Lifelong Learning Institute at Virginia Tech


Fall 2022 courses are both online and in-person. Five field trips are also available. You must be a currently enrolled member to register for courses.

Week of August 8 - Mail date for summary flyer with the weekly course schedule and basic registration information. Keep this on hand so you can follow along during the Preview and circle the classes you may be interested in.

September 1 - Preview of Fall program is on Zoom
Webinar link: Fall Preview recording

September 19 - Classes begin.

painting class


1. Justice: What is the Right Thing to Do?

TIME: Mondays, 9:00 – 10:30 a.m.
FEE: $35
DATES: 6 weeks: Sept 19, 26, Oct 10, 17, 24, 31 (skip Oct 3)
LOCATION: Corporate Research Center, Concept Room, 1880 Pratt Dr, Suite 2018

This course introduces the theories of justice to average citizens by using a popular method developed by Michael Sandel at Harvard. Sandel’s book has sold over a million copies, and he has been referred to as a “superstar” philosopher because his classes exceed 500 students.

The course requires no specialized knowledge. It uses the following method:

  1. A practical problem will be given to the class to discuss and solve.
  2. The theory of justice illustrated by this problem will be presented in Sandel’s book and a 15–30 minute presentation.
  3. Class members will discuss other examples from society, their own communities, and their own lives illustrating this theory.
  4. More extended readings and videos will be provided for those who wish to understand the theory and its uses in many current issues.



Michael J. Sandel, Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? 2009.
ISBN-13: 978-0374180652

Dean Spader is an Emeritus Professor at the University of South Dakota where he taught ethics of criminal justice and administrative law. Dean has facilitated numerous discussion classes for LLI.

2. Digging Deeper into Genealogy

TIME: Mondays, 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
FEE: $35
DATES: 4 weeks: Oct 10, 17, 24, 31
LOCATION: Corporate Research Center, Concept Room, 1880 Pratt Dr, Suite 2018

Have you been working on genealogy and are ready to learn something new? Let’s dig deeper into some less-familiar records and skills to enhance your genealogy research.

Students will learn to access a variety of records both in-person and online with free and paid websites. Each class will feature a 45–60 minute presentation followed by time to practice on your own laptop or tablet. Come ready to learn more about your family history!


  • Using non-population census schedules
  • Learning to plat (draw) the boundaries of your ancestor’s lands
  • Using the Leeds Methods to understand your DNA matches
  • Organizing your genealogy research

Rebecca Novy is a professional genealogist with over 25 years of genealogy experience. She has previously taught genealogy classes through LLI and the Montgomery-Floyd Regional Library.

3. Creating Beautiful Glass Flowers for Your Garden

TIME: Mondays, 2 weeks; times vary
FEE: $35
Sept 26, 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
instructor’s home
Nov 7, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Blacksburg Community Center, Community Room

The first session in September will be an in-person tour at the instructor’s home garden to get inspiration for your glass flower creations. We’ll discuss design elements present in vintage glass plates and bowls so that you can purchase your glass pieces with purpose.

At the second session in November, we’ll assemble and create the flowers in a hands-on two-hour workshop.

A supply list will be provided to enrolled students. Supplies should be purchased between the first and second sessions. Class members might want to share or swap items they have found with classmates.

Participants are asked to wear masks for both classes.

Paula Golden has had a passion for quilting for 40 years. Her eye for pattern and color extends to creating glass flowers for her garden.

4. Armchair Journeys

TIME: Mondays, 1:00 – 2:30 p.m.
FEE: $35
DATES: 4 weeks: Sept 19, Oct 3, 10, 17 (skip Sept 26)

Travel along (virtually) on fascinating trips across the country and around the globe. Speakers will share their adventures along with photos/videos enhancing their stories. Participants are invited to join along with questions and comments.

Sept 19. China with Marilyn and Rich Rio
This trip includes Beijing (Forbidden City, Imperial Palace, and Tiananmen Square), The Great Wall, Xi’an (The Terracotta Warriors), Yangtze River and 3 Gorges Dam, Shanghai, and Hong Kong.

Oct 3. Tools and Tips for Planning Travel Adventures: Belize and Costa Rica with Janet Rankin
Janet will compare her visits to these Central American destinations and give tips on planning your own adventure.

Oct 10. Camino de Santiago with Steve Jacobs
Steve and his daughter, Amy, hiked the trail together in the summer of 2022.

Oct 17. Florida Keys with Tony and Susan Martin
Tony and Susan took the LLI/Road Scholar trip in January 2020. In addition to the Keys, the group visited the Dry Tortugas off the coast of Key West. Tony’s nature photography will impress.

5. Taste of Technology

TIME: Mondays, 1:00 – 2:30 p.m.
FEE: $35
DATES: 3 weeks: Oct 3, 10, 17
COURSE COORDINATORS: Diana George, Sandy Hagman, Carolyn Meier

This course is a sampler of technology issues, gadgets, and trends of interest to seniors.


Oct 3. Fiber Optics 101
Dr. Cohill will give us a presentation on fiber optics and how it is being developed in our area. He will talk about the difference between fiber optics and the networks as they stand now.
Andrew Cohill is the president and CEO of Wide Open Blacksburg, which is currently building Gigabit fiber to homes in Blacksburg. He has an extensive background in broadband network design, broadband planning, and network construction and operations and was a director of Blacksburg Electronic Village.

