LIRA Fall 2023 Schedule of Classes

All programs will be available via Zoom. For classes listed as hybrid, the presenter will be in person in room 106 University Suites, except as noted (map of University Suites) (pdf) and the class will also be on Zoom. For classes labeled Zoom, only the presenter will also be remote. Please check your email for the weekly LIRA announcements for any changes or additions.

Presenters and coordinators with an * denote a LIRA member.

LIRA Fall 2023 Class Descriptions


Artificial Intelligence, an Overview
Mondays: September 18, October 2 and October 16 10 a.m. to Noon (hybrid)
Presenters: Lisa Hertel*, Chris Geggis and Brendan Hertel

Part 1: AI in History and Fiction: Lisa Hertel*
We will talk about how we perceive artificial intelligence, and how we came to the current state of AI. Read Lisa Hertel's Bio.

Part 2: AI - The Current State: Chris Geggis*
You may have heard of ChatGPT and/or Midjourney. In this lecture, you will see them put to use, and we will discuss what their limitations and capabilities are. Read Chris Geggis' Bio.

Part 3: AI in Robotics at UMass Lowell: Brendan Hertel
In this lecture, we will look at how robots can embody AI to interact with the world around us. Read Brendan Hertel's Bio.

Coordinator: Lisa Hertel*

Dark Matter, Dark Energy: The Dark Side of the Universe
Mondays: 1-3 p.m. September 18, October 2, 16 and 23 (Four sessions) (hybrid)

Cosmologists believe that they have made a complete accounting of everything in the Universe. All the ordinary matter that we can directly observe accounts for about 5%. Another 25% is the mysterious Dark Matter. We can see its influence but cannot directly detect it. The remaining 70% is called Dark Energy. It is the driver of the continuous and accelerating expansion of the Universe. This Great Courses presentation will explain the observations that led to the theory of Dark Matter’s existence and potential candidates for the particles that make up Dark Matter (including that Einstein’s theory of General Relativity may need a tweak). We will also visit the theories related to Dark Energy.

Facilitator: Peter Sebelius*

Mondays: October 23, October 30, 10 a.m. to Noon (hybrid)
Presenter: Prof. Robert Forrant, Department of History UMass Lowell (UML)

In the 1930s, Franklin Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler made momentous decisions that still affect us today. As the global Great Depression engulfed nations, a majority in the U.S. wanted no part of a possible European war. In this two-part conversation, we will review how on January 30, 1933, a few weeks before Franklin Roosevelt’s inauguration, Adolf Hitler became German chancellor.

We will consider the complicated history of WWII and also focus on how the U.S. pulled itself together once the Second World War occurred. Childcare at work, community gardens, recycling, ride-sharing, and gas-rationing led the way! Read Robert Forrant's Bio.

Coordinator: Susan Lemire*

Transitioning from Owning Your Home to Condo Living
Monday: October 30, 1-3 p.m. (hybrid)
Presenter: Scott Eriksen, Partner, Perkins & Anctil (and team)

Scott will discuss the following topics

  • What are the biggest adjustments a single- family house owner will have to make in moving into a condo community?
  • How can a current or prospective condo owner tell if a condo association is well managed?
  • What are the key provisions that a prospective or current condo owner should focus on when reviewing condo documents?
  • What are the criteria that should be used to determine if an Association is properly funded to minimize the chance of special assessments?
  • What changes in condo law are taking place across the country?

Bring your concerns and questions and Scott will address them. Read Scott Eriksen's Bio.

Coordinator: Bob Stevens*

Weaning off Carbon
Monday: November 6: 10 a.m. to noon (hybrid)
Presenter: Assistant Prof. Noah Van Dam, Francis College of Engineering, UML

Carbon-based energy sources have powered our society for hundreds of years, but emissions of carbon dioxide from these sources have contributed to a global greenhouse effect and put earth's climate on a dangerous path. Moving society away from carbon-based energy, however, is difficult, because even sources of energy such as wind or solar that don't emit carbon dioxide directly can still have so-called life cycle emissions from parts of their supply chains. In this presentation we will discuss several strategies that are being pursued to reduce and/or eliminate net carbon dioxide emissions from energy generation, from carbon capture and net-zero carbon fuels to non-carbon fuels and non-carbon power sources. We will learn about the tradeoffs that come with each strategy, current research working to mitigate the negative or improve the positive aspects, and what research is still necessary to wean ourselves off carbon in the future. Read Noah Van Dam's Bio.

