Learning in Retirement Association (LIRA) Spring 2024 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 (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 2024 Spring Course Descriptions


Great Utopian and Dystopian Works of Literature
Mondays, March 11, 18, 25, April 1, April 22, April 29, May 6
10 a.m. – Noon (hybrid)

“The Great Courses” present these lectures by Pamela Bedore of the University of Connecticut. This “speculative fiction” course takes us from Thomas More’s Utopia, published in 1516, to the 21st century dystopian literature so popular today. Described by “The Great Courses” as “a dive into stories that seek to find the best and the worst in humanity.”

Note: if you are planning to attend these classes, please look at the recommended reading list at the end of the LIRA course descriptions.

Facilitators: Beverly and Kimball Rudeen*

Unexpected Biochemical Connections between our Nutrition & Habits and our Health
Mondays, March 11 and 18: 1-3 p.m. (hybrid)
Presenter: Anastasia O’Malley MS, CNS, LDN

Like dominoes in a line or ripples in a pond, the origins of effects we see may not be where we expect to find them. Might antacids, antibiotics and mouthwash affect bone health, brain health and blood pressure? How is lung health entwined with both bone health and mental health? What does water & vitamin D do for us? Learn how nutrition is necessary for neurotransmission and cognitive health. This is all food FOR thought(s), sometimes literally.

Coordinator: Jim Rutter*

Dark Matter, Dark Energy: The Dark Side of the Universe
Mondays, March 25, April 1, 22, 29, May 6: 1-3 p.m. (hybrid)

After a quick review of what we covered during the fall semester, we will explore what as yet undiscovered type of particle might make up Dark Matter. We will visit some of the current research into Dark Matter with the James Webb Telescope and the Euclid Telescope. Then the Great Courses presentation will move on to Dark Energy, that mysterious force that is dispersed throughout the universe and which is pushing everything that is not gravitationally constrained apart.

Facilitator: Peter Sebelius*


Johnny Cash: A Life in Song
Tuesday, March 12: 10 a.m. – Noon (hybrid)
Presenter: Prof. Jonathan Silverman

A music star for almost 50 years, Johnny Cash both changed with the times and yet remained a consistent symbol of mystery and authenticity—those changes are reflected in his music, which both changed over time and yet represented an unwavering spirit. I will present on him through a "life in songs," ranging from his time growing up in Arkansas, all the way to his death in 2003.

Coordinator: Susan Lemire*

Climate Change: Misconceptions, Mitigation, and Moving Forward
Tuesday, March 12: 1-3 p.m. (hybrid)
Presenter: Prof. Lori Weeden

This lecture will review the causes of anthropogenic climate change and many of the misconceptions surrounding the science. The theme will counter misinformation and leave people with hope for the future. Professor Lori Weeden is with the Department of Earth, Environmental, and Atmospheric Sciences at UMass Lowell.

Coordinator: Suzanne Gamache*

Critical Issues in K-12 Public Schools: Focus on High Schools
Tuesdays, March 26 and April 2: 10 a.m. - Noon (hybrid)
Presenter: David Troughton*

Our public schools represent one of the fundamental institutions of a democratic society. Indeed, the education of all children serves the general good and economic welfare of the nation and society. At the same time, public schools are complex organizations serving multiple roles, diverse populations, and ever-changing societal need. In these two sessions, we will examine the role High Schools play in to preparing graduates for “college and career” and productive roles as citizens.

  1. Session 1: In this session, we will examine the organization of high schools and help to answer the following questions:
    • What are the major challenges facing high schools?
    • Are high schools doing a good job to prepare students for the future
  2. Session 2: In this session, we will examine local and state graduation requirements and attempt to answer the question:
    • Should Massachusetts eliminate the state requirement for high school graduates to demonstrate “proficiency” on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) Tests as a requirement to receive a high school diploma?

Coordinator: Jim Rutter*

UML DifferenceMaker Program
Tuesday, March 26: 1-3 p.m. (hybrid)
Presenter: David Vatalaro

DifferenceMaker is a campus-wide program that helps students solve problems and pursue their ideas, with a focus on having a positive impact in the world. The DifferenceMaker program provides training, mentoring, and other resources to UMass Lowell students who wish to address social, environmental, and economic problems in the community and world. DifferenceMaker works with students to solve their problems and turn their ideas into reality.

