An empty classroom. Teachers in North Carolina have had to adjust to online instruction, hybrid schedules and changing logistics since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some are choosing to leave the profession, adding to a shortage of qualified professionals in the state's classrooms.

Press release from Western Carolina University:

CULLOWHEE – Western Carolina University is launching a new lifelong learning institute aimed at people age 50 and older across Western North Carolina who are interested in enriching their lives through the pursuit of knowledge.

The institute, based on the idea that “learning is for everyone” and titled LIFE@WesternCarolina, will feature weekly interactive seminars in Cullowhee and Asheville. Sessions will focus on a wide variety of topics spanning business, history, science, literature, politics and personal development.

LIFE@WesternCarolina is designed to extend to residents of the greater WNC community the wide array of academic resources available at the university and in the community, said Alison Morrison-Shetlar, WCU provost.

“The LIFE program is for retirees, alumni and community members seeking to engage in lifelong learning. It is for those seeking networking, community and engagement in the learning process,” Morrison-Shetlar said. “The program topics will nourish the mind, spirit and body.”

The mission of LIFE@WesternCarolina is simple, she said.

“We want to establish a community of lifelong learners, age 50 and over, by offering participant-determined topics of interest that promote learning and community-university engagement,” Morrison-Shetlar said. “The programs are intended to enrich the quality of life for seasoned adults as they learn new things, meet new people and exchange ideas.”

The institute will include educational lectures, social opportunities and field trips as presenters, including university faculty, share expertise from a variety of backgrounds, she said.

Sessions are weekly for 12 weeks during the fall and spring semesters. Fall semester programs are tentatively scheduled to get underway Sept. 9 in Cullowhee and Sept. 10 in Asheville.

Participants will register for sessions being held at one of two sites. Programs will be held Tuesdays at the N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching adjacent to the WCU campus in Cullowhee, and Wednesdays at the university’s instructional site at Biltmore Park Town Square, located at 28 Schenck Parkway in Asheville. Sessions at both sites will begin at 10 a.m. and continue until noon.

Among the proposed topics for this fall are “Operations of the Biltmore House,” “Useful Legal Matters,” “Cherokee and the Seven Clans,” “How the Civil War Affected WNC,” “Native Plants,” “Local Scenic Hikes,” “Making the Theory of Evolution Clear to People Like You and Me,” “Storytelling in Appalachia,” “Seeing, Imagining and Recording: The Process of Creative Writing,” “Theater and Design,” “The Major Differences between the Core Beliefs of Conservatives and Liberals,” “State and Federal Politics and Trends: Impact on the Economy and Education,” “Terrorism and Global Threats,” “Being and Doing Good” and “Living While Dying.”

The final lineup of program topics will be announced soon.

Cost of membership in the institute is $125 per year, including 24 engaged learning experiences with opportunities to take part in additional activities related to some of the topics. Participants may attend all or as many sessions as they like.

“For example, participants might hear from the director of a play about how to develop and put on a performance, and then go and see the play,” Morrison-Shetlar said. “Or participants might hear about the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, and then go visit the town of Cherokee and see it with different eyes.”

For more information or to register for the LIFE@WesternCarolina institute, contact the Division of Educational Outreach at 828-227-7397 or, or visit the website

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Angie Newsome is the executive director and editor of Carolina Public Press. Contact her at (828) 774-5290 or e-mail her at

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