Coordinator: Peter Sebelius*


Exciting People and Places: Trip to Southeast Asia, New Zealand and Australia (hybrid)
Tuesday: September 19, 10 a.m. to Noon
Presenters: Chuck and Joanne Yestramski

Did you ever think you could go on a 3+ month affordable adventure to the other side of the world in your senior years? Chuck and Joanne Yestramski would like to share the highlights from their recent trip (January through April 2023) to Indonesia and other parts of the South Pacific, Vietnam, Cambodia, New Zealand and Australia. You will learn about the special places they visited, the marvelous local people they met, as well as shared experiences learning about the history, culture and arts of these regions of the world. Through stories and photographs, the Yestramskis will share their highlights as they got to know the people and places firsthand. Come join them and they will tell you how to plan this adventure too!

Coordinator: Suzanne Gamache*

Charles Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition (1901)
Tuesdays: September 19 and 26, October 3 and 17 from 1-3 p.m. (hybrid)
Presenter: Prof. Anthony Szczesiul, Department of English UMass Lowell

Charles Chesnutt is considered to be the first major African American novelist in American literary history, and his 1901 novel The Marrow of Tradition is considered his greatest work. Chesnutt’s novel is based on real-life events surrounding the 1898 Wilmington, North Carolina “Race Riot.” A better term, however, would be “massacre,” “coup,” or “insurrection,” for while some news accounts of the time depicted this as a “race riot” instigated by Blacks, historians know it was an insurrection led by White supremacists against the town’s racially integrated government. The Wilmington "riot" is, in fact, the only political coup in American history where violent means were used to remove freely elected government officials from office. Chesnutt uses these events as a background for a tightly constructed, yet “panoramic” novel, skillfully weaving together several plot lines containing a wide range of characters. As John Edgar Wideman describes it, “Chesnutt wished to render on a broad canvas a panoramic view of Southern society… the truth of the South can be encompassed only by a comprehensive view that includes all classes, both races, and a variety of perspectives—social, economic, and political.” The Marrow of Tradition is one of the most important novels on race in American literature. It provides fascinating insights into the landscape of racial politics at the turn of the twentieth century, and these insights are still relevant to our contemporary moment. Read Anthony Szczesiul's Bio.

Coordinator: Susan Lemire*

An Introduction to the Americas Before Columbus.
Tuesday: October 3, 10 a.m. to Noon (Zoom only)
Presenter: Marie-Anne Fernando*

Before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492, the western hemisphere was vastly more populous and sophisticated than previously thought. Based on the non-fiction book by Charles C. Mann 1491 and other sources backed by research, this presentation will introduce LIRA members to “New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus”.

We will dispel both “The Pristine Myth” and “The Myth of the Passive Indian” myths that course deeply in the American imagination. We will learn how the First Americans humanized the landscape and developed complex civilizations in the North and South continents before Columbus and the ensuing European conquests.

Coordinator: Lynn Tyndall*

Tour of the Royall House & Slave Quarters
Tuesday: October 10, 9:30-11 a.m. (Arrive by 9:15 a.m.)
Location: 15 George Street, Medford, MA 02155 Phone 781-396-9032

In the 18th century, this plantation was home to the Royalls, the largest slaveholding family in Massachusetts, and at least sixty enslaved women, men, and children whose forced labor helped build the Royall family’s wealth. As one of the few remaining freestanding quarters where enslaved people lived and worked in the North, the museum bears witness to their lives, to the intertwined stories of wealth and bondage in pre-Revolutionary Massachusetts, and to the resistance and political and legal activism of enslaved and free Black people in the eighteenth century.

We have scheduled a guided tour for 20 LIRA members. The cost is $18.75 per person. Please sign up during the Fall Convocation and/or with David Troughton at or call 978 935-3813. Make a check for $18.75 payable to LIRA, Inc. and send it to David Troughton, 6 Rack Road, Chelmsford, MA 01824 or bring to the Convocation on September 13. Let David Troughton know if you can carpool.

