Lifelong Learning Institute at Virginia Tech
  Lifelong Learning Institute at Virginia Tech

Lifelong Learning Institute at Virginia Tech

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Spring term begins the week of February 5 (Great Decisions begins January 31).
Catalogs Available Beginning January 3
Registration Available January 8

Most classes are 1 ½ hours, one day per week, for 3 or 6 weeks

Preview Spring 2019 Offerings:

View Course Descriptions
- or -
Download an updated Catalog: LLISpring2019catalog.pdf

Also check our events page for information about scheduled upcoming events.

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Course Descriptions


February 4 - March 18, 2019

Calling All Weather Geeks!

Course #:567153-001
Time: Monday, 9:00 - 10:30 a.m.
Dates: 6 weeks: Feb. 4, 11, 18, 25, Mar. 4, 18 (skip Mar. 11)
Location: Warm Hearth Village Center
Class Limit: 45
Cost: $35

If you love a good thunderstorm, anticipate a winter blizzard, and are glued to the Weather Channel during hurricane or tornado outbreaks, you are a weather geek and this course is for you. The course will include a tour of the National Weather Service facility in Blacksburg. Three Virginia Tech geography professors, meteorologists from NOAA and WDBJ-7, and the Roanoke Times weather blogger will lead the sessions.

This course is a repeat of the one offered in Spring 2017.


  1. Weather 101: The Earth's atmosphere and the weather it produces. Drew Ellis, VT Geography
  2. Forecasting: Local challenges, notable hits and misses. Brent Watts, WDBJ-7
  3. Storm chasing: Getting up close and personal with severe storms and tornadoes. Dave Carroll, VT Geography
  4. Citizen forecasting and the role of social media. Kevin Myatt, Roanoke Times
  5. Tropical weather and weather prediction. Stephanie Zick, VT Geography
  6. The role of the National Weather Service, its technologies, and weather safety plus a tour of the NWS facility. Steve Keighton, NOAA

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February 4 - March 11, 2019

Paint Your Own Barn Quilt

Course #: # 567153-002
Time: Monday, 10:00 a.m - 12:00 p.m.
Dates: 6 weeks: Feb. 4, 11, 18, 25, Mar. 4, 11
Location: Blacksburg Community Center, Community Room
Class Limit: 10
Cost: $35
Materials fee: $30
Instructor(s): Linda Olin, Anne Campbell

We will discuss barn quilts, do a planning sketch, and learn color theory and painting techniques. Class members will paint a 2 x 2-foot barn quilt on aluminum with premium exterior semi-gloss enamel with primer over the 6-week course. The Indian Star quilt design will be the basic pattern drawn, with each class member selecting colors and specific pattern.

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February 4 - March 18, 2019

Cartooning for Peace

Course #: # 567153-003
Time: Monday, 11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Dates: 6 weeks: Feb. 4, 11, 18, 25, Mar. 4, 18 (skip Mar. 11)
Location: Hillel at Virginia Tech
Class Limit: 16
Cost: $35
Instructor(s): Edd Sewell

Cartoonists are opinion journalists whose work visually captures attention and is easily shared. One possible fallout from this is that they are often the first "journalists" to become targets for despotic leaders and political extremists. This environment puts them at great risk of imprisonment.

This course will focus on how cartoonists from various nations present important issues in their cartoons, and how political leaders and extremists respond to the cartoons and cartoonists. The presentation/discussion will focus not only on the cartoonist and cartoons, but also on the conditions under which the cartoonists work.


  1. Overview of Cartoonists' Rights Network International and Cartoonists for Peace, organizations that defend the rights of cartoonists worldwide
  2. Case study: Danish Mohammed cartoons
  3. Case study: Charlie Hebdo
  4. Americas and Europe
  5. Mid-East, Africa, and Asia
  6. Wrap-up and conclusions

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February 4 - 25, 2019

Financial Strategies for Retirement

Course #: # 567153-004
Time: Monday, 11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Dates: 4 weeks: Feb. 4, 11, 18, 25
Location: VT Public Safety Building, Room 153
Class Limit: 15
Cost: $35
Instructor(s): Paul French, Chris French, Bettye Ackerman

The noise around finances, investments, and the stock market seems to grow louder every day. This course will cut through the clutter of the 24/7 news cycle and present participants with straightforward and actionable strategies relevant to today, helping participants to manage their wealth, reduce the stress of their investing, and take care of those they care about.

The course assumes a basic understanding of investing and financial planning, but everyone is welcome. Question and answer periods at the end of each session will allow the instructors to go in greater depth, if requested, and also to add further topics to the next session.