Our class will be in two parts. In the first, we will learn about the program from David Vatalaro, a member of the DifferenceMaker Team, and selected students, who will present an overview of their DifferenceMaker projects.

During the second part of the class, we will take part in a DifferenceMaker exercise where we divide up into teams and try to create a solution to a real-world problem. Part of this exercise involves making a Lego model your solution, so, if you have any, bring a bag of your child’s or grandchild’s Legos for the exercise. If you don’t have any, they will be provided.

Coordinator: Peter Sebelius*

Water District Supply, Operation and Challenges
Tuesday, April 2: 1-3 p.m. (hybrid)
Presenter: Todd Melanson

This presentation will be based on the general operation of a water system, whether it be a groundwater system or surface water system, and the laws and regulations that dictate its operation. We will discuss the water chemistry challenges and environmental challenges that both types of systems face, and go into emerging regulations (PFAS, Lead and Copper, Disinfection Byproducts), the reasons for them and the challenges they create for the water system and their local communities to deal with.

Coordinator: Jim Rutter*

MIT Haystack Observatory Tour
Tuesday, April 9 10 a.m. - noon (Field Trip)

MIT Haystack Observatory is an interdisciplinary research center of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, engaged in radio science research and the practical application of related technology. The Haystack mission is to develop technology for radio science applications, and thereby to study the structure of our galaxy and the larger universe, to advance scientific knowledge of our planet and its space environment, and to contribute to the education of future scientists and engineers. Haystack Observatory is a multidisciplinary research laboratory with a unifying theme of radio science and a research staff of many highly skilled scientists, engineers, and technicians.

The tour will be approximately an hour and a half, which includes a talk by a scientist about their research along with a tour of their largest radio telescope, the 37-meter antenna. They can accommodate about 30 people maximum. If people have access requirements, such as needing to avoid stairs, we can arrange that if you let us know. Usually, the tour does not involve going outside or driving around the site.

Coordinator: Jim Rutter*

Cable TV Cord Cutting
Tuesday, April 16 10 a.m. - noon (hybrid)
Presenter: Tony Janeczek UML ’76

Concerned about the high price of cable TV services? Join us to hear about options to lower your monthly cost for cable. In this session, you will find out what type of services are available either for free or for much lower costs than what you are paying now. We will talk about why cable prices are high, and what you can do to pay only for what you need.

Coordinator: Jim Rutter*

Why Did the Astros Cheat?
Tuesday, April 23 10 a.m. – noon (hybrid)
Presenter: Prof. Jonathan Silverman

In 2017, the Houston Astros won their first World Series. Two years later, reporters uncovered a bizarre scandal; the Astros stole catchers' signals to their pitchers and communicated these signals to the Astros dugout, where players banged on a trash can to let batters know which pitch was coming. But this scandal didn't happen in a vacuum. I will explore the factors that led to this scandal and their implications beyond the diamond.

Coordinator: Susan Lemire*

Harvard Univ. Museum of Natural History:Glass Flowers Exhibit
Tuesday, April 30 12:45 – 2 p.m. (Field Trip)

NOTE: Non-standard time.

One of Harvard University’s most famous treasures is the internationally acclaimed Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants, better known as the “Glass Flowers." This unique collection was made by Leopold (1822-1895) and Rudolf Blaschka (1857-1939), a father and son team of Czech glass artists. Over fifty years, from 1886 through 1936, the Blaschkas produced 4,300 glass models that represent 780 plant species.

The Glass Flowers gallery underwent a historic renovation in 2016, introducing rebuilt, original historic wood and glass display cases, new state-of-the-art lighting, and sophisticated conservation systems. The newly configured gallery space and scientific interpretation showcases the ongoing scientific relevance of the collection and enriches the visitors’ experience of the models.