We are asked to arrive by 9:15 a.m. Parking is limited, so please consider carpooling. Carpools will leave from the side parking area at Hannaford's at Drum Hill in Chelmsford. Given the 9:15 a.m. arrival time, we will need to leave Hannaford's by 8:15 a.m., so please arrive at Hannaford no later than 8 a.m.

For more information visit the Royall House & Slave Quarters website.

Coordinator David Troughton*

Clean Heating and Cooling for Your Home
Tuesday: October 17, 10 a.m. to noon (Zoom Only)
Presenter: Robert Zogg, Heat Smart Alliance

This presentation introduces homeowners to modern heat pumps, including:

  • Role in lowering greenhouse gas emissions
  • Functions served in the home
  • Available types
  • Example energy-cost and emissions comparisons
  • Available incentives
  • How to get started.

We will answer participant questions after the presentation.

Coordinator: Jim Rutter*

You Can’t Take It with You: The Problem of Plastics Waste and Approaches to Advance Recycling
Tuesday: October 24, 10 a.m. to noon (Zoom Only)
Presenter: Prof. Margaret J. Sobkowicz Kline, Plastics Engineering Department UMass Lowell.

Over a third of global plastics production goes into single-use packaging, but a far smaller percentage of this packaging is successfully recycled or composted. A significant portion of the plastics waste is leaked to the environment, causing marine and terrestrial pollution and microplastics. The plastics recovery and recycling rates remain low due not only to infrastructural and geopolitical issues but also because contamination and complexity in mixed waste degrades the quality of secondary feedstocks. The ubiquity and usefulness of plastics in our lives requires solutions that span geographic, societal, and technical domains. This talk will summarize the challenges in the various aspects of plastics waste management and recovery of value. We will also discuss recent advances at UMass Lowell in mechanical, chemical, and biological recycling, as well as educational initiatives to move beyond the status quo. Read Margaret J. Sobkowicz Kline's Bio.

Coordinator: Chris Geggis*

Cemeteries in New England during the Colonial period

Tuesday: October 24, 1-3 p.m. (hybrid)
Presenter: Mike Raguin

We are lucky to live in New England, the land of many different styles of cemeteries! English carvers designed many of the early tombstones, but local artists soon evolved the styles drastically. Early tombstones were made of slate brought to New England as ballast in British merchant ships. Later they were made of marble. For a brief period, some were made of metal and those are quite rare.

In addition to the essential dates of birth and death of the person, in many cases the inscriptions also convey his/her cause of death: disease, drowning, accident, lightning. A brief sentence might laud the deceased or offer a prayer of hope. While most inscriptions are written in English, some appear in Latin. It is during this period that the United States changed from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, and we will see the consequences of that for the tombstones. We will also talk about the markers from the only Shaker cemetery left in the US.

Coordinator: Steve Cerand*

Future Solar Eclipses
Tuesday: October 31, 10 a.m. to noon (hybrid) from Coburn Hall
Presenter: Kelly Beatty, Sky and Telescope Magazine

After seeing the solar corona for the first time, your first words usually are, "When's the next one?" This presentation details the total solar eclipse visible from the United States next April, and also previews total and annular solar eclipses through 2028.

On April 8, 2024, the Moon’s dark shadow will cross the continental U.S. for the second time in seven years. This total solar eclipse promises to be among the most widely observed in history. It’s already widely anticipated, as many hotels within the path of totality sold out two years in advance. Another solar eclipse, this one an annular (ring) eclipse, serves as a warm-up act when it crosses the western U.S. in October 2023. Kelly's presentation will summarize the nature of solar eclipses, give helpful advice for watching next April’s event, and provide a preview of solar eclipses worth seeing through 2028. Read Kelly Beatty's Bio.

Coordinator: Jim Rutter*

View the Wednesday Program


Great Decisions
Thursday: 10 to Noon (Zoom only)
Eight Thursdays, 10 a.m.-Noon: September 21 and 28, October 5, 12, 19, 26, November 2 and 9

Great Decisions is America’s largest discussions program on world affairs. The discussion group reads the Briefing Book and meets to discuss the most critical global issues facing America today. Learn more about Great Decisions on the Foreign Policy Association website.

