One Day University

At current tuition levels wouldn't you prefer go to college rather than pay for someone else? Shirley Mueller took her chance to continue learning with One Day University.

“Spend a day immersed in the works of great thinkers and participate in a community of like-minded people who believe that learning is a lifelong process, and not a chore that ends on the day you get your diploma.”

One Day University advertisement, NYT Jan. 6, 2013

“Wouldn’t you rather be going to college than be paying for college?”

This was one of the opening lines of Steven Schragis, the founder of One Day University. After attending the New York City event April 21, 2013, I unequivocally can say “yes” to Schragis’ question and so would most other people. I would rather be going to One Day University myself than paying for someone else to go to college for a year, at least at present tuitions.

The event was held at the New York Hilton at 6th Avenue and 54th Street, where rooms start at $259 a night. It was a perfect place for the occasion, being equipped with generous conference areas used as classrooms. The hotel offered lunch: $9 for a sandwich and $3 for pasta. Also, there are numerous restaurants nearby. By my estimate 3,500 individuals attended this One Day University.

Between 9:30 in the morning and 4:30 in the afternoon, I was given the opportunity to grasp new ideas and be challenged in novel and stimulating ways. Much of the time, I was completely captivated. Of the 12 courses offered, I took the five below (in the order of their quality and benefit that they offered, in my opinion).

1. China, Russia and India: The Rise of the Rest

2. Aging: How it affects our Minds, Bodies and Relationships

3. How the Brain Works: Why We Do What We Do

4. The Psychology of Money

5. Genius, Creativity and Depression: Is There a Link?

It was fascinating to see five-star professors teach in totally different ways and still be effective. Stephen Kotkin, a 50-some-year-old PhD from Princeton, taught “China, Russia and India: The Rise of the Rest.” After jumping nimbly from the podium, he walked up and down the aisle among his students on either side. He looked at us at our level with abundant eye-contact. Not once did he rely on a note. He told jokes every five to 10 minutes that were funny. And in-between, he gave one of the best lectures I have ever heard with original material that I hadn’t read in a newspaper.

The whole experience was refreshing. Among his major points were these:

• Big countries can screw up a lot and still be OK; not so for small countries. With that in mind, the U.S. will continue to make huge mistakes and recover, at least for the next forty years. The rest of the world will have a love/hate relationship with us.

• The largest threat to our country right now is not terrorism, but that the baby boomers are taking over our national resources for health care costs — a solution must be found.

Sherwin Nuland, MD, from Yale, gave my second favorite presentation, “Aging: How it affects our Minds, Bodies and Relationships.” His style was dramatically different than Kotkin. He stood quietly and commandingly at the podium. He did not use one slide nor did he refer to notes. Still, he was motivating and thought provoking. I may have known most of what he said before I entered the room but his well thought-out delivery and review were welcome.

Several parts of his message that were important are below.

• Look at illness as a bump in the road. It may go away.

• For domestic disputes: “Do I want to be right or do I want to be happy?”

Marvin Chun, PhD, also from Yale, delivered, “How the Brain Works: Why We Do What We Do.” He used multimedia including a movie trailer and a generous number of YouTube clips as well as photos and functional MRIs. He did not use notes and walked around on the stage.

Obviously, he couldn’t answer his own question because it was too broad, but he made a herculean effort. Below are some of his salient ideas:

• When we are highly focused, we may miss out on important details. Chun demonstrated this using the Awareness Test! Moonwalking Bear Advert! YouTube video, which you can do right now by counting the number of passes the team in white makes.

• Mental imagery activates the relevant brain area corresponding to those that are used when activity itself occurs. This means we can control our bodies or even a computer with our thoughts rather than through traditional means. Please see the 60 Minutes segment on this cutting edge scientific advancement entitled Harnessing The Power Of The Brain.

The last two courses? Well, if all had been like them I wouldn’t be returning. The creativity expert appeared to lack spontaneity, which is part of creativity itself. Perhaps in researching creativity she is trying to bring some into her life in an artificial way. The psychology guru was using other people’s ideas and seemed to be making a political statement. Few of us went to the lectures to hear someone else’s partisan leanings.

Nevertheless, putting all five presentations together, there were three that were excellent and I will go back hoping for a similar experience.

So far, One Day University is offered in Providence, R.I.; Dallas; Philadelphia; Tanglewood in Lenox, Mass.; Cape Cod, Mass.; Minneapolis; Boston; San Francisco; and New York City. For a cost ranging from $119 to $239 for a full day, depending on whether you are a returning student or not, it’s a lot for a little. Other courses included:

What’s So Great about Michelangelo?

Who was Confucius and What Did He Really Say?

The Art of Listening: What Makes Great Music Great?

What’s Right and What’s Wrong with College in American?

The Civil War: What We Know Now

The Culture of Hits: Why Some People and Products Become Wildly Successful

Can War Have Rules? Military Technology and Human Rights

There really is something for everyone. Even some younger people saw it that way. My estimate is that perhaps 5% of those attending were less than 50 years of age. Some were even 20 or 30. Maybe they too figured out that it is a good deal to go to One Day University for seven hours rather than paying for college for a whole year.

Another big advantage — there aren’t any grades.