  1. Advanced planning: How much is enough? Life mapping; building a financial projection; choosing and working with financial professionals
  2. Types, risks and uses of common investment asset classes: Stocks and bonds; mutual funds and Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs); alternative Investments; fixed investments, savings accounts, CDs; annuities
  3. Investing: Investment decision models and concepts for financial success; the hidden costs of investing and ways to minimize; common types of accounts (401(k)s and 403(b)s; IRAs, traditional and Roth; Required Minimum Distributions and Qualified Charitable Distributions; college savings plans
  4. Estate planning (with Bettye Ackerman): Estate planning tools; wills and trusts; using beneficiary designations; special needs trusts; elder care strategies

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January 28 - April 8, 2019

Beginning Quilting

Course #: 567153-005
Time: Monday, 1:00 - 3:00 p.m. (exception: 1:00 - 5:00 p.m. on January 28)
Dates: 7 weeks: Jan. 28 (1:00 - 5:00 p.m.), Feb. 11, 18, Mar. 11, 18, 25, Apr. 8 (skip Feb. 4, 25, Mar. 4, Apr. 1)
Location: Blacksburg Presbyterian Church, Fellowship Hall
Class Limit: 20
Cost: $35
Materials fee: $40 (covers all handouts, template and high-quality fabrics for the table runner)
Instructor(s): Paula Golden

Project: Twisted Pole Table runner (by Vicki Purnell) in fall colors

A supply list will be distributed in Week 1. Bring a mechanical pencil to the first class.


  1. Basic sewing / quilting supply review. Kits and supply list distributed. Basic rotary cutting techniques, all pieces to be cut in class (1:00 - 5:00 pm)
  2. Accurate hand and machine piecing, pressing techniques
  3. Basting of quilt sandwich
  4. Hand quilting
  5. Hand quilting continued; documenting your table runner with label
  6. Binding and finishing techniques
  7. Completion

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January 28 - March 4, 2019

Mindfulness Practices for Caring for Ourselves, Others, and the World

Course #: 567153-006
Time: Monday, 3:00 - 4:30 p.m.
Dates: 5 weeks: Jan. 28, Feb. 4, 18, 25, Mar. 4 (skip Feb. 11)
Location: Corporate Research Center, 1880 Pratt Drive, Suite 2018
Class Limit: 25
Cost: $35
Instructor(s): Pat Shoemaker

"You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather."

Mindfulness is an effective tool for being more fully present in the moment, and thus more present for our life. The class will explore how this simple (yet not easy!) approach to our daily lives can help us better understand and care for ourselves, others, and the world. We will explore strategies for promoting inner ease and physical and mental well-being; for cultivating more open and authentic relationships; and for contributing to sane, safe communities.

This class is for those who are newly interested in mindfulness and for more experienced practitioners to learn more about mindfulness and deepen their personal practice. Each 90-minute class meeting will include alternating sessions of 5-20-minute introductory talks followed by 5-15 minutes of mindfulness practice, integrated with small group discussions and question and answer periods.


Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment—and Your Life, by Jon Kabat-Zinn (2012). ISBN 978-1604077742

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February 4 - March 18, 2019

Appreciating French Wines

Course #: # 567153-007
Time: Monday, 3:00 - 5:00 p.m.
Dates: 6 weeks: Feb. 4, 11, 18, 25, Mar. 4, 18 (skip Mar. 11)
Location: Vintage Cellar
Class Limit: 25
Cost: $35
Wine fee: $100 payable to Vintage Cellar
Instructor(s): Randall Horst

This class will focus on the wines of France including the regions of Alsace, Beaujolais, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Rhone, Loire Valley, Provence, and Jura. Varietals such as Riesling, Grenache, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir will be tasted and studied for their special regional characteristics.

The wine fee for this course is $100. Mail a separate check for the wine fee only to Vintage Cellar, 1338 South Main Street, Blacksburg, VA 24060. Note on your check that it is payment for the LLI Wine Appreciation course. Credit card payment also accepted in advance (call 540-953-2675) or at the first class session.

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February 5 - March 19, 2019


Course #: # 567153-008
Time: Tuesday, 9:00 - 10:15 a.m.
Dates: 6 weeks: Feb. 5, 12, 19, 26, Mar. 5, 19 (skip Mar. 12)
Location: Warm Hearth Village Center
Class Limit: 75
Cost: $35

This engaging sampler course treats participants to a wide range of speakers and topics--something different each week.

