Interest Groups: Leading and Learning

At the heart of the Academy is a diverse series of Interest Groups.

Participants have opportunities to explore new ideas and interests while sharing areas of expertise. Most groups are intellectually oriented while some combine this with either entertainment components or physical activity.

Most groups meet weekly, face-to-face usually in rooms at the Academy’s center, Lewis House, on the beautiful Eckerd campus waterfront on Boca Ciega Bay.

Interest groups also have developed internet ‘virtual communities’ enabling traveling or seasonal members to continue to participate.

The Groups are primarily led by ASPEC members, with occasional invitations to Eckerd College faculty and staff or to outside presenters.

ASPEC members’ dues cover participation in all Interest Groups. Participation and level of involvement is left to the discretion of individuals; active learning and exchange of views is the goal of everyone.

During most of the year there are some 40 active Interest Groups.

Let us know if you want to try some of the Interest Groups listed below, or to learn more about these diverse programs. Helpful Counselors are available. Contact us at 727-864-8834 for more information.

Behavioral Science

Advanced Management Seminars

An ongoing series offering discussions about the management of changing infrastructures and their impact on society. The seminars examine the technologies, structures and policies of various societal elements, such as higher education, electronic news media, internet, health care, distance learning, among others. Regular in-depth presentations feature national speakers, community leaders, and ASPEC members. It fully utilizes telecom technologies to bring together an interaction between ASPEC members and the larger community.

Improving Strategic Decisions

Offers Academy members an opportunity to share their expertise and experiences and to learn from each other as we develop an interdisciplinary approach to a wide range of fields and topics. Such topics as personalized medicine, team dynamics, organizational leadership, trust, and economic uncertainty are discussed.

The group’s leaders draw upon concepts from the relatively new field of complexity science to organize and integrate the presentations to help members make more effective decisions including those we face in our daily lives.

Religions and Faiths

Studies the many aspects of religion and spirituality. The group study normally takes an analytical and historical approach to subjects, which may be balanced at times with attention to spiritual perspectives. Programs include presentations or lectures by members or guest speakers, audiovisuals, small group sessions, and reading and discussion of books. Participants are encouraged to suggest relevant material for study and discussion.


Discusses gender-related issues and subjects from a woman’s point of view. An informal atmosphere is maintained, and occasionally there are guest speakers. Men are welcome!

Comparative Cultures

Circolo Italiano (Italian History & Culture)

Provides members with comprehensive and informative programs on various aspects of Italian history and culture ranging from the Etruscans to the contributions of Italian film makers of the 20th Century. Our weekly meetings are in English.

Der Stammtisch (Conversational German)

Maintains and extends our vocabulary and fluency in the modern German of today. Discussion topics are brought up spontaneously according to the interests and experiences of the participants. Our weekly meetings are informal and are conducted 100% in German.

Español para Todos (Conversational Spanish)

Converses in Spanish in an informal and good humored manner in order to improve skills and fluency in this elegant language. The leaders will be happy to correct the grammar and pronunciation of those who desire. This is done during one lunch hour a week, but can be practiced at any time. The topics are varied: our everyday lives, newspaper and magazine articles, books written in Spanish. The leaders of the group spoke Spanish as children or have lived many years in Spanish-speaking countries.

French Culture and Conversation

The French group meets weekly and alternates between culture and conversation. French conversation provides members with the opportunity to converse informally in French in order that they may improve or maintain their fluency in the language. Alternatively, French cultural topics are explored through artists, authors etc. and these sessions are in English.

Contemporary Life

Current Events

Discusses the articles in the Perspective section of the Sunday Tampa Bay Times. These articles range from ultra-liberal to ultra-conservative. The open discussion allows attendees to present their own “perspective” to the subject.

Discussing Differences On Line

Explores on-line the issues of unity and diversity within the U.S. and the world at large. Culture, language, age, religion, gender, sexuality and diversity itself are examined. Participants also have online ongoing discussions on scheduled topics. Participants are especially encouraged to contribute from personal experience and to collect challenging new topics and source materials. We encourage and appreciate diverse contributions.

Economics and Prosperity

This is a new group which will include a study circle that meets weekly to discuss issues related to U.S. and global economics and prosperity. Some of the sessions will be pedagogic in nature but most of them will be based on topics selected by participants from news media, various publications and other sources. The participants select the topics and source material for a particular week, provide information on it in advance and lead the discussion which is moderated by the chair of this interest group.

Foreign Affairs

Meets weekly to discuss controversial domestic and international, political and social issues. Participants read appropriate material prior to each meeting. Material is drawn from various sources, but the primary text used is the bi-monthly magazine Foreign Affairs.

Meet our Members

Introduces new and established members of ASPEC to the rest of the ASPEC membership. Members are invited to speak of their history, present interests and aspirations.

Special Edition

Features presentations by ASPEC members on topics within their expertise but do not fit another interest group, talks by Eckerd College authors and guest speakers on timely subjects of interest to our members.

Travel Sharing

Gives ASPEC members the opportunity to share their adventures and learning experiences, and to pass on many good travel tips. Participants have traveled to all of the Earth’s continents and oceans, from the Near East to the Far East, from the deserts of Africa and Asia to the icy wastes of Antarctica, from the sweltering interiors of Australia to the sweltering jungles of Southeast Asia, from the islands of the Caribbean to the islands of the South Pacific, by plane and ship, rail and balloon, car and dogsled.