You can order a Briefing Book by sending a $25 check payable to “LIRA Inc” to Richard Grove, 575 Osgood Street, Apt 2213, North Andover, MA 01845. He will mail you a copy of the book. Or you can bring your check to the LIRA Fall Convocation and get your book.

Politics in Latin America - Electoral results in Latin America over the past four years have led many observers of the regional/political scene to discern a left-wing surge in the hemisphere, reminiscent of the so-called “Pink Tide” that swept the area some 20 years ago. But how much do these politicians have in common? What implication does their ascendency have for the region?
Discussion Leader: Steve Buccieri*, September 21 and 28

Global Famine - Fears of global food shortages have followed Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which has disrupted grain shipments from the major grain producer. But what about countries and regions that were suffering before this impending shortage? How is famine defined, and how is it different from simple food shortages? What if any remedies are there?
Discussion Leader: Steve Cerand*, October 5 and 12

Iran at a Crossroads - By the fall of 2022, Iran was in a state of turmoil due to widespread protests against government-enforced wearing of the hijab, a failing economy, an ineffective new president, and the looming succession of the country’s leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. Abroad, renewal of the Iran nuclear deal seemed doubtful and tensions remain high between Iran, Israel, and Arab states. Many Iranians have lost hope of a better future, and the country seems at a crossroads. How should the United States deal with it?
Discussion Leader: LIRA Member Gail Kerr*, October 19 and 26

Climate Migration- As climate change accelerates and drought and rising sea levels become more common, millions of people in affected regions must uproot themselves and seek safety elsewhere. Who are these affected individuals, and how might the United States aid them, and be affected by the migration?
Discussion Leader: Richard Grove*, November 2 and 9

Coordinator: Richard Grove*

Local News Reporting
Thursday: September 21 1-3 p.m. (hybrid)
Presenter: Dave Copeland, Journalist

Over 2,500 local newspapers in the U.S. have closed since 2005, and the closures are continuing at a rate of about two per week, while many of the remaining papers have had their newsrooms gutted by corporate owners. Andover resident Dave Copeland will discuss what this means for the communities and independent efforts like his to fill the void with online news sites like Andover News. Read Dave Copeland's Bio.

Coordinator: Lisa Hertel*

The USEPA Superfund Program: A Case Study focused on the Nuclear Metals Superfund Site, Concord, MA
Thursday: October 26, 1-3 p.m. (hybrid)
Presenter: Kara Kelly Nierenberg, P.E. for the USEPA

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act—otherwise known as CERCLA or Superfund—provides a Federal “Superfund” to clean up uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous-waste sites, as well as accidents, spills, and other emergency releases of pollutants and contaminants into the environment. Through CERCLA, EPA was given power to seek out those parties responsible for any release and assure their cooperation in the cleanup.

Come learn more about the Superfund program, and specifically about the Nuclear Metals, Inc. Superfund Site in Concord, Mass., from the USEPA Region 1 Remedial Project Manager. We will cover a broad overview of the Superfund program, including the removal, remedial, and enforcement aspects of the program and then dive into the historical operations and current remediation of the Nuclear Metals Site. Read Kara Kelly Nierenberg's Bio.

Coordinator: Beverly Rudeen*


South Campus Art Tour
Friday: October 6, 10 a.m. to Noon
Location: Begins at Coburn Hall
Presenter: Associate Professor Marie Frank, UMass Lowell

This event will center on the public art on South Campus. It is a walking tour, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes! Over the course of the school’s history, a notable collection of works of art have either been purchased or donated. They range from paintings to sculpture to mosaics, and the artists that made them are both internationally and locally renowned. Read Marie Frank's Bio.

Coordinator: Susan Lemire*

LIRA Fall 2023 Presenter Biographies

Artificial Intelligence, an Overview

LISA-HertelLisa Hertel

Lisa Hertel is currently an artist, but has degrees in Chemistry (Simmons College) and Pharmacy (Mass College of Pharmacy), and a certificate in Technical Writing (UMass Lowell). She is a long-time science fiction and fantasy fan and computer geek. Once a week, she volunteers at the Andover senior center’s Tech Help Desk, helping people understand their tech (it’s free!). She also volunteers for LIRA, works on science fiction conventions, and makes and sells art. For 25 years, she worked as a pharmacist, both in retail and at the Mass Eye and Ear Infirmary.