February 5.
Chasing the Powhatan Arrow

As World War II ended, Norfolk & Western offered several passenger trains along its main line, including its daytime flagship, the Powhatan Arrow. Pulled initially by the magnificent Class J steam locomotives that N&W manufactured at its Roanoke shops, the Powhatan Arrow provided fast, luxurious, and memorable service for three decades before passenger service was discontinued. Chasing the Powhatan Arrow is a travelog in economic geography from Norfolk through Roanoke to Cincinnati, following that iconic N&W passenger train. Copies of this book will be for sale, and Michael Abraham will be available for signing.

Instructor(s): Michael Abraham

February 12.
The Red Baron—The Life and Times of Manfred von Richthofen

This presentation discusses the outbreak of the First World War, and the history of that war on the Western Front, through the prism of Germany's leading fighter pilot, Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron. We will look at many rare photos of events, personalities, and vintage aircraft of over 100 years ago.

Instructor(s): Paul French

February 19.
The History of Food: An Exploration of the Origins of the Food We Eat

We may not be surprised to hear children comment that food comes from the supermarket, given that they have never visited a farm. But how many of us know the historical origin of the fruits, vegetables, and grains we eat? Come join us in an interactive discussion of our food history.

Instructor(s): Lisa Lloyd

February 26.
Preventing Elder Financial Abuse

Elder exploitation and abuse are on the rise, and technology makes it easier. Learn how to identify signs of exploitation as well as to use strategies to intervene and prevent it. This knowledge will help you and your friends and neighbors avoid being victimized.

Instructor(s): Janet Brennend

March 5.
The Second Coming of the KKK

The Ku Klux Klan has swept parts of the country in three different waves. The original KKK was a terrorist organization. The third (current) version seems to be more closely related to the Nazis of the 1930s. This talk will be about the second incarnation, which was touted as a respectable part of American culture, but actually was a money-making operation for its leaders.

Instructor(s): Jim Shockley

March 19.
Life and Death for Jews in Nazi-Occupied France

Nathan Kranowski, a young Jewish child living in Paris at the start of WWII, will recount what happened to him and his parents when the Nazis occupied France. He will place the story of his parents and himself in the broader context of what the Nazis did to Jews and describe how they worked towards the goal of eventually killing all Jews in France.

Instructor(s): Nathan Kranowski

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February 5 - March 19, 2019

Introduction to Smartphone Photography: How to Capture and Keep Meaningful Memories Using Your Phone

Course #: # 567153-009
Time: Tuesday, 11:00 a.m.- 12:30 p.m.
Dates: 6 weeks: Feb. 5, 12, 19, 26, Mar. 5, 19 (skip Mar. 12)
Location: Hillel at Virginia Tech
Class Limit: 15
Cost: $35
Instructor(s): Alejandra Moral

Smartphones have turned everyone into a photographer, bringing high tech cameras into the palm of your hands. But do you know how to make the most of it?

This introductory course is for anyone who wants to learn the basics of digital photography using just a smartphone without the complexity of a DSLR camera. The course will follow a step-by-step process from shooting, to editing and printing your photographs. Not a techy person? You can still learn to capture beautiful photographs simply using your smartphone.

In every session there will be a "photo of the week" challenge


  1. Introduction to the class. The possibilities of smartphones
  2. Rules of composition
  3. Lighting, lenses, and camera angles; HDR
  4. Take a photo: frame, focus, and shoot. Capturing emotion: Don't say "cheeeese"!
  5. How to select, edit, store, print, and share photos from your smartphone
  6. Final critique. Q&A

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February 5 - 26, 2019

Fit After 50: Why and How?

Course #: # 567153-010
Time: Tuesday, 1:00 - 2:30 p.m.
Dates: 4 weeks: Feb. 5, 12, 19, 26
Location: VT Public Safety Building, Room 153
Class Limit: 32
Cost: $35
Instructor(s): Janet Rankin

If physical activity were a drug, everyone would demand a prescription. Most people know being fit is beneficial but are not sure how to go about it or can't get motivated. This class will present some of the most compelling, recent scientific evidence connecting a physically active lifestyle to improved health as well as evidenced-based recommendations for improving fitness. It will cover the basics of interpreting the new research and how to incorporate physical activity into your daily life. The target audience is for contemplators or beginners as the class may be too basic for the avid, knowledgeable exerciser.


