There was cake, a steel drum band, Hawaiian shirts and a crowd of more than 120 all gathered to celebrate the 40th birthday of the Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College.
The tropical-themed event held at Tampa Bay Watch, in Tierra Verde, Florida, on Nov. 8, celebrated countless hours and nearly $6 million in contributions dedicated to the advancement of Eckerd College and expansion of the mission of lifelong learning.
Since its establishment by Eckerd’s third president, Peter Armacost, Ph.D., in 1982, ASPEC has focused on keeping adults active and involved well past “retirement.” Claiming more than 300 current members with professional backgrounds from doctors to generals, ASPEC fosters intergenerational relationships on campus by visiting classrooms to provide professional insight; providing grants to students and faculty for projects; and serving alongside students, faculty and staff to volunteer in the community.
In addition, ASPEC holds in-person and virtual daily interest-group meetings on subjects such as science, philosophy, creative writing and even medicine. Members also get to socialize over wine, take group trips to local restaurants and museums, and more.
Ken Wolfe, the director of ASPEC, cites multigenerational learning as a founding principle of the program, and one of the reasons ASPEC is so important to the Eckerd community.
“I can talk about what happened in the ’60s, because I lived through it,” Wolfe says. “I’ve found that students really appreciate the real-life experience.”
He joined ASPEC after hearing about it from a friend at the gym and has worked with the program in some capacity for more than 10 years.
ASPEC also has had a great impact on the Eckerd and St. Petersburg communities through its members participating in volunteer work and financially contributing. ASPEC members volunteer to mentor Eckerd students studying in their field, as well as local public school students.
In 2020, a survey found that nearly 20% of ASPEC members mentored students, volunteering over 900 hours per month, and 90% of ASPEC members participated in giving to Eckerd College endowed funds and learning grants.
The party had a tropical island theme and decorations.
The party isn’t the end of the celebration. ASPEC’s 40th Anniversary will continue into the spring, when it plans to host four public events centered around its most popular interest groups: art, literature, health and law. Next week, a timeline of ASPEC’s accomplishments will be mounted for display in Eckerd’s Armacost Library. And to close out its 40th year, ASPEC will hold a book launch, featuring a collection of ASPEC stories and photographs that will act as a capstone for the year.
Chrissy Jackson ’16, a lifelong learner who earned her Eckerd College degree six years ago and is the current president of ASPEC, says one of the most important victories the Academy had was staying connected as a community during the pandemic.
She says that during the thick of the pandemic, ASPEC doctors worked together to create a website that updated users daily about the newest information, keeping their fellow members informed about the virus.
“I think ASPEC takes the role as first to get online,” Chrissy recalls. “Within a week, we were holding our interest groups on Zoom, teaching our members how to use it, bringing them in and getting them involved, and continuing the cohesiveness that holds us together.”
Upcoming ASPEC Public Events
- January 28, 2023, 10 a.m., Fantastic Arts Ekphrastic: A showcase of ASPEC artists, writers and actors in a new and vibrant way. Morning pastries provided, followed by finger foods.
- February 18, 2023, Celebrating 40 Years of Literature: A full day with 10 ASPEC members presenting. Morning pastries, breaks and lunch included.
- March 4, 2023, The 18th Science Day—What Science Is Telling Us Now?: A full-day exploration of big data in science with five individual member presentations. Morning pastries, breaks and lunch included.
- April 22, 2023, Health & Medical Day: A full day of informative presentations brought to you by ASPEC’s medical team. Morning pastries, breaks and lunch included.
For more information about membership and upcoming events, visit eckerd.edu/aspec.