in two-hour sessions. Volunteer facilitators are PLP members who have some background, expertise or just a high level of interest in the subject matter.

Recent courses have included:

  • Digital Photography Workshop for Beginners
  • Energy: What Does the Future Hold?
  • Great Books
  • Western Philosophy 1: Knowledge and Certainty
  • Sherlock Holmes: Fiction and Reality
  • The Constitution as Interpreted by Supreme Court Decisions
  • Russian Music in the 19th Century
  • Fantasy and History of the Trojan War
  • Well, It’s About Time 

Discussion Groups 

          Along with the courses, PLP membership includes participation in discussion groups known as Fridays with Friends. These year-round Fridays forums are known for their lively discussion, great interaction and engrossing themes. Topics for Fridays with Friends include current events, investments, science and technology, history, books, films, travel and the music lovers’ group.

The People of PLP 

          PLP is about courses, discussion groups and occasional social get-togethers, but the people coordinating it are what make this program such a success. The following are short bios of some of the PLP leaders.

Dr. Steve Cohen is the current president of PLP, and retired from the National Aeronautic and Space Administration’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Cohen has a 38-year career as a physicist and geophysicist studying earthquakes.

Jim Don retired after a career that included several high-profile executive positions and included “adventures in Africa.” At one point, he was the president of a company that had 55 facilities and 8,000 employees.

Dr. Maggie Brinsley is a native of England and holds a Ph.D. in history. She retired from Towson University as assistant dean of the College of Graduate and Continuing Education. Her efforts led to the founding of the PLP in 2005.

Joanne Rich retired after 31 years in education and has had an active role in the American Association of University Women. Rich is known for her vivid storytelling and zeal for learning.

Paul Schatzberg’s life was shaped during his early years when he experienced firsthand the beginnings of the Holocaust. Schatzberg’s career has included being a scientist and a scholar, spending 38 years at the David Taylor Research Center.

Bill Daney’s career included 33 years in the Navy and at NASA. His extensive technical and electronics engineering background included work with polar-orbiting weather satellites to improve collecting information about the earth’s atmosphere and environment.

Vee Holt’s life has included sailing, singing and work for the Central Intelligence Agency. At the CIA she worked on statistical editing of open research reports. Always busy and involved, Holt has also served on the boards of the Anne Arundel County Public Library and the Annapolis Chorale, among others.   

Supporting Students 

          The PLP recently made a three-year commitment to the Anne Arundel Community College Foundation to provide scholarships to two students each year. The PLP membership recognized that many students who attend AACC could not afford to do so without the help of generous donors. 

Getting Involved 

          Membership in PLP is only $26 for six months and allows people to participate in the discussion groups, social activities and classes. Each class is an additional $26. These fees are kept low because many volunteers give their time to lead, serve and teach in the program.

For information, call the Center on Aging at AACC, 410 777-1806 or visit the PLP website at www.aacc.edu/plp


Terry Portis, Ed.D., is the director of the Center on Aging at Anne Arundel Community College.













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