  1. Scientific connection between physical activity and lower risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and cognitive decline
  2. Deciphering the changing news: Trusted resources and basics of interpreting research
  3. The new 2018 US Physical Activity Guidelines: Type, amount, and intensity of physical activity for health benefit
  4. Building habitual physical activity into your life

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March 5 - 26, 2019

Blacks in the Making of America

Course #: # 567153-011
Time: Tuesday, 1:00 - 2:30 p.m.
Dates: 3 weeks: Mar. 5, 19, 26 (skip Mar. 12)
Location: VT Public Safety Building, 153
Class Limit: 32
Cost: $35
Instructor(s): Wornie Reed

Very little is known about African American history and even less about the roles that blacks played in the making of America. We will consider two kinds of roles. First, we'll examine the roles of blacks in wars, explorations, and the westward expansion. In the second session, we'll discuss various inventions and developments by blacks that assisted in the improvement of everyday life of Americans. In the third session, we will have an open discussion about the meaning and utility of African American history and whether and how current omissions can be corrected.

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February 5 - March 19, 2019

Introducing Edwidge Danticat

Course #: # 567153-012
Time: Tuesday, 3:00 - 4:30 p.m.
Dates: 6 weeks: Feb. 5, 12, 19, 26, Mar. 5, 19 (skip Mar. 12)
Location: VT Public Safety Building, Room 155
Class Limit: 16
Cost: $35
Instructor(s): Virginia Fowler

This course explores the writing of the contemporary novelist Edwidge Danticat, born in Haiti during the reign of "Papa Doc" Duvalier, left there with an uncle until the age of 12, and then sent for by her parents who had immigrated to New York City. Although she spoke and read no English before she was 12, she writes in prose that elegantly "addresses how the specter of history haunts the unresolved present."

The New York Times named her one of 30 artists under 30 "likely to change the culture for the next 30 years." The writer Junot Diaz called her "the quintessentially American writer, tackling the new world's hidden history of apocalypse and how to survive it." Her first novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory, published when she was a mere 25 years old, was selected for Oprah's Book Club in 1998. In awarding her a MacArthur "genius" fellowship in 2009, the foundation wrote: "Danticat provides a nuanced portrait of the intersection between nation and diaspora, home and exile, and reminds us of the power of human resistance, renewal, and endurance against great obstacles." Danticat has been compared to Toni Morrison for her poetic and unflinching portrayal of trauma, grief, exile, and memory.

If you have read Danticat's fiction previously, come share the experience. If you are new to her work, find out what others admire in her fiction. We will begin with the novel that introduced her remarkable voice to the world, Breath, Eyes, Memory. We will then turn to her award-winning collection of short stories, Krik? Krak! We will conclude with her 2004 novel, The Dew Breaker.


Breath, Eyes, Memory (Read Part One--62 pages-- before the first class.)

Krik? Krak!

The Dew Breaker

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February 6 - 27, 2019

Gravitational Interactions: The Sun, Moon, and Tides

Course #: # 567153-013
Time: Wednesday, 9:00 - 10:30 a.m.
Dates: 4 weeks: Feb. 6, 13, 20, 27
Location: VT Public Safety Building, Room 153
Class Limit: 32
Cost: $35
Instructor(s): Reverdy Wright

This course is a blend of the history, literature, and science of tidal forces, which have had a significant impact on civilizations over time. Our perceptions about the dynamic power of the tides have evolved as knowledge has expanded. Ancient folklore has several stories showing that humans cannot control the tides, like unsuccessfully 'sweeping them out' with a broom. As just one example of their historical importance, remember that tidal actions were a significant factor in planning the Allied invasion of Normandy, ultimately affecting D-Day operations.

Tides have captured the creative imaginations of poets and writers who often draw parallels between tidal actions and the ebb and flow of human existence. For the sailor and sportsman, tide tables are a Bible that orders comings and goings and influences outdoor activities. There's plenty of science to explore too: gravitational effects; tide tables at places along seacoasts; the global pattern of tides and currents, and the navigational challenges they present; and tidal phenomena such as coastline change, erosion, and wildlife impact. We'll discuss oddities such as tidal bores and whirlpools, and places with extreme tidal properties. We'll also look at the terminology used to describe tidal activities.

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January 30 - March 27, 2019

Great Decisions

Course #: 567153-014
Time: Wednesday, 11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Dates: 8 weeks: Jan. 30, Feb. 6, 13, 20, 27, Mar. 6, 13, 27 (skip March 20)
Location: German Club Manor
Class Limit: 200
Cost: $35

Presented in partnership with the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County


January 30.
Cyber Conflict and Geopolitics

Aaron Brantly, Assistant Professor of Political Science, VT

Cyber conflict is a new and continually developing threat, which can include foreign interference in elections, industrial sabotage, and attacks on infrastructure. Russia has been accused of interfering in the 2016 presidential elections in the United States, and China is highly committed to using cyberspace as a tool of national policy. Dealing with cyber conflict will require new ways of looking at 21st century warfare.