Oct 10. Underwater Robots
The Center for Marine Robotics at Virginia Tech is an interdisciplinary organization that spans multiple academic departments. The Center’s students, staff, and faculty collaborate to design, build, and deploy the next generation of autonomous underwater robots for subsea exploration. The deep oceans on Earth remain largely unexplored because the technical challenges of mapping the deep ocean are immense. Dr. Stilwell will describe solutions being developed by the Center, including the technology that will enable teams of deep-ocean robots to collaboratively and rapidly explore the deep ocean.
Dan Stillwell is the director of the Center for Marine Autonomy and Robotics at Virginia Tech and a professor in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Oct 17. Blockchain, Bitcoin, and NFTs: What Is that All About?
Want to learn the difference between bitcoin and blockchain? Ready to dive into NFTs, DAOs, DeFi, and Dogecoin? Come learn about blockchain, cryptocurrencies, and what these tools mean to the future of technology.
James Harder is the External Engagement Manager for the Virginia Tech Department of Computer Science.

6. Appreciating Wines of Portugal, Germany, Austria, Greece, and Eastern Europe

TIME: Mondays, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m.
Course fee: $35 Wine fee: $125. Pay the wine fee directly to Vintage Cellar by check or credit card. Look for instructions after enrollment
DATES: 6 weeks: Sept 19, 26, Oct 3, 10, 17, 24
LOCATION: Vintage Cellar, 1338 S. Main St,

Many excellent European wines come from countries other than France, Spain, and Italy. This course will feature varieties outside the most known wine regions. Port, Vinho Verde, and Lisboa from Portugal; Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Noir from Germany; Agiorgitiko and Assyrtiko from Greece; Feteasca Regala and Babeasca Neagra from Romania; and Gruner Veltliner, and Pinot Noir from Austria are on the menu.

Randall Horst has served as wine buyer at the Vintage Cellar for 25+ years. He has taught an LLI wine appreciation course since 2016.


7. Sampler

TIME: Tuesdays, 9:00 – 10:15 a.m.
CLASS LIMIT: Unlimited enrollment
FEE: $35
DATES: 7 weeks: Oct 4, 11, 18, 25, Nov 1, 8, 15

This engaging course treats participants to a wide range of speakers and topics—something different each week. Following the Zoom presentation, the speaker will respond to questions submitted by participants in the Q&A feature of Zoom.

Oct 4. Music—The Gift that Keeps on Giving
This research-based presentation provides perspectives on how music can facilitate communication and physical and mental health, as well as promote life-enhancing decisions. It builds an understanding of complex issues through the lens of science, music therapy, and testimonies. It offers tangible ways to enhance the lives of participants and their families, provokes reflection, and encourages discussion.
Louise Billaud is a professor of music at New River Community College.

Oct 11. Sorting Fact from Fiction Online
Do you believe everything you see online? There are plenty of sensationalized headlines, misleading stories and even complete falsehoods circulating on the Internet, making it hard for even the most discerning reader to sort fact from fiction. This event will equip you with valuable tools and resources to help you stay safe online.
Larry Lipman is a former journalist and journalism adjunct professor. He presents this talk on behalf of AARP Virginia.

Oct 18. In the True Blue’s Wake: Slavery and Freedom Among the Families of Smithfield Plantation
This book tells the story of the men and women who were enslaved at Smithfield between its establishment in 1774 and the abolition of slavery there in 1865: who they were and how they and their families endured the experience of slavery. It then follows those families after their emancipation as they moved throughout the United States and explores how they and their descendants used their families’ new freedom to assume their own places in the world.
Dan Thorpe will share the research in his newly published book. Dan is an associate professor of history at Virginia Tech.

Oct 25. The Fun, Joy, and How of Volunteering
Our speaker will share useful information about volunteering and leadership, including the impact of volunteerism, with tips and examples to improve one’s leadership and effectiveness.
Ben Crawford has years of experience with nonprofit organizations as both a volunteer and staff person. He retired from Virginia Tech as a Volunteer Development and Leadership Specialist.

Nov 1. Montgomery County Women’s History
This fall, the Montgomery Museum of Art & History will host “Agents of Change: Female Activism in Virginia from Women’s Suffrage to Today” from the Virginia Museum of History & Culture in Richmond. This traveling exhibit will be paired with a companion exhibit focused on the history of women in Montgomery County. Noteworthy women such as Lucy Lancaster, Ruby Altizer Roberts, and Nannie Hairston will be featured, along with information about everyday women who took on new roles outside the home such as the seamstresses at Blue Ridge Overall Factory.
Sherry Joines Wyatt is the curator of the Montgomery Museum of Art & History.

Nov 8. From Page to Stage: Inside the Theatrical Process
VT theatre professor Susanna Rinehart gives participants a window into the collaborative process of a director, designers, technicians, stage managers, and actors as they create live theatre. She will use as her example Rajiv Joseph’s new play Describe the Night, in production at VT’s Studio Theatre November 10–15.
Susanna Rinehart is an associate professor of performance in the theater department at VT. She has acted in and directed numerous student performances.

