Interest Groups: Leading and Learning

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

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.  Some groups are intellectual and some consist of physical activities.  Most groups meet weekly, face-to-face in rooms at the Academy’s center, Lewis House, on the beautiful Eckerd campus waterfront on Boca Ciega Bay.

One Interest Group has developed a “virtual community” enabling travelling or seasonal members to continue to participate.

The Groups are primarily led primarily 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

Aging Wisely

An interest group centered around end-of-life issues, based on a life-span developmental perspective.  The meetings engage a myriad of topics such as health in older adulthood, speakers from organizations such as Empath or Compassion and Choice, as well as experts from within ASPEC.  Sessions include questions and discussion time.


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.

Economics and Prosperity

This study group of about 40 members meets weekly to discuss issues related to U.S. and global economics and prosperity.  Most sessions are based on topics selected by the group leader from news media, various publications and recent bookds.  The group leader provides information on the topic a week in advance and leads a lively interactive discussion based on 20-30 PowerPoint slides he/she has prepared in advance.  Up to half of the members respectively participate in each discussion with views ranging from liberal to conservative.

Medical Topics for the Layperson

Medical Topics for the Layperson is offered to members who have an interest in medical and health care issues and do not have a medical background.  The goal is to discuss medical topics in lay terms and avoid using a medical vocabulary.  The topics covered depend upon the interests of the group.  Examples of past topics include, among others, the following:  preventive medicine, alternative treatments for diseases and their impact on the body, surgical procedures, medical economics, medical insurance, selection of physicians and suggestions for finding reliable medical information through the internet.  Most discussions are led by knowledgeable ASPEC members although we occasionally also invite outside experts.  Extensive discussion is encouraged during these sessions.

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.

Survey of the Hebrew Bible

Survey of the Bible is intended to provide new understandings of and, hopefully, controversial insights into the Bible.  Drawing on a wide variety of ancient, modern, and contemporary sources, as well as previous ASPEC sessions covering some of this material, Survey of the Bible will raise the following questions:  What is the Torah?  What was the context of the Ancient Near East in which it was written?  Who wrote it and when?  Why was it written?  What is it about?  What impact did it have?  Why read it?  What is its relevance today?  The presentations will be as secular and academic.  Members are asked to check their theologies at the door.


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)

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.

Français à la Carte (Conversational French)

Members converse informally in French to improve or maintain their fluency in the language.  A conversation leader may chose the topic at a session.  Sometimes the group reads works of French literature, discusses current events in France, or enjoys some topic from French culture.

Spanish for Fun (Conversational Spanish)

Spanish for Fun is for those who may want to travel to Latin America, those who want to get a smattering of Hispanic culture, or those who are merely curious about Florida’s second language.

Contemporary Life

Chair Yoga

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

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.  Guest speakers are brought in occasionally when appropriate.

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.

Entrepreneurship and Community Development Group

Composed of members with professional backgrounds who are interested in understanding and contributing to the creation and growth of new business enterprises in the Tampa Bay region and helping local community organizations reach economic, managerial and social sustainability.

Foreign Affairs

A weekly interactive discussion of prominent international, political and social issues in the context of America’s interests.

Legal Beagle

Legal Beagle is a group discussion of current legal cases decided by the nation’s hightest courts. Issues identified by the court’s opinion are open for commentary by the attendees.  The group leader presents the case, without necessarily stating how the case was decided by the court.  The attendees have a chance to express their “viewpoints” of how the case was decided, and then the group leader informs the attendees how the court decided the case, and the various arguments made by the judges supporting their opinion.

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.


This group is the forum for running mini-series programs that have a limited life, typically 2-8 weeks.  These can be on any topic of current interest to ASPEC members.

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.

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 at Addington Place and offers individual instruction time for new 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 American Stage. ASPEC schedules them as Sunday matinees  and American Stage provides special tours of backstage, costume shop, lighting systems upon our request. Additionally, every scheduled production includes a talk-back with the actors, director, and other staff after the play. This allows for discussion of the play and provides a deeper understanding of the production and the individual performances. The staff also gain valuable feedback on the performance during the discussion.