February 6.
Refugees and Global Migration

Christian Matheis, Assistant Professor of Public and International Affairs, VT

Today, no countries have open borders. Every state in today's global system has its own laws and policies about who is permitted to cross its borders, and how they will do so. Who determines whether someone is a refugee or a migrant? How have different countries, including the United States, reacted to migration? How effective are the international laws, policies and organizations that have evolved to assist and protect refugees and migrants?

February 13.
State of the State Department and Diplomacy

Karen Hult, Professor of Political Science, VT

During the Trump administration, the usual ways of conducting diplomacy have been upended. Many positions in the State Department have never been filled, and meetings with foreign leaders such as Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin have been undertaken with little advance planning. What effect are these changes having now, and how will they affect ongoing relationships between the United States and its allies and adversaries?

February 20.
Decoding U.S.-China Trade

Mary Marchant, Professor of Agricultural and Applied Economics, VT

Though arguably the most advanced economy in the world, the United States still uses centuries-old numbers to measure trade. These antique numbers mangle understanding of the U.S.-China trade relationship, shrinking America's true economic size and competitiveness, while swelling China's. Bad numbers give rise to bad policies that ultimately kill U.S. jobs and cede market share to China. What other tools can the United States employ to counter China's unfair trade practices? Several are available, yet they remain mostly unused.

February 27.
Nuclear Negotiations: Back to the Future?

Max Stephenson, Professor of Public and International Affairs, VT

The Trump administration has brought a new urgency, if not a new approach, to dealing with nuclear weapons. The President has met with Vladimir Putin as the New Start Treaty with Russia comes up for renewal in 2021, he met with Kim Jongun to discuss denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, and he decertified the Obama nuclear deal with Iran. To what degree should past nuclear talks guide future U.S. nuclear arms control negotiations? Can the art of the deal apply to stabilizing our nuclear future?

March 6.
The Middle East: Regional Disorder

Bill Ochsenwald, Professor Emeritus of History, VT

The Middle East remains a region in turmoil. The Trump administration has aligned itself with strongmen in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt, which along with Israel have a common goal of frustrating Iranian expansion. What will be the fallout from policy reversals such as withdrawing from the Iranian nuclear accord and moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem? Does the United States see a path forward in troubled states such as Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Iraq? Is the United States headed toward war with Iran?

March 13.
The Rise of Populism in Europe

Charles Taylor, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, VT

Mass migration, and the problems associated with it, have directly abetted the rise of populist parties in Europe. Opposition to immigration was the prime driver of support for Brexit. It also brought a far-right party to the German Bundestag for the first time since the 1950s, and propelled Marine Le Pen to win a third of the vote in the French presidential election. In addition to calling for stronger borders, however, these parties are invariably illiberal, anti-American, anti-NATO, and pro-Kremlin, making their rise a matter of serious concern for the national security interests of the United States.

March 27.
The United States and Mexico: Partnership Tested

Rebecca Hester, Assistant Professor of Science, Technology, and Society, VT

The United States and Mexico have a long, intertwined history, with both countries prominently featured in each other's politics and agendas. The war on drugs, immigration and trade issues have taxed the relationship over the years. What impact will new leadership in both countries have on this crucial partnership?

Great Decisions Briefing Book available at Volume II Bookstore or in the Blacksburg Public Library for inlibrary use.

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February 6 - 27, 2019

Mah Jongg, a Great Way to Exercise Your Brain

Course #: 567153-015
Time: Wednesday, 1:00 - 3:00 p.m.
Dates: 4 weeks: Feb. 6, 13, 20, 27
Location: Blacksburg Community Center, Community Room
Class Limit: 16
Cost: $35
Instructor(s): Janet Sawyers

Mah Jongg is a game played with tiles rather than cards. The excitement of Mah Jongg lies in the decisions that you will constantly have to make. It is a game of both skill and luck. Mah Jongg is declared by the first player to match 14 tiles to a hand on an official card of standard hands.

The four-week class will begin by introducing you to the tiles, the initial tile-passing sequence, and the rules for the play of the game. You will be playing hands in each class, and experienced players will be available to assist you. Strategies will be introduced as you become more familiar with the game. The class requires no previous knowledge of the game.