Nov 15. Improving Nutrition Around the World
Improving nutrition has been a long-standing goal for the U.S. government. Among its early programs were nutritional studies in 30+ countries conducted in part by biochemists. Ed Bunce will share the story and photos of his trip to Burma in 1961 to improve nutrition there, a project thwarted by political upheaval.
Ed Bunce is professor emeritus of biochemistry at VT. He taught and conducted research for 30 years.

8. Pictures to Books: Making Digital Photos into Memory Books , Heirlooms, Travel Logs, and More

TIME: Tuesdays, 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
FEE: $35
DATES: 5 weeks: Oct 4, 11, 18, 25, Nov 1
LOCATION: Corporate Research Center, Curiosity Room, 1900 Kraft Dr, Suite 1000

This 5-session in-person course helps participants create photo books for personal use or gifts. Examples of projects include travel, events, and family history. Each session will include some workshop time. Participants will need to bring their own laptops to class. A book can be produced by using software that is online. Purchasing software will not be necessary.

Diana George, Emerita Professor of Rhetoric & Writing, Virginia Tech
Sandy Hagman, Retired Technical Writer and Software Trainer, Traveling Coaches
Carolyn Meier, Retired Librarian, University Libraries
Carolyn Rude, Emerita Professor of Rhetoric & Writing, Virginia Tech

9. How Do Courts Function in a Democracy?

TIME: Tuesdays, 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
FEE: $35
DATES: 6 weeks: Sep 20, 27, Oct 4, 11, 18, 25, Nov 1 (skip Oct 4)
LOCATION: Corporate Research Center, Crescent Room, 2000 Kraft Dr, Suite 2100

Courts play a vital, but often misunderstood, role in our system of government. This course will focus on why that generalization is true. Some attention will be given to Virginia’s court system, but primary attention will be given to the role of federal courts and the diversity in state courts.


  • Why courts are law- and policy-makers
  • How common law legal systems work
  • Does it matter how courts are structured?
  • Does it matter how we select judges?
  • Does it matter how we educate lawyers?
  • A brief overview of the criminal process

Jack Call, Professor emeritus of criminal justice at Radford University, used his J.D. and Ph.D. in political science degrees as the basis for teaching law-related courses at RU. He has taught numerous courses for LLI over the last several years.

10. Introduction to Yoga

TIME: Tuesdays, 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
CLASS LIMIT: 15 (in person)
FEE: $35
DATES: 4 weeks: Sept 20, 27, Oct 4, 11
LOCATION(s): 10 a: In person In-Balance Yoga Studio, 1512 N. Main Street, Blacksburg
10 b: Zoom (Unlimited enrollment)

This 4-week course will introduce participants to the basics of yoga for mature students, focusing on the mind, body, and spirit through four styles of yoga: Basic, Yin (a deep stretch practice), Gentle, and Restorative practices. Students will learn breathing techniques, poses, and movement each week and gain a deeper understanding of the long-term benefits of regular yoga practice. Wear clothing for light exercise (sweats, shorts, yoga pants, tees, etc.). This class is suitable for beginners to yoga.

In-person and Zoom sessions will run concurrently.

Natalie Duncan completed her 200-hour yoga teacher training in 2021 at In Balance Yoga. She is passionate about making yoga accessible to everyone in a fun and welcoming environment.

11. Introducing Toni Morrison

TIME: Tuesdays, 1:00– 2:30 p.m.
FEE: $35
DATES: 6 weeks: Sept 20, Oct 4, 11, 18, 25, Nov 1 (skip Sept 27)
LOCATION: Corporate Research Center, Crescent Room, 2000 Kraft Dr, Suite 2100

Nobelist Toni Morrison is known to many readers primarily by her Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, Beloved. Although that novel offers a stunning exploration of the impact of slavery on the mind and consciousness of individual slaves, it is only one of eleven novels she wrote. In this course we will read and discuss two of Morrison’s later novels, Jazz, a novel set during the Harlem Renaissance, and A Mercy, which is set in the late 17th century, before America as we know it had come into being.

Morrison has stated that she always writes about “how people relate to one another and miss it or hang on to it . . . or are tenacious about love. About love and how to survive—not to make a living—but how to survive whole in a world where we are all of us, in some measure, victims of something.” The novels we will read illustrate the difficulty human beings have in recognizing love and trying not to throw it away.

The course will include reading, lecture, and discussion.

Students should purchase the two novels (any edition) before classes begin.


  • Toni Morrison, Jazz
  • Toni Morrison, A Mercy

No reading assignment for the first class meeting, which will be solely introductory.

Ginney Fowler has been in the English Department at VT for many years. She has written books on Henry James, Gloria Naylor, and Nikki Giovanni, and regularly teaches classes in African-American literature.

12. Unpacking Hebrew (Old Testament) Narrative

TIME: Tuesdays, 3:00 – 4:30 p.m.
FEE: $35
DATES: 6 weeks: Sept 20, 27, Oct 4, 11, 18, 25
LOCATION: Corporate Research Center, Crescent Room, 2000 Kraft Dr, Suite 2100

Many times, Hebrew narratives are appreciated only for the theology that can be derived from them. Because of that, the stories are not given proper attention. Indeed, the story, deeply or closely read, subverts that theology, shows that the theology was eisegesis, that is, placing an interpretation on the narrative that reveals more about the interpreter and his/her bias. We will look at several stories and see how they energize the imagination and lead to multiple meanings.


