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Celebration of Service

IBM retired volunteer stays connected and helps isolated individuals get connected – through virtual university


Retired IBM consulting systems engineer Peter Rose was virtually housebound in 2007 after a stroke and other cardiac problems, when his wife Lesley pushed him to take online courses offered through the virtual University of the Third Age Online (U3AOL). The online university's mission is to develop and deliver inexpensive, high quality and intellectually challenging courses over the Internet for isolated older people regardless of the country in which they reside. The concept has been broadened to include younger people with various disabilities. Now Lesley can't get Peter away from the computer. As the creator and instructor of his own online courses, Rose shares his knowledge with others around the globe.

The not-for-profit U3AOL is designed for, and in many cases run by, retired volunteers who are either geographically isolated or infirm. For Rose, who retired in 1990, the online university offered a virtual return to the world outside the small Australian city of Armidale. It soon didn't matter that the topics of discourse were far from his technical background.

Rose recalls, "And one day I got a call from the president of U3AOL, who said, 'Peter, we wondered if you'd like to be a course leader.'"

The rest, literally, is history, as Rose has volunteered and developed his own original courses, such as the History and Spread of the English Language, and the History of the Kings and Queens of England.

There are no tests involved in the online university's study, no credits, and no degrees. "The whole idea is to keep people's minds active, expand their knowledge and horizons, and give them a means of interacting with a wider community of similarly oriented people," Rose says.

"I communicate by email with my students, quite an interesting bunch. And we don't just talk course work. I just got into a rather heated argument about cricket with an English fellow living in Cambodia." Rose also has students in Poland, the United Kingdom and Africa. He lives in Australia, his editor lives in England, and the person who turns Rose's documents into web pages lives in South Australia. They have never met in person, but are in almost daily contact via the Internet.

Interested in volunteering to share your experiences and knowledge? Peter Rose didn't know much about world history until he immersed himself in the subject with the goal of sharing his knowledge with others. "As a systems engineer, education was just part of the job. You were always being called upon to do something totally outside your expertise. You just learned to rapidly absorb information, then stand up in front of others and deliver."

Between teaching and learning, Rose invests about 35 hours a week in U3AOL. To other volunteers and retirees, he urges: "Just get in there and do it. Starting off is the hard part. You have to give yourself some structure, so you know what you want to accomplish."