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February 6 - March 6, 2019

Cuba in the American Imagination

Course #: 567153-016
Wednesday, 3:00 - 4:30 p.m. Dates: 4 weeks: Feb. 6, 20, 27, Mar. 6 (skip Feb. 13)
Location: VT Public Safety Building, 153
Class Limit: 25
Cost: $35
Instructor(s): Joe Scarpaci

This course examines the multiple roles our neighbor-island to the south has played in creating a unique place-brand for itself over the past 200 years. A small island of just 11 million, it has embedded itself firmly in the minds of Americans in politics, sports, culture, and leisure.


  • Cuba's cultural and physical geography as the largest Antillean island
  • Race and slavery during the 19th century and how abolition, proposed annexation, and the Civil War influenced race relations
  • The Spanish-American-CUBAN War of 1898
  • "Steamship tourism" during the inter-war and prohibition eras
  • The Mafia and organized crime in the Las Vegas- Miami-Havana Triangle
  • The influence of the pioneering "I Love Lucy" sitcom of the 1950s
  • The portrayal of rumba, cha cha cha, and salsa in the world music scene
  • The 1959 Revolution, Fidel Castro, and the Afro- American community
  • >600 ways to kill Fidel Castro
  • Why the Castros were not altar boys
  • Post-Soviet Cuba in a global world and in the shadow of the Castro brothers


Landscapes: Heritage, Memory, and Place, Guilford Press 2009. By Joseph Scarpaci and Armando Portela. ISBN 978-1606233238. Available here:

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February 6 -20, 2019

Basics of Adobe Photoshop Elements

Course #: 567153-017
Time: Wednesday, 3:00 - 4:30 p.m.
Dates: 3 weeks: Feb. 6, 13, 20
Location: Hillel at Virginia Tech
Class Limit: 15
Cost: $35
Instructor(s): Derley Aguilar

Learn the various tools within Photoshop Elements that help enhance and improve your photographs. This is a hands-on course and participants are encouraged to download a 30-day trial of the software if they do not already have it, as well as bring a laptop to the course meetings. Downloads are available at Participants do not need to bring a camera to class, but they should bring photographs to work with.


  • Understanding the workspace
  • Fixing red-eye, crooked photos
  • Applying special effects
  • Working with layers
  • Using Elements Organizer to organize your photo library

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February 7 - March 21, 2019

The Staircase: Another Look at Justice and the Media

Course #: 567153-018
Time: Thursday, 9:00 - 10:30 a.m.
Dates: 6 weeks: Feb. 7, 14, 21, 28, Mar. 7, 21 (skip Mar. 14)
Location: VT Public Safety Bldg, 153
Class Limit: 20
Cost: $35
Instructor(s): Jack Call

Like Making a Murderer, The Staircase has been a Netflix sensation. It examines the murder prosecution of Michael Peterson, a prominent novelist whose wife is found dead at the bottom of a staircase in their Durham, NC, home. The Staircase consists of 13 one-hour episodes. Each class will discuss two or three episodes of the documentary. The course will conclude with a discussion of lessons learned from the show, both about the American system of justice and the role played by the media in shaping public perceptions about that system. The last class will include a visit from Lee Harrell, judge of the Giles County Circuit Court (and a former prosecutor). Students must have access to Netflix.


  • The role of the police in investigating crimes
  • Prosecutorial ethics in the prosecution of crimes
  • The role of forensics experts in the prosecution of crimes
  • The role of defense counsel in criminal cases
  • The ability of the media to influence public perceptions of justice


Students will be required to view Netflix episodes on their own time.

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January 31 - March 21, 2019

Exploring Oil Painting

Course #: 567153-019
Time: Thursday, 9:30 - 11:30 a.m.
Dates: 6 weeks: Jan. 31, Feb. 7, 21, 28, Mar. 7, 21 (skip Feb 14, Mar. 14)
Location: Warm Hearth Village Center, Woodland Studio
Class Limit: 12
Cost: $35
Materials fee: $10
Instructor(s): Lois Stephens

The first class will include discussions of materials and goals followed by a painting demonstration. Students will choose their subjects and spend the remaining sessions working on their paintings. The class is geared for beginning as well as intermediate painters. Curriculum may be adjusted based on goals and experience of students.


  • Tools and painting surfaces
  • Color--mixing/temperatures/relationships
  • Tonal value/contrast/edges
  • Design/composition/visual energy
  • Goals--imitative or creative


Students will provide their own oil paints, brushes, painting surfaces, and easels. A list of specific supplies will be provided; cost will depend on quality.