We will cover Genesis 1 (creation), Genesis 2-3 (Eden), Genesis 37-50, 1 Samuel 25 (early David); 2 Samuel 11 (David’s adultery), 2 Samuel 13, and a few others.


Bible (revised standard or new revised version)
Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative

Russell Gregory taught religious studies at Radford University. His concentration for doctoral studies was Hebrew Scriptures.


13. What Went Wrong? The Decline of the Middle East in Modern Times

TIME: Wednesdays, 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
FEE: $35
DATES: 4 weeks: Sept 28, Oct 5, 12, 26 (skip Oct 19)
LOCATION: Warm Hearth Village Center, Tall Oaks Room

In the period from 661 to 1250, the Islamic Middle East was a leading region of the world. However, since then, the Middle East has declined politically, militarily, economically, scientifically, socially, and culturally relative to other world regions. This course will analyze the causes and effects of the decline by critically discussing ideas in Bernard Lewis’s book What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response and by examining important issues raised in six prior LLI courses. Enrollment in previous courses is not a prerequisite.


Sept 28:
Introduction: concepts of success and decline; Eurocentrism; successes outside Europe; cyclical history; success of the West at the expense of everybody else; review of Islamic Middle Eastern history to 1800; impact of the West, 1800–1950; Lewis, What Went Wrong? pp. 3–95.

Oct 5:
Secularism, civil society, measuring modernity, and cultural change; Lewis, What Went Wrong? pp. 96–161.

Oct 12:
Analysis based on earlier LLI classes on Arab nationalism, the Arab Spring, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United States and the Arab world, and Islam.

Oct 26:
Status of women, decline in science and technology; conclusions.


Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response. Oxford UP, 2002.
Available used, new, and as an e-book. 192 pages.
Please read pages 3–95 before the first class.

Emeritus Professor William Ochsenwald has presented six earlier courses for the Lifelong Learning Institute. He was Consulting Editor for the Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World and author of The Middle East: A History

14. Four Key Developments in Blacksburg’s Early History

TIME: Wednesdays, 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
FEE: $25
DATES: 2 weeks: Nov 2, 9
LOCATION: Warm Hearth Village Center, Tall Oaks Room

Why and how did this land in the New River Valley become an early settlement and eventually a prosperous college town? Join Hugh Campbell to explore four key developments that defined and shaped early Blacksburg. As part of the registration fee, participants will receive a copy of Hugh’s book The Blacksburg Drama to use for class and to enjoy on their own.


Nov 2: The Draper’s Meadows Massacre in 1755 when early European settlers clashed with Native Americans
The origins of Smithfield Plantation in the 1770s

Nov 9: William Black’s plan for the 16 squares that formed the town of Blacksburg
The establishment of the Olin and Preston Institute, the predecessor institution to VPI


Hugh Campbell, The Blacksburg Drama: A History of Blacksburg in Three Acts.
The cost for LLI members is included in the course registration fee. Non-members may purchase the book for $25.

Hugh Campbell came to Virginia Tech in 1955 to teach mathematics. After a long career as a faculty member, he has devoted his time to researching the history of Blacksburg and sharing this knowledge in many ways. His book, The Blacksburg Drama: A History of Blacksburg in Three Acts, shares much of what he has learned.

15. Prizing Children’s Literature: Selecting the Best Books for the Kids You Love

TIME: Wednesdays, 1:00 – 2:30 p.m.
FEE: $35
DATES: 4 weeks: Sept 21, 28, Oct 5, 12
LOCATION: Warm Hearth Village Center, Woodland Studio

At various times we’ve all needed or wanted to give the gift of just the right book to a recipient. How do we make an engaging and thoughtful choice for a child? Simple, right? A favorite from our childhood? Or, perhaps a new book with a lot of “buzz”? One with a medal or prize stamped on the cover? Knowing how certain books stay with us, we want to make appropriate and sensitive choices for a young reader.

This course will show you some of the ways to research and investigate the complicated but exciting and dynamic world of children’s books. Participants will share their own inspired (and occasionally unsuccessful) choices of books for children. The instructor will provide contextual knowledge about how children’s literature gets published, marketed, and judged—and also how critical judgments respond to changing times. Hands-on activities, examples, and anecdotes will enliven discussion. Outside reading is held to a minimum; no preparation is required for the first class.

You can expect to leave the course with ideas about specific titles to share with the children in your lives. More importantly, you’ll develop tools and resources for making more informed children’s book purchases in the future.


Weeks 1 and 2 will look at Prize/Medal winners. Because a book has been lauded, is it a safe bet? Who are the judges and reviewers? What is the definition of excellence? We will look at the growth of prizes to include new categories and author/illustrators. Do children themselves get to determine what they prize, or are they left out?

Week 3 will consider “The Classics.” Are they still relevant to contemporary children? How do we define “classic”? Do “classics” rooted in the past in terms of attitude and prevailing language open themselves to “cancel culture “?

Week 4 will consider run-away publishing success and celebrity authors. Is popularity a measurement for excellence? We will also talk about a few books children love but their teachers, parents, and grandparents may deplore!

