From June 3 to June 6, 2024, Butler Lifelong Learning Collaborative will host its inaugural Summer Spark Week, an engaging four-day event designed for adult lifelong learners seeking an intellectually stimulating, college-like experience. Participants can choose to participate in one day or the full week. Spearheaded by the Butler Lifelong Learning Collaborative (BLLC), this event promises to deliver a unique blend of workshops, lectures, and “behind-the-scenes” experiences to spark curiosity and foster a passion for continuous learning.

Summer Spark Week offers participants an opportunity to dive into more than 40 educational sessions—including Marketing Magic: Behind-the-Scenes of Butler’s Live Mascot Program, Positively Pickleball, and 20 for $200—Décor to Food: Host a Party with Minimal Budget and Maximum Impact—carefully curated to inspire and engage without having to enroll as a full-time student. Dr. Catherine Pangan, Professor of Education and Director of Butler Lifelong Learning Collaborative, explains, “There are no tests, no grades – just pure exploration, engagement, and fun.” This immersive event is designed to provide a rich, multifaceted experience where attendees can explore new interests, engage in thoughtful discussions, and connect with the vibrant Butler community.

Stephanie Hinshaw, Associate Vice President for Innovation, adds, “Summer Spark Week is exciting as it provides individuals the unique opportunity to be a ‘college student again’ for about a week. Participants get to engage in meaningful courses, connect with others, and be part of a college community—without having to study at night or prepare for quizzes.” This event aims to recreate the essence of the college experience, offering intellectual and social engagement without the pressure of grades.

Each day begins with wellness activities, setting a positive tone for the intellectually stimulating sessions that follow. In addition to the educational offerings, participants can attend arts and social events, enhancing their overall experience and fostering a sense of community.

The Lifelong Learning Collaborative at Butler is dedicated to promoting growth, curiosity, community engagement, and personal fulfillment among adult learners, ranging from recent graduates to senior citizens. Spark Week embodies these goals by igniting curiosity through compelling content and inspiring the natural drive to learn at any age.

Hinshaw emphasizes, “The Butler Lifelong Learning Collaborative exists because learning should not be bound by a time in our lives. Too often, we think about learning as something that happens in school, at college, or at a specific event. BLLC transcends this and offers ‘just in time’ classes and content for people who want to learn at any time in their life.”

The courses and sessions for Spark Week were selected through a collaborative process involving faculty and staff submissions. Pangan describes the selection process as an opportunity for faculty to propose interesting topics, including their current classes, passion projects, or ongoing research. The BLLC team evaluated these proposals, aiming to create a diverse and engaging schedule that challenges learners in new and exciting ways.

Instructors play a crucial role in shaping the Spark Week experience with their energy, creativity, and compelling content, making the event memorable and impactful for participants. Pangan highlights the importance of these instructors, stating, “Their energy, creativity, and compelling content are the backbone to a memorable experience.” Hinshaw echoes this sentiment, noting that the instructors’ passion for their subjects creates an exciting and robust learning environment.

Participants can expect to engage in meaningful conversations, connect with others interested in similar topics, and have a lot of fun along the way. The goal is to exceed expectations and create an inaugural experience that participants will remember fondly. Past courses and tours offered by the BLLC have already had a significant impact, with participants expressing their gratitude and enthusiasm for the learning opportunities provided.

One participant reflected on a course by saying, “Excellent course. Excellent teacher. It rekindled my love for what Butler offered me as an undergrad 40 years ago.” Others have praised the energetic and informative nature of the classes, and many have become repeat participants, highlighting the community and sense of belonging fostered by these learning experiences.

Pangan envisions Summer Spark Week becoming an eagerly anticipated event, akin to an “adult summer camp” where friends reunite, engage in cutting-edge content, and rejuvenate intellectually and socially. She draws inspiration from influential educator John Dewey’s philosophy, stating, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” This philosophy underscores the importance of lifelong learning and community growth.

As an educator with nearly 30 years of experience, Pangan finds immense joy in seeing people of all ages become curious about new topics and bond over shared learning experiences. She believes these micro-connections contribute to a stronger community, making lifelong learning an essential aspect of personal and communal development.

Hinshaw shares this enthusiasm, reflecting on her own positive experiences with lifelong learning programs like Indiana University’s “mini university.” She expresses excitement about offering a similar opportunity through Spark Week, providing a space for participants to learn about topics they are passionate about and creating lasting, positive memories.

Summer Spark Week at Butler University represents a significant step forward in promoting lifelong learning and intellectual curiosity among adults. By offering a diverse array of sessions and fostering a welcoming community, the event promises to ignite passions and create lasting memories for all participants. With the dedication of the BLLC team and the enthusiastic participation of lifelong learners, Summer Spark Week is set to become a cornerstone event in Butler’s commitment to education and community engagement.