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February 14 - March 14, 2019

Memoir and Essay Writing

Course #: 567153-020
Time: Thursday, 11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Dates: 5 weeks: Feb. 14, 21, 28, Mar. 7, 14
Location: VT Public Safety Building, Room 153
Class Limit: 15
Cost: $35
Instructor(s): Richard Gilbert

Revision is the basis of literary art—it’s where what people call "writing" (quality prose) happens. In this class, students will read innovative and awardwinning essays, revise their own and compose new work, and share their writing with classmates. The instructor will provide exercises to stretch your range and offer ideas for developing your own selfediting process. Based on the richly collaborative workshop model--receiving peers' insights and commenting helpfully in turn--the class makes learning less narrowly instructor-based and brings more brainpower to each essay.

This class is suitable for both beginning and intermediate writers. Beginners may have written in the past, or yearn to write and want to tell a story. Intermediate writers have taken a previous class, compiled some fiction or nonfiction, or have begun a series of essays, a memoir, or a family history. Enthusiasm is the core prerequisite!


  • Reviewing how to use diverse rhetorical moves to please sophisticated readers
  • Strategies for developing an enhanced self-editing process
  • Reading others' work with insight and giving helpful notes

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January 31 - March 14, 2019

South Africa: Historical Context, the Present, and the Future

Course #: 567153-021
Time: Thursday, 11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Dates: 6 weeks: Jan. 31, Feb. 7, 21, 28, Mar. 7, 21 (skip Feb. 14, Mar. 14)
Location: Corporate Research Center, 1880 Pratt Drive, Suite 2018
Class Limit: 32
Cost: $35
Instructor(s): Josiah Tlou, Joseph Mukuni

This course invites participants to take a journey to the Republic of South Africa (RSA). Like the United States, it is a melting point for diverse cultures. Its contacts with Europe date back to the 1400s when Portuguese explorers landed there in their search for a trade route to Asia. We'll trace some of this history in class and learn its impact on the current culture.

More recently, the RSA was a focus of the world's attention because of its policy of apartheid. Following the end of apartheid, the country established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and crafted a model constitution that gives a legal framework for the process of breaking away from its racially troubled past. These steps helped create a new nation celebrating its diversity and multiculturalism led by the African National Congress (ANC) and Nelson Mandela. This course will include information about this history, the influence of Europe, conflicts between settlers and locals, and the leadership of the new South Africa.

South Africa is endowed with abundant natural and human resources, making it a destination of choice for tourists and scholars intrigued by its unique history and natural beauty. Students, staff, and faculty as well as community members who have been to South Africa will be invited to share their experiences about the country.

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February 7-21, 2019

Frankenstein at 200

Course #: 567153-022
Time: Thursday, 1:00 - 2:30 p.m.
Dates: 3 weeks: Feb. 7, 14, 21
Location: VT Public Safety Building, 155
Class Limit: 15
Cost: $35
Instructor(s): Peter Graham

This three-session sequence will be a miniature book group discussion of Mary Shelley's iconic tale of terror and hubris, which celebrated its bicentennial of publication in 2018.

Frankenstein is a remarkable book--more widely known than widely read, and that was the case from the first. The novel had only moderate success in its time, but it held the stage in the 1820s in a spectacular melodrama that broke faith with the novel but produced the still-prevalent conception of a mute, hulking monster--a being far different from the articulate, sensitive, tormented, nameless being Mary Shelley imagined having been created and abandoned by a brilliant but over-reaching medical experimenter. Our aim will be to closely consider the novel in its own right.


We'll consider one volume of the book's three volumes at each meeting. (The entire book is under 200 pages.) We'll discuss such issues as qualities of Gothic literature, medical ethics, responsible parenting, the duties of creator to creation, the nature of narrative, and the relation of imagination to personal contingencies and literary influences.


Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, ed. J. Paul Hunter. Norton Critical Edition, ISBN 978-0-393-92793-1. It isn't necessary to have this exact edition, but please choose a text that reprints, as the Norton Critical does, the 3-volume 1818 text. Please read Volume One before the first class meeting.

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February 28 - April 4, 2019

TED Talks

Course #: 567153-023
Time: Thursday, 1:00 - 2:30 p.m.
Dates: Feb. 28, Mar. 7, 14, 21, 28, Apr. 4
Location: VT Public Safety Building, Room 153
Class Limit: 25
Cost: $35
Instructor(s): Dean Spader

TED talks are short, well-prepared, understandable presentations by remarkable, innovative, articulate persons on over 2,500 topics in almost every area of life. We'll watch and discuss three different talks in each class session, chosen initially by the instructor and then by volunteer class members who select a TED talk of interest and then initiate discussion. This is a participation class, drawing on the life experiences, knowledge, interests, and expertise of participants in the class. TED talks are an exceptional way to broaden your exposure to ideas and initiatives you may never have considered before, and to join others in lively conversation.