Creative Arts

American Stage

Works with the local equity theater in St. Petersburg. The participants purchase a special ASPEC pass that entitles them to attend four theater productions at the Raymond James Theater, home of the American Stage. ASPEC members attend select  Sunday matinee performances and American Stage provides special tours of backstage, costume shop, lighting systems upon our request. Additionally, these pre-scheduled productions include a talk-back with the actors, director, and other staff after the play. This provides a deeper understanding of the production and the individual performances. The staff at American Stage also gain the valuable feedback during the discussion.

Foreign Film Study

Members are introduced to various foreign films, and they may lead the discussion afterward. Films are chosen by the Interest Group leader, often drawing on suggestions of ASPEC members. We attempt to have one French film, one Italian film, and one Asian film each month, but we have also had films from many other countries. Films are chosen primarily for quality and entertainment value, but also for variety and for social, political, historical and cultural values.

Studio Art

Techniques of creating works of art through drawing, painting, mixed media, and imaginative experiments. No previous knowledge or experience is necessary to join the group. Those who have had previous experience will find they can enhance their artistic ability with new points of view. Special workshops may be offered.

Visual Arts

Has four components: education about art history, artistic techniques, specific artists and current exhibits; responsibility for exhibits at Lewis House; hands-on workshops in various visual arts and crafts techniques; trips to art museums, galleries and studios. The group is participatory, with attendees presenting, planning, and sharing. This ongoing interest group meets three times a month in the winter season, and occasionally there are guest speakers.



Explores the lives of people and sometimes “things,” often famous, but occasionally unknown to most people. We use film and discussion and have considered statesmen, authors, activists, outstanding contributors to society, and occasional scoundrels.

Books and Ideas

At each bi-weekly meeting a member reports personal reactions and impressions about a book, new or old. Selected books  express ideas and theories of general interest from a variety of fields. Some of the selected books are nonfiction, some are fiction. A strong idea or viewpoint is encouraged.

Contemporary Short Story

Discusses selected contemporary stories. From time to time the interest group leader provides mini-lectures and handouts on different ways to appreciate and analyze short stories. The recent thinking by the critical community is that there are many good ways to interpret and understand a story. The group meets twice each month.


Explores events, ideas, and lives of leading persons of the past. The group reads and discusses books chosen by the group to get to know the past and its meaning for us today. Members usually pre-read the material chosen for the day as preparation for the discussion.


Probes the meaning of life, and explores how thinkers arrive at such meaning. The background required is the willingness to complete suggested readings prior to each meeting. Books, selected by the leaders and participants, are required. No special competencies are necessary except for the desire to enter into discussion and to struggle for meaning in life.

Play Reading

Reads plays without rehearsal: old, new, classic, avant garde, tragedies, melodrama, comedies and mysteries. The mix reflects the interests of our participants, who take turns leading. In addition, each play is put in context; we learn about the playwrights and take time to discuss our reactions to the material.


Meets bi-weekly to read and discuss an immense variety of poems. Participants present their own creative efforts, or present a poet and her/his poems on a particular theme. Periodically recognized poets or students from Eckerd’s Creative Writing Program share their works. Selections used may be old favorites, the works of Nobelists, Pulitzers, Laureates, or poems in translation.

Socrates Café

Members meet bi-monthly to choose and discuss a relevant question/topic.  The group’s responses are spontaneous, no advance preparation, as it was in the Agora of the great Socrates.

World Classics

Explores in depth important written works whose longevity, continued use and impact classify them as world classics. This would include not only literary masterpieces, but also influential works in other areas such as religion, science, economics, etc. Each major work will require at least three months of critical exploration and study to complete. Members rotate in leading the group.

Writers Workshop

Offers encouragement and help to authors who are writing for publication, and to provide a forum for review and helpful criticism. Academy authors are currently writing history, biography, poetry, fiction, memoirs, philosophy, technology, and other documents. A goal is to publish books and journal articles.

Physical Well-Being

Chair Yoga

Meets weekly with a certified yoga instructor to perform yoga for most levels.

Taoist Tai Chi

Meditation in Motion. The 108 movements of the Taoist Tai Chi set gradually and gently work to strengthen and stretch the muscles of the body, increase circulation of blood and oxygen, while improving balance, decreasing fatigue, and developing endurance. The group meets twice weekly and offers individual instruction time for new members.

Science and Technology

Applied Technology

Members donate their time (and sometimes materials) to build “things” for local charities and/or Eckerd College. Our current project is a Dragon Racing Boat for Eckerd.


Conducts demonstrations, lectures, discussions and instruction covering all aspects of home computer use for every level of experience, novice to expert. Lectures, demonstrations, group discussions and lab sessions are informal, friendly and non-intimidating. There is no “curriculum.” Any subject, including hardware, software, word processing, applications, user problems and solutions is apt to be on the agenda.

Science and Society

Explores the impact of science and technology on our culture. By participating in lectures and discussions, each individual may gain an understanding of the results of scientific development so that better decisions can be made about the future of our society. No reading is required; however, suggestions are made for outside reading to enhance understanding in the wide range of topics. Recent subjects included “The Nuclear Reactors,” “Fuel Cells,” “Food Additives,” “Superconductivity,” and many other areas of science that impact society.

SomeTIMES Science and Sometimes Not

Uses the Tuesday New York Times science section as the take off point for discussion. Other articles and reading material (distributed by e-mail) may be selected by moderators, who come from the group itself.

Twenty-first Century Science

Aims to understand contemporary developments in the sciences to enhance their comprehension of the world at the very small and very large levels.