We have a limit of 15 people for this trip. Assuming at least 10 people sign up, the admission cost per person will be $20. (There will be an additional cost for parking, but by arranging carpools, we will try to keep that cost reasonable.) There will be a docent-led tour of the Glass Flowers lasting about one hour. Admission also includes free access to the entire Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. We hope to leave the museum about 3:00, to reduce the time spent in rush hour traffic. Each carpool can work an arrival time out, so long as each group arrives by 12:45.

More information will be supplied in early April.

Coordinator: Alan Friedman*


Reconstruction and the Contested Election of 1876
Wednesday March 20: 10 a.m. – noon (hybrid)
Presenter: Prof. Robert Forrant

The nation came together after the Civil War, largely by collectively forgetting what the war was about. Passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution, access to the ballot box and public education, the election of formerly enslaved people to Congress and numerous state legislatures, and federal enforcement of voting rights, prevailed. Soon, national celebrations honored the bravery of both armies, and Frederick Douglass and other Black leaders engaged with Confederate sympathizers and Northerners in a battle of historical memory. Douglass called on people to remember the war for what it was—a struggle between an army fighting to protect slavery and a nation reluctantly transformed into a force for liberation. This did not happen, and the presidential election of 1876 sent a clear message that Reconstruction and the struggle for equality supported by the federal government was ended. Find out more on March 20!

Coordinator: David Troughton*

The Election of 2024

We will attempt to reschedule it for the Fall Semester.

I Wear My Own Clothes: The Fascinating Life of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker
Wednesday, March 27: 10 a.m. – noon (Zoom only)
Presenter: Susan de Guardiola

On August 25, 2023, the U.S. Army training base Fort Hill was renamed Fort Walker in honor of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker (1832-1919), a surgeon, abolitionist, suffragist, dress reformer, lecturer, author, divorcée, and the first female recipient of the Medal of Honor who became famous and infamous in the mid-19th century for her public adoption of men’s clothing. Susan de Guardiola will discuss the fascinating life and military service of this remarkable American woman and her stubbornly unique approach to the medical and progressive issues of her time.

Coordinator: Lisa Hertel

Chaucer: His Literature, His Life, His Language
Wednesdays, April 10, 17 and 24: 10 a.m. – noon (hybrid)
Presenter: Alan Friedman*

When you studied English literature in high school, your teacher probably assigned you a brief excerpt from The Canterbury Tales to represent the Middle Ages. Has all memory of it vanished without a trace? Are you aware that Geoffrey Chaucer, author of The Canterbury Tales, is generally acknowledged as the "Father of English Poetry" and recognized as an important influence on Shakespeare? Most modern critics sing the praises of The Canterbury Tales. What, then, makes this work more than just a commonplace anthology of short stories? How did Chaucer’s life experiences and historical context shape his work? How did his works affect the English language and vice versa?

These are among the questions we will tackle in this course. In addition, we will learn just enough of Chaucer's native tongue, Middle English, to gain an appreciation of his work in its original form.

LIRA Lowell Area Dining Trail Part 1: The Athenian Corner
Wednesday, April 17: 2 p.m. (Field Trip)

Athenian Corner Restaurant, 207 Market Street, Lowell

Brought to you by LIRA’s own Diversity Team, experience the many exciting food cultures of the Lowell area with a series of dining/learning opportunities beginning in Spring, 2024, with The Athenian Corner. The Athenian Corner, located in the heart of downtown Lowell, is part of the Historic District. Since 1974, the Panagiotopoulos family has been proudly serving quality Greek dishes and generous portions at affordable prices, and with Ted Panos, owner, as our guide, we will explore Greek food, culture, and community in Lowell.

  • Cost: $25/person, includes a late lunch meal of your choice. You will be responsible for your bar drink tab at the venue.
  • Signup at the March 6 LIRA meeting, first come basis; attendance limited to 14 people.
  • Parking: Free parking in the restaurant lot.
  • Accessibility considerations: Although the restaurant entrance is accessible, the restroom is upstairs. There is an accessible restroom across the street at the National Park Museum Visitor Center.

Coordinator: Stan Powers*

Legends of Little Canada: “Aunt Rose, Harvey’s Bookland and My Captain Jack”
Wednesday April 24: 1-3 p.m. (hybrid)
Presenter: Charles Gargiulo

Charlie Gargiulo will present a talk on his memoir “Legends of Little Canada”. He grew up during the planned destruction of this very neighborhood that is part of the UMass Lowell campus today. He will bring along copies of his book for us to purchase and have signed.