Want to see what kinds of talks we might choose? Visit TED talks are designed to be "ideas worth spreading."

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February 21 - March 7, 2019

Learning to Challenge Racism Within and Without

Course #: 567153-024
Time: Thursday, 3:00 - 5:00 p.m.
Dates: 3 weeks: Feb. 21, 28, Mar. 7
Location: Hillel at Virginia Tech
Class Limit: 15
Cost: $35
Instructor(s): Julie Dunsmore, Barbara Taylor, Isabel Berney

Where does racism come from, why does it persist, what can be done about it? This course offers an interactive and discussion-based exploration of racism in the U.S., addressing concepts important for anti-racist work. You will share experiences related to formation of concepts that influence racism and will have the opportunity to engage deeply around those concepts. You will become more adept at addressing and using strategies to counteract racism.


  • Microaggressions
  • Implicit bias
  • Structural and institutional racism

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February 7 -28, 2019

Feasting on Plants

Course #: 567153-025
Time: Thursday, 3:00 - 4:30 p.m.
Dates: 4 weeks: Feb. 7, 14, 21, 28
Location: Blacksburg Presbyterian Church
Note: The printed catalog has the location as Hillel at Virginia Tech. The correct location is Blacksburg Presbyterian Church.
Class Limit: 15
Cost: $35
Materials Fee: $20
Instructor(s): Gordon Yee, Diego Troya

The author Michael Pollan has written, "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants." Many people believe that this means salad and tofu, but it can easily be so much more. "Eat food" means use whole ingredients, not processed foods. This means avoiding meat substitutes and embracing ingredients like beans, nuts, lentils, and whole grains. It also means focusing on cuisines that feature dishes that are already vegan. In this course, we will discuss nutrition and share food and recipes with the students. The goal is not to give up meat entirely, but to appreciate that it isn't necessary for a delicious and satisfying meal. The instructors will prepare many examples for you to taste.


  • Nutrition (how to make a perfectly balanced diet with plants; macronutrients vs. micronutrients)
  • Why eat plants? (historical background, the protein myth)
  • How to eat plants? (When you eat, you eat with your eyes. Your mouth wants different textures and layers of flavor. What's umami?)
  • Vegan food from around the world

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February 8 - March 15, 2019

Plein Air Landscape Painting: Essential Concepts

Course #: 567153-026
Time: Friday, 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
Dates: 6 weeks: Feb. 8, 15, 22, Mar. 1, 8, 15
Location: Blacksburg Community Center, Community Room
Class Limit: 15
Cost: $35
Materials fee: $35
Instructor(s): Jesi Pace-Berkeley

While anyone who can visualize, draw, and mix color can enjoy the exhilaration of painting outdoors, painting successfully "on location," traditionally called "Plein Air," requires the application of four concepts. Several of these ordered steps occur before you begin applying fully developed color. They provide the strong foundation that makes the process more manageable.

We will use photos and computer images to explore the essential concepts as we investigate basic types of landscape subject matter. As weather permits, we will practice these concepts and paint on location.


  • Site selection--turning the world into distinguishable 2D shapes and colors
  • Compositional sketch--general placement of the main shapes, using a two-value Notan
  • Under painting--blocking in a monochromatic version that establishes the drawing, composition, and values
  • Final color--take your time, work in layers, use a limited palette, use enough mature paint


A list of supplies will be distributed in advance or at the first class meeting.

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February 8 - March 8, 2019

How Biological Ethics Debates Affect Your Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness

Course #: 567153-027
Time: Friday, 10:00 - 11:30 a.m.
Dates: 5 weeks: Feb. 8, 15, 22, Mar. 1, 8
Location: VT Public Safety Building, 155
Class Limit: 15
Cost: $35
Instructor(s): Bob Benoit

Small group discussion using ethical case analysis. In addition to exploring the ethical dilemmas identified below, class members will have an opportunity to suggest cases for discussion. To encourage intergenerational dialogue about these important topics, LLI class members and undergraduate Honors students may participate in a class exchange.


  1. Ethical failures in the golden age of biomedical research.
  2. The changing physician/patient relationship in the 21st century.
  3. Natural reproduction vs not-so-natural reproduction.
  4. The end of life dilemmas in many variations.
  5. Ethics of the microbiome, evolution, and evidence-based medicine.

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