ASPEC Singers

A singing group for the joy of music.  New voices are welcome.  an annual performance, typically scheduled in March, can include such favorites as Broadway tunes, Gilbert & Sullivan selections and madrigals.

Foreign Film Study

Foreign films from around the globe are shown every Wednesday evening, followed by a short discussion initiated by the group leader.  Films are chosen by the group leader, who occasionally drawn on suggestions from ASPEC members.  Criteria for selecting films include artistic merit, entertainment value, and social, political, historical and cultural relevance.

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 chosen 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.

Ethics Cases

Ethics examines what one ought to do and what one ought not to do.  This year we are with the use of Ronald Sandler’s book, Environment Ethics studying the many different issues such as climate change, water, naming rivers, wilderness, animals and other matters.  Members read together in weekly sessions and periodically an individual assumes an assignment to research and present the results of the issue.  These presentations represent both sides of the question.


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 read the common chosen material for the day in readiness for discussion.

Human Behavior Book Club

We read and discuss books from the fields of Psychology and Sociology. Our focus is on nonfiction, evidence based books.  In our discussions we relate the book content to our personal and professional experiences.


Studies in Philosophy selects the work of a philosopher to read and to discuss the philosopher’s ideas.  We have studies John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty so far this year.  We will begin our work on Camus in January.  The group selects the philosopher it wishes to study from a list the leader brings to class.

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.


Reads and discusses an immense variety of poems. Participants present their own creative efforts, or present a poet and her/his poems on a particular theme. Sometimes 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

Socrates Café was the brainchild of Christopher Phillips, a journalist philosopher and devotee of Socrates.  The idea is for a group of people to meet in various venues, choose a question and have a philosophic discussion as Socrates would have it in the Agora.  There are about 600 cafés around the world.

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

The workshop is a weekly informal gathering where members share things they have composed/written.  These pieces may be short stories, chapters of books fiction or non-fiction, poetry, songs, music or other creative endeavors.  They may be recently written or well in the past.  After sharing his or her work, other members make comments, suggestions or ask questions about the piece.  Weekly challenges given by the group leader are furnished to inspire authors to create.  Also, in class impromptu oral exercises are done for further inspiration.

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 beautiful 15-foot lobster style boat to be given to Eckerd College when completed.  All levels of experience including none are welcome.

Mathematics in your Life

Math in Your Life series is a simple exploration of mathematical ideas, techniques and principles with applications to real life.  It is directed toward everyday type explanations of math and suitable for both novices and more advanced students.  It is based on The Teaching Company series in different areas of Mathematics and there is opportunity for the audience to stop and ask questions if anything is not understandable.  The format is informal and discussions often lead into other areas even tangentially connected to the subject being explored.  We explore numbers, statistics, probability, geometry in architecture and nature, navigation, geography, physics, art, and how math is so ubiquitous in life with examples of where and how it is working.  Lively discussions, along with humor, are a hallmark of this group.

Origins–The Human Journey

This groups explores the roots and development of humans, both from a physical and cultural anthropological perspective.  The name of the group “Origins–The Human Journey” allows exploration of the full range of topics related to the origin of man as a species, precursors to that species, the origin and development of culture in its various manifestations, and anything which explores the development of mankind at any level, e.g. political, religious, economic, psychological, etc.

Science and Society

Explores the impact of science and technology on our culture and humanity’s emerging dominance of the planet.  By participating in lectures and discussions, each individual may gain an understanding of the results of scientific discovery and technological 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 have ranged from quantum dots to beer making and have included talks on “Nanotechnology,” “Ghosts in the Brain,” “Underwater Biology,” “Quantum Theory and the iPhone,” and many other areas of science that impact society.

Science is Golden

Exploration of various areas of science using The Teaching Company series–usually with choice by attendees.  Exploration of science and informal discussion.  Sense of humor welcome.

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.