Kaye Graham is a 30-plus year instructor in the English Department at VT with a specialty in Children’s Literature. She initiated the university’s first Harry Potter course as well as a study of children’s film.

16. Best of 2021 Short Stories

TIME: Wednesdays, 3:00 – 4:30 p.m.
FEE: $35
DATES: 6 weeks: Sept 21, 28, Oct 5, 12, 19, 26

Participants will read and discuss stories from The Best American Short Stories (2021 edition) edited by Jesmyn Ward. Via Zoom, whole group and break-out groups, participants will consider aspects of a short stories from every genre. Participants will also have opportunities to share their own favorite authors, titles, and collections.

Trudi Riley is a stalwart in the lit courses at LLI and has participated in two short story classes. She is a former teacher and lover of literature.
Molly McClintock has led several courses at LLI including two on short stories. She is an avid reader and lover of short stories.


17. Political Cartooning in Africa - CANCELLED

TIME: Thursdays, 9:00 – 10:30 a.m.
FEE: $35
DATES: 6 weeks: Sept 22, 29, Oct 6, 13, 20, 27
LOCATION: Corporate Research Center, Concept Room, 1880 Pratt Dr, Suite 2018

Struggles for freedom of expression in the African continent have been waged in the press by editorial/political cartoonists. This course will focus on the work of representative cartoonists from nations where there have been significant conflicts between governments and media. While cartoonists from across Africa will be included, the major emphasis will be on sub-Saharan Africa.


Each unit will be given approximately three classes each. There will be significant overlap in the presentation of the two major divisions since cartoonists will also be presented in the context of their specific region and nation.

  1. Overview of editorial/political cartooning in selected regions and nations in the context of issues such as censorship and ideological clashes. Examples: South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt.
  2. Examination of specific cartoonists. Examples: Zapiro in South Africa, Gado in Kenya, Asukwo in Nigeria, Dudley in Namibia, and Doaa el-Adi [female] in Egypt.


Edd Sewell is a retired faculty member from the Department of Communication at VT. One of his primary research areas was/is visual humor with special attention to editorial/political cartooning.

18. What You Need to Know before You Buy a New Computer, Laptop, or Tablet

TIME: Thursday, 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
FEE: $15
DATES: 1 session, Nov 3
LOCATION: Corporate Research Center, Concept Room, 1880 Pratt Dr, Suite 2018

Learn what all those confusing technology terms mean (operating systems, RAM, processor, storage, and more) so that you can make an informed buying decision when looking for a new computer or device and avoid wasting your money on excess capacity or accessories.

We’ll start by figuring out how you plan to use this new device—email, surfing the web, word processing, streaming and/or downloading movies, playing games, video calling your family, and so on. How you plan to use your device makes all the difference in what options you should consider. We’ll cover the pros and cons of the various choices, talk about Android versus Apple products, translate the lingo so you can buy the device that truly meets your needs, and discuss how to purchase (Best Buy? Apple Store? Shop around for better prices on the web?). This one-session class is perfectly timed to take advantage of Black Friday deals.

Travis Carter is the Systems Manager for VT Continuing and Professional Education, an invaluable part of our LLI support team, and the go-to person for whenever someone in his family has a question about buying a device.

19. Global Change VII - Plastics: Functions, Pollution Issues, and Sustainability

TIME: Thursdays, 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
FEE: $35
DATES: 6 weeks: Sept 22, 29, Oct 6, 13, 20, 27
COURSE COORDINATORS: Anne McNabb, Beth Grabau, and Don Mullins

This course is part of a sequence focusing on the science of Global Change. Newcomers to the series are welcome.

Only a very small proportion of the plastics in packaging and a wide variety of other applications are being recycled; they are a major environmental problem, and many degrade to harmful contaminants. In addition, microplastics that were wrongly assumed to not degrade are used in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals as well other applications. Chemicals in plastics and their breakdown products create an extremely difficult and dangerous environmental problem for both humans and wildlife.


Sept 22. Plastics: Where Do They Come From and What Are They For?
In the last 75 years, polymeric materials have transformed our society. These materials are typically lightweight, flexible and melt processable, which makes them useful in applications ranging from packaging to aviation. In this talk, I will highlight how some of the most common polymers are synthesized and how their properties change as a function of the bonding patterns and choice of atoms in the macromolecular structure. If time permits, we can discuss the challenges of polymer recycling.
Kevin Noonan, Dept. of Chemistry, Carnegie Mellon University

Sept 29. Invisible Microplastics in Water, Air and Household Dust
Marine pollution by plastic debris and microplastics is an important global issue. But closer to home, our own heavy use of plastics makes us the “most exposed species.” This talk will explore ecosystem and human exposure to plastics and possible health implications.
Rob Hale, Dept. of Acquatic Health Sciences, VT; Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Oct 6. Sustainable Future Plastics through Material and Systems Innovation
Despite playing a critical role in the advancement of human technology and society, plastics have become increasingly vilified due to their excessive misuse and mishandling and their harmful impacts upon human and environmental health. This session explores how systems-thinking research, including the advancement of bioplastics, depolymerization technology, and circular economy, is enabling a recalibration of the appropriate role of, and opportunity for plastics as part of a sustainable future.
Jennifer Russell, Dept. of Sustainable Biomaterials, VT