Coordinator: Bev Rudeen*


Great Decisions

Thursdays: March 14, 21 and 28, April 4, 11, 18 and 25, May 2: 10 a.m. – noon (Zoom only)

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.

You can order a Briefing Book by sending a $25 check payable to “LIRA Inc” to Richard Grove 575 Osgood St, North Andover, MA 01845. He will mail you a copy of the book, OR you can bring your check to the LIRA Town Meeting March 6 and get your book.

Mideast Realignment

The United States and the Middle East are at a crossroads. Despite a reduced presence in the Middle East, the U. S. still has significant interests there and the area is a key arena for global power politics. Can the U.S. continue to defend its interests in the Middle East and globally with a lower level of military and political involvement, or should it recommit to a leading role in the region?

Discussion leader: Steve Cerand*, March 14 and 21

U.S.-China Trade Rivalry

China’s economic rise and its current policies of increasing the role of the state in the economy have led some U.S. policymakers to seek to deny China access to U.S. technology and investment. This is seen as a necessary corrective to decades of predatory Chinese economic policies. Is this a wise strategy, and how effective can it be?

Discussion leader: Richard Grove*, March 28 and April 4

Understanding Indonesia

Despite its large size, Indonesia remains virtually invisible to most Americans. But as one of the world’s largest democracies, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, and as an economic driver of ASEAN, why does it fly below the radar? What are current issues in U.S.-Indonesian relations, and what role can the country play in Asia?

Discussion leader: Neal Berenson*, April 11 and 18

Climate Technology

Will the United States and China, with other powerful countries following suit, approach current and future climate initiatives with an increased commitment to trade protectionism and nationalism, by various measures including trade restrictions? Or could a growing spirit of international accord develop to confront the “common enemy” of climate change?

Discussion leader: LIRA member Richard Grove*, April 25 and May 2

Brainstorming Session: New LIRA class/field trip ideas
Thursday April 4: 1-3 p.m. (hybrid)

Did you ever do brainstorming at work? Well, we are going to take a shot at it. This is a chance for anyone in LIRA to come and help think up ideas for new classes/field trips for our members. There is no such thing as a bad idea; we will consider everything! Come to University Suites or Zoom in and tell us what you want to learn about or what places you would like to visit.

Coordinators: Peter Sebelius*, Jim Rutter*, Bev Rudeen*


Boston Masonic Temple Tour
Friday, May 3: 10:30 a.m. – noon (Field Trip)

Join us on a visit to one of the most distinguished Masonic buildings in the United States, the headquarters of the oldest Grand Lodge in the Western Hemisphere, right here in Boston! Grand Historian Walter Hunt will lead us on a tour of the building, including the library, and talk about the history of the building and some ephemera and objects there. Meet at Hannaford's in Chelmsford at 9:45 am to carpool; the Boston Masonic temple is a short walk from the Boston Common garage, at the edge of the Theater District. Tour starts at 10:30 a.m., and should last about 90 minutes.

Coordinator: Lisa Hertel*

Tour the La Belle Winery with UMass Lowell (UML) Golden Alumni class of ‘74
Friday, May 10: 10 a.m. – noon (Field Trip)
(n.b. this is after our regular Spring Semester ends)

The UML Alumni office is inviting LIRA members to join in a tour of the La Belle Winery in Derry, New Hampshire. A UML bus will depart from the Hilton Garden Inn (4 Highwood Dr., Tewksbury, MA 01876) at approximately 10:15 a.m. and return approximately 12:30. This is a chance to interact with UML grads celebrating their golden (50th) class reunion. The cost of the winery tour is $25.00 per person; the bus cost is TBD. Attendance is limited to 10 LIRA members. Contact Peter Sebelius at 978-758-560 to sign up. Send checks made out to LIRA, Inc to Peter Sebelius, 20 Draycoach Drive, Chelmsford, MA, 01824-1024.

Coordinator: Peter Sebelius*