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. Some groups are intellectual; some consist of physical activities.  Most groups meet weekly, both virtually and in-person at Lewis House on the beautiful Eckerd campus waterfront on Boca Ciega Bay.

Nearly all Interest Groups are available via Zoom. Many Interest Groups are hybrid: members can choose to attend in person at Lewis House or by Zoom.

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 an 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. 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 meets weekly to discuss issues related to U.S. and global economics and prosperity.  Most sessions are based on topics selected by the group leaders from news media, various publications and recent books.  The group leaders provide a presentation on the topic and lead a lively interactive discussion with views ranging from liberal to conservative.

Medical Topics

Medical Topics is offered to members who have an interest in medical and health care issues. The goal is to discuss medical topics of interest to all our members. All requests for suggested topics are implemented.  Any medical or healthcare-related topic is considered. Discussions are led by knowledgeable ASPEC members as well as outside experts.  Extensive discussion is encouraged during these sessions.

Religions and Faiths

Studies the many aspects of religion and spirituality. The group’s 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.

Contemporary Life

Current Events

Discusses international, national, state, and local issues in the news. These articles range from ultra-liberal to ultra-conservative. The open discussion allows attendees to present their own perspectives on 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 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 Topics

Legal Topics explores and encourages group discussion of current legal issues. Representative topics have included: Plagiarism in Fine Art and Popular Music; Internet Platform Immunity–What Reform is Needed; Filibuster and the Budget Reconciliation Process; Sex and the Supremes; Driverless Cars—Who is Liable; Review of Recent Supreme Court Decisions; The Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act; Crazy Lawsuits; and Election Law. Members are invited to suggest particular topics.

Meet our Members

An occasional session to introduce 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 Topics

Time allocations for mini-series programs and presentations by ASPEC members on topics that do not fit another interest group. Also featured in Special Topics are talks by Eckerd College authors and guest speakers on timely subjects of interest to our members.


Presentations are made from two opposing views on a myriad of controversial topics, then opened for discussion. The goal is to find common ground and increase our understanding of all sides of the issue.

Calling Bull****

Calling Bull**** is an interest group that seeks to teach and sharpen our critical thinking skills so we can spot misinformation in the media, shows us how to prove it, and guides us in how to discuss it without personal attack. The goal is to empower us to call bull**** when we see it.

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 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, and 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.

Foreign Film Study

Films are chosen by a group of interested members who rotate hosting the discussion. Criteria for selecting films include artistic merit, entertainment value, and social, political, historical, and cultural relevance. Members view the films at home in preparation for the on-line discussion.

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.

Imagine the Arts

Our Interest Group will imagine the Arts in visual, performing and creative arts featuring ASPEC members, Eckerd students and faculty and community artists in our bimonthly hybrid programs with as much focus on live performances as possible.  (The arts and artists depend heavily on their audience.)


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.

Short Story Discussion

Group leaders select a source text representing classic and contemporary stories. Participants evaluate and interpret the story in a collegial discussion.

Ethics Cases

Ethics examines what one ought to do and what one ought not to do. The group leader sends links to readings. Members discuss and consider both sides of the question.

History Book Discussion

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.

Great Conversations

Using texts from the Great Books Foundation and other sources, members discuss ancient to contemporary fiction and nonfiction. The group leaders use a Socratic format to explore the meaning and current relevance of the reading selections.

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.

Studies in Philosophy

Group leaders select a source text. Segments are read in advance of a discussion of the philosopher’s ideas.

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

Group leaders select a topic in advance and invite members to share their philosophic and pragmatic ideas on the topic.

Writers Workshop and ASPEC Writers

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.

In ASPEC Writers, weekly challenges are given by the group leader to inspire authors to create.  Also, in-class impromptu oral exercises are done for further inspiration.

Physical Well-Being

Chair Yoga

Virtual weekly meetings lead by experienced 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 and offers individual instruction time for new members.

Virtual Meditation

A relaxing and informative virtual meditation practice.

Science and Technology

Applied Technology

Members donate their time (and sometimes materials) to build things for local charities and/or Eckerd College. Projects have included a small boat and maintaining the gardens around Lewis House. All levels of experience including none are welcome.


This visually rich course is designed to provide a nontechnical description of modern astronomy, including the structure and evolution of planets, stars, galaxies, and the Universe as a whole. It includes almost all of the material from the University of California at Berkeley Astronomy Department Prof Alexei Filippenko’s first two astronomy courses for The Teaching Company, produced in 1998 and 2003, but with a large number of new images, diagrams, and animations. The discoveries reported in the 2003 course are integrated throughout these new lectures, and more recent findings (through mid-2006) are included, as well. Much has happened in astronomy during the past few years; we will discuss the most exciting and important advances.

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, individuals 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”, “Sustainability and Green Energy”, “CRISPR Technology and Gene Editing”, “The Science behind Vaccines and Antiviral Medicines”, “Quantum Theory and the iPhone,” and many other areas of science that impact society.

Some TIMES Science

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.