Oct 13. Generation of Microplastics, How Macroplastic Breaks into Microplastic, and How Small They Get
Under the coupled effects of weathering and mechanical stresses, macroplastics degrade into microplastics. Microplastics exist in our oceans in ever-increasing numbers and cause great ecological harm. Physical, mechanical, and chemical properties of macroplastics change during degradation and make it challenging to detect microplastics and estimate their lifetime in water. To address this challenge requires understanding microplastics formation and production rates.
Maryam Shakiba, Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering, VT

Oct 20. Sustainability Initiatives in Dining and Food Systems at VT
Virginia Tech Dining Services is committed to promoting a sustainable dining and food system at Virginia Tech and therefore in the greater community. Blake Bensman will discuss the department’s current sustainability initiatives and ways he engages students to become stewards of the campus community.
Blake Bensman, Sustainability Manager for Dining Services, Housing & Residential Life, VT

Oct 27. Global and Local Policies to Reduce Plastic Pollution
Governments are challenged to develop policies that balance the needs of their constituents and the health of the environment. From global plastics trade to local plastic bag bans, this lecture will explore existing and developing policies to reduce plastic pollution.
Leah Mupas Segui, Principal Associate, Pew Charitable Trusts

20. Families and Relationships: Connections that Matter

TIME: Thursdays, 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
FEE: $35
DATES: 4 weeks: Oct 6, 13, 20, 27
LOCATION: Corporate Research Center, Concept Room, 1880 Pratt Dr, Suite 2018

Relationships with family and friends of all kinds are critical for well-being at any age and of particular importance for later life. They can be a source of emotional support, provide a sense of belonging and community embeddedness, and can help to prevent social isolation and loneliness. Families can also be a source of conflict, arising from personal and political differences. In this course, we will discuss family relationships and diverse family structures, patterns of communication, relationship skills, ways of dealing with grief and loss in the context of resilience, and the importance of family legacies and telling our stories to one another.


Oct 6: Families: Past, present, and future
Oct 13: Communication and other relationship skills
Oct 20: Resilience in the context of grief: Living beyond our losses
Oct 27: Telling our stories and honoring our legacies

Katherine Allen and Fred Piercy are professor emeriti of Human Development and Family Science at Virginia Tech. They have been friends and collaborators for over 20 years.

21. Weighing the Facts: The Brain-Body Weight Connection

TIME: Thursdays, 1:00 – 2:30 p.m.
FEE: $35
DATES: 5 weeks: Oct 6, 13, 20, 27, Nov 3
LOCATION: Corporate Research Center, Concept Room, 1880 Pratt Dr, Suite 2018

Virginia Tech professors doing research related to the connection between our brain, food intake, and body weight will summarize and discuss their research and its implications for human health. Example topics include how genetics, hormones, and our gut affect our food and activity patterns. Presenters will explore the following questions: What controls our appetite and why do we crave certain foods? How does stress influence our food choices? Is weight loss more difficult for some people? How does exercise influence eating and activity behavior? What are the implications of this research for the incidence of obesity and eating disorders? Can this research help me understand how best to improve my health and change my body weight?


How Tight Are Your Genes? Investigating the Genetic Link Between Body Weight and Exercise
Genes influence the regulation of body weight. Genes may also influence the impact of physical activity on body weight. Dr. Good studies the molecular genetic regulation of body weight.
Deborah Good, Dept. of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise

Why Do We Crave Comfort Foods After High Stress?
Stress helps organisms survive by keeping them alert and helping them detect danger. But chronic stress without relief, and early-life stress, can come at a cost to mental and physical well-being. Dr. Shin studies stress on a molecular level to understand stress-induced psychiatric diseases. What processes are set into motion that link stress experiences to eating disorders or depression?
Sora Shin, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC; Dept. of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise

Pleasure Eating: Why Do We Eat for Fun, and What Drives Us To Overeat?
The brain has a capacity for change, and the body has the ability to shape the brain. Dr. Basso studies how mind-body-movement practices such as dance, yoga, and meditation affect the brain functionally, physiologically, and morphologically.
Julia Basso, Dept. of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise; Embodied Brain Laboratory

Why Do We Eat What We Eat? Brain and Metabolic Determinants of Food Choice
Commonly abused drugs all increase dopamine release in a brain region that we’re learning is also activated when people ingest certain foods. Dr. DiFeliceantonio studies how the brain integrates peripheral signals to guide food selection and eating.
Alexandra DiFeliceantonio, Dept. of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise; Center for Health Behaviors Research

Chewing the Fat: Factors that Affect Body Adiposity
The interactions of genetic background, diet, and development affect regulation of body fat. Dr. Gilbert researches the molecular basis for eating disorders, insulin resistance, and obesity.
Elizabeth Gilbert, School of Neuroscience and Dept. of Animal and Poultry Science

22. Introduction to Italian

TIME: Thursdays, 3:00 – 4:30 p.m.
FEE: $35
DATES: 6 weeks: Sept 22, 29, Oct 6, 13, 20, 27
LOCATION: Corporate Research Center, Crescent Room 2000 Kraft Drive Suite 2100

This course is an introduction to speaking and understanding the Italian language with an emphasis on cultural and artistic traditions so important to the traveler to this magnificent country. Always wanted to learn Italian? Plan to travel to Italy? Come join us as we begin this memorable journey. Andiamo!