Chris-GeggisChris Gegis

Chris Geggis received his B.S. in Physics with a minor in Computer Science from UMass Lowell. He later went on to receive his M.S. in Computer Science at UMass Lowell. He worked as a computer programmer for some companies you may have heard of, like Fidelity and GTE, and other companies you probably have not heard of. He is currently teaching Machine Learning in the Computer Science Department at UMass Lowell to undergraduates. He is also a member of LIRA.

Brendon-HertelBrendan Hertel

Brendan Hertel is a Ph.D. candidate in computer science at UMass Lowell, working in the Persistent Autonomy in Robot Learning (PeARL) Lab. He has received a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and an M.S. in computer science, both also at UMass Lowell. Brendan has worked in robotics research for the past four years, developing learning algorithms for robots and has published several papers on robot learning, autonomy, perception, and evaluation.

Making the Transition from Owning Your Home to Condo Living

Scott-EriksonScott Erikson

Scott Eriksen is a partner at Perkins & Anctil in Westford and leads the firm’s community association and condominium practice. Perkins & Anctil has over 750 condominium association clients so they are well versed on all issues that condominiums associations and their unit owners face.

You Can’t Take It with You: The Problem of Plastics Waste and Approaches to Advance Recycling

Meg-SobkowiczMeg Sobkowicz Kline

Meg Sobkowicz is a Professor of Plastics Engineering at University of Massachusetts Lowell. She has a B.S. and Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Columbia University and Colorado School of Mines, respectively. She held a National Research Council postdoctoral fellowship at National Institute of Standards and Technology, and she was awarded the National Science Foundation CAREER grant for her plastics research. Her educational and research interests include renewable polymers, polymer nanocomposites and blends, plastics processing and recycling, rheology, energy applications of polymers, green chemistry, and climate change and sustainability policy. At UMass Lowell she is also involved with initiatives aimed at increasing the participation and advancement of women in academic STEM careers. Cambodian Potter and National Treasure

Yary-LivanYary Livan

A ceramist and teacher, Yary Livan has a legacy of dedication to his craft and his community. Livan is the only Cambodian master ceramists to have survived the 1975 Khmer Rouge living in the U.S., where he shares his artistic knowledge with the next generation through classes at Middlesex Community College, and apprenticeships.

Four Brothers From Lowell

Jim-TurcotteJim Turcotte

Jim Turcotte, author of Four Brothers From Lowell, studied at Boston University earning a B.A., cum laude, in History in 1980. He attended Western New England University School of Law and graduated with a Juris Doctorate in 1984. He worked as a prosecuting attorney for the Connecticut Division of Criminal Justice for over 34 years. In addition, he was an adjunct professor at both the University of Connecticut School of Law and Quinnipiac University School of Law. Since retiring in 2019, Jim stays busy writing, researching his genealogy, reading history, fishing, doing DYI home projects (aka the Honey Do List) and traveling.

Local News Reporting

David-CopelandDavid Copeland

David Copeland is an award-winning journalist with more than 25 years of covering business, technology, local news and a wide range of topics. He has been a staff writer and editor for Patch Media, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and the Dow Jones News Service, and his work has appeared in the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal and other national publications.

Introduction to the USEPA Superfund

KaraKara is an environmental engineer and Remedial Project Manager for the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Region 1. She manages two Superfund Sites in Massachusetts, the Nuclear Metals Superfund Site in Concord, Mass. and the W.R. Grace Superfund Site in Acton, Mass. Prior to joining USEPA in March 2022, Kara worked for the superfund program since 2005 as a contractor to USEPA. While a contractor, her work focused on Remedial Investigations, Feasibility Studies, and Remedial Design phases of Superfund and brownfields projects in Regions 1 and 5. She has a B.S. in environmental engineering from Tufts University and holds a Professional Engineer License in Massachusetts.