Sheila Rocker Heppe took over the helm at OLLI in 2010, just after the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at HSU reached 500 members and had been awarded the first one million dollar endowment from the Bernard Osher Foundation.
Sheila came from the HSU School of Education, where she served as Secondary Education Credential Program Coordinator for 14 years. She used her connections in the education community to double the number of OLLI courses offered within the first three months of her leadership of the OLLI program.
By the end of Sheila’s first year as Director, the number of OLLI members increased from 500 to over 1,000 members, which qualified OLLI at HSU to be considered for a second one million dollar endowment.
When the Bernard Osher Foundation required a robust fundraising plan for each OLLI in the nation, Sheila reached out to fundraising experts and worked with them to design the New Designs in Fundraising Certificate offered through the College of Extended Education and Global Engagement (CEEGE). Sheila joined the first cohort to complete the certificate while creating a successful fundraising plan for OLLI.
Through the generous support of the Friends of OLLI, our institute met the necessary fundraising goals, and OLLI at HSU received the second million dollar endowment. Our institute receives 5% of the Osher endowment each year to cover staffing costs, ensuring that OLLI at Cal Poly Humboldt will continue to flourish. We rely on course fees and donations from members to offer our full OLLI program.
In 2011, Sheila was promoted to Director of Extended Education, which added oversight of all academic programming and promotions in the College of Extended Education and Global Engagement to her responsibilities as OLLI Director.
A new OLLI program coordinator position was created to manage the OLLI daily functions. Sheila expanded the number of courses and continually attracted vibrant high-quality OLLI faculty and committed essential volunteer leaders. She implemented the Monday free Brown Bag Lunch Presentations program and established the President’s Club donor community and the Friends of OLLI celebration and appreciation events.
The OLLI community of over 1,000 members remained constant for a decade until the pandemic. OLLI at Humboldt is currently on course to regain full membership this year.
Sheila says, “I think OLLI at Cal Poly Humboldt flourishes in our community because Humboldt is rich with interested and interesting people. The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute exists to facilitate learning and connection between people 50 and better in our region. It’s a place where engaging people engage.
“OLLI has been the shiny purple crown jewel of my career at Humboldt. Even as I step away from the university, I look forward to seeing my fellow OLLI members in a class or community event soon.”