  • Pronunciation and speaking skills
  • Practice in listening to and understanding Italian
  • Introduction to architectural, cultural, and social traditions

June Stubbs taught Italian for 30 years, including 25 at Virginia Tech. She has traveled frequently in Italy.

23. Seasoned Sleuths: Detection After 60

TIME: Thursdays, 3:00 – 4:30 p.m.
FEE: $35
DATES: 6 weeks: Sept 22, 29, Oct 6, 13, 20, 27

There are advantages to age and experience, as we’ll see in the three books featured. Each of our sleuths is over 60 (one is almost 80!), and they bring a wealth of wisdom to the murders facing them. In addition to discussing the books themselves (and the mysteries they offer), we’ll be looking at just how these amateur detectives resist/subvert/and own various cultural stereotypes of aging. Bring your own fine wine of a mind, and join us!


Sept 22: Introductions, discussion of mystery as genre, Christie as grande dame of mystery, Miss Marple as role model for seasoned sleuths.
Read Murder at the Vicarage before class.

Sept 29: 1st half of Hippie Wagon Homicide

Oct 6: 2nd half of Hippie Wagon Homicide

Oct 13: 1st half of The Man Who Died Twice

Oct 20: 2nd half of The Man Who Died Twice

Oct 27: Wrap-up


  • Agatha Christie, Murder at the Vicarage
  • Richard Osman, The Man Who Died Twice
  • Mildred Abbott, Hippie Wagon Homicide

Britton Gildersleeve, retired faculty and administrator from Oklahoma State University, has been a mystery reader since age 9, when she read her father’s Sherlock Holmes. From then on, mysteries have been her favorite distraction. Despite their being dismissed as ‘genre fiction,’ she insists that many stand up to the most discerning reading!


24. En Plein Air

TIME: Fridays, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
FEE: Course fee: $35; Materials fee: $20
DATES: 6 weeks: Sept 16, 23, 30, Oct 14, 21, 28 (skip Oct 7)
LOCATION: Outdoors, at various locations

En plein air is a French expression meaning “in the open air.” It refers to the act of painting outdoors with the artist’s subject in full view. Plein air artists capture the spirit and essence of a landscape or subject by incorporating natural light, color, and movement into their works. Our Fall session will focus on a variety of painting techniques, conceptual subject matter, and design principles as we explore these possible locations: a gentlewoman’s horse farm in Floyd; grounds at Mountain Lake; Serenity; an historic home, outbuildings, and gardens on Old Mill Road; golf course and vista overlooking the New River Valley; Huckleberry Trail in Downtown Blacksburg; and the Wildman Farm. When the weather precludes outdoor gathering, you will continue your lessons with at-home assignments.

Jessica Pace-Berkeley is a Professional Fellow of the Virginia Museum of Fine Art and Artist in Residence at the Don and Catherine Bryan Cultural Series, Outer Banks.

25. Preparing Classic Szechuan Chinese Dishes

TIME: Fridays, 2 weeks; times vary
FEE: $35
DATES/LOCATIONS: Oct 7, 9:00 – 10:30 a.m, Zoom
Oct 14, 9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m., in person at the instructor’s home, including lunch

Szechuan/Sichuan is in the far west of China and is known for the complexity of spicing of its food due to the large number of flavorings combined in a single dish. Intense flavors are presumed to be necessary to counteract the hot, humid climate of the region. Szechuan peppercorns (berries of the prickly Ash tree) are not “hot” but create a slight tingling in the mouth. They are a key component of many Szechuan dishes. Other classic Szechuan ingredients are chilies, garlic, black vinegar, and peanuts.


  1. A Zoom class will introduce general information about Chinese cooking, specifics about Szechuan province, and the recipes we will be cooking.
  2. We will prepare classic meat and vegetable dishes from this region, drawing from examples such as Ants Climbing Trees, Ma Po Dofu, Hot & Sour Soup, Dry Fried Green Beans, Chicken with Orange Peel and Chili Peppers, and Bang Bang Chicken (Strange Flavor Chicken). Recipes will be provided. We’ll end the morning with a 3–4 course lunch of the dishes we have cooked.

Anne McNabb has been cooking Chinese banquets since graduate school. She has >80 Chinese cookbooks and has used them all to learn about making authentic foods from the many regions of Chinese cuisine.

26. Memoir and Essay Writing

TIME: Fridays, 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
FEE: $35
DATES: 5 weeks: Sept 23, 30, Oct 7, 14, 28 (skip Oct 21)
LOCATION: Corporate Research Center, Concept Room, 1880 Pratt Dr, Suite 2018

We’re in an age of essays and memoirs. Personal narratives fill literary journals, get featured in the New York Times, and become bestsellers and films. Countless people self-publish life stories for their friends and families.

In this class, students will read innovative and award-winning personal nonfiction, draft their own, and share their writing with classmates. The instructor will provide exercises to stretch your range and offer ideas for developing your work. 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 memoir or personal essay.

This class is suitable for both beginning and intermediate writers. Enthusiasm and a desire to read are the core prerequisites!


  • Kathryn Schulz, Lost and Found
  • John Updike, Self-Consciousness: Memoirs

Richard Gilbert is the author of Shepherd: A Memoir, a finalist for the Ohioana Book Award, which concerns the decade he and his family lived on a farm in Appalachian Ohio. His recent essay “Animals Saved Me” won Hunger Mountain’s 2017 Creative Nonfiction Prize; “That Day at Joe’s” was first runner-up for the Proximity Narrative Journalism Award. He lives in Riner.

27. Electronic Doodling: Using a Tablet to Draw

TIME: Friday, Oct 21, 2:00 – 3:30 p.m. (one session)
FEE: $15
LOCATION: Corporate Research Center, Concept Room, 1880 Pratt Dr, Suite 2018
COURSE COORDINATORS: Diana George, Sandy Hagman, Carolyn Meier

By demonstrating how he does his daily doodles, Steven will walk us through using a tablet to capture our daily or occasional doodles. He will guide us through drawing the HokieBird and the Doodle Turkey.

As a Creative Producer for University Relations at VT, Steven White produces daily doodles of life around Blacksburg. “I remember as a kid getting lost in sketching,” said White. “I just get lost in it. It’s kind of a meditation thing.”


28. A Walk with the Birds

TIME: Friday, September 30, 9:00 – 11:00 a.m.
FEE: $15
LOCATION: Meet at Heritage Park, 2300 Glade Road, Blacksburg

Curious about our native birds? Want to be better able to identify who you see at your feeder or hear in the woods? Meet Bill and Sally at Heritage Park at 9 AM for a walk and talk about birds. Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for some vigorous walking.

Bill Opengari and Sally Pfeiffer are members of the NRV Bird Club and avid birders.

29. NRV Land Trust Visit to Catawba Valley Farm: A Stream Restoration Project on the North Forth of the Roanoke River

TIME: Saturday, October 1, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Rain date: Saturday, October 8, 10 – 12
FEE: $15
LOCATION: Sutphin Family Farm property in Catawba Valley
NOTES: Participants meet at the farm property; directions will be provided to registrants. Carpooling is encouraged. Dress for the weather and for walking outside on uneven ground.

Co-sponsored by the New River Land Trust

Join the New River Land Trust and partners for a tour of the river restoration activities on the Sutphin property on the North Fork of the Roanoke River.

The North Fork of the Roanoke River originates between two mountain ridges just inside Roanoke County before flowing through Montgomery County east of Blacksburg. The river is home to a variety of rare and native species, including the federally endangered Roanoke logperch.

The Land Trust is partnering with private landowners, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, the Virginia Division of Wildlife Resources, and local Soil and Water Conservation Districts on this stream restoration project.

Meet the landowner and see this beautiful property in several short videos featuring the conservation work underway:

30. A Walk with the Bees

TIME: Friday, September 23, 10:00 – 11:30 a.m.
FEE: $15
LOCATION: Meet at the grounds of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation 1301 Gladewood Drive, Blacksburg
NOTES: Participants will drive to the UUC site on their own. Do not attend if allergic to insect stings.

Richard Reid, owner of Happy Hollow Bees and Honey, will lead us on a short but uphill walk to the hives at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation (UUC). He will show us the components of a beehive and his beekeeper tools. Richard will answer questions about the life cycle of bees and the annual tasks of the beekeeper. He’ll discuss planting for pollinators and update us on Colony Collapse Disorder. There may even be honey samples to try!

31. Visit to St. Luke & Odd Fellows Hall

TIME: Friday, October 7, 1:30 – 3:00 p.m.
FEE: $15
LOCATION: St. Luke & Odd Fellows Hall, 203 Gilbert Street, Blacksburg

Co-sponsored by the Blacksburg Museum & Cultural Foundation

Once the center of a vibrant African-American community, the St. Luke & Odd Fellows Hall is the last remaining structure of what was called New Town. Built in 1905, the St. Luke & Odd Fellows Hall served as a community center during segregation. Today, the Hall serves as a museum and regularly hosts events to preserve its important history. New Town and the St. Luke & Odd Fellows Hall are important reminders of the resilience, self-reliance, and community spirit of the people who lived in this neighborhood as well as the injustice that segregation imposed. Learn about the history of this important historic landmark in Blacksburg from Blacksburg Museum & Cultural Foundation board member, Tom Sherman.

32. Walking Tour of Downtown Christiansburg

TIME: Wednesday, October 19, 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
FEE: $15
LOCATION: Meet at the Christiansburg Presbyterian Church, 107 W. Main Street
NOTES: Participants will meet in front of the Christiansburg Presbyterian Church, in downtown Christiansburg. Parking is available at the church. You will be walking and standing; dress accordingly.

Co-sponsored by the Montgomery Museum of Art & History

Architectural styles, like fashion, are an indicator of culture, just as national business trends were important economic drivers throughout much of our local history. Join Sherry Joines Wyatt, curator at the Montgomery Museum of Art & History Center, on a walking tour through the heart of Downtown Christiansburg, which will serve as a learning lab for history. You’ll see how the town participated in national trends of architecture and business as illustrated by buildings, monuments, and sites dating from 1853 through the early 1960s. The tour will be supplemented with historic photographs from the museum’s collection, and there will be plenty of opportunity for questions and answers.

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