Alumni Auditors Program Moves Online for the Fall 2020 Semester

Lauren David '24, Guest Writer

When Dickinson announced its decision to move all courses online for the Fall 2020 semester, Dickinson’s Alumni Auditors program made the switch to remote as well.

Liz Glyn Toth‘06, director of alumni relations, spoke with The Dickinsonian regarding the changes and impact this program has had in an online format. She spoke of how traditionally, this program would be limited only to local alumni who can enroll and take courses on campus for a semester. The change to remote instruction, however, meant that this opportunity can become more widely available to alumni outside of Carlisle.

“Alumni have always been able to audit classes, as part of several benefits available to Dickinsonians,” saidGlyn Toth. “But, until now it [was] required that they do so in Carlisle, so only local alumni can participate. The move to virtual classes meant that alumni could enjoy this benefit from their hometowns.”

Dickinson’s Alumni Auditors program allows alumni to enroll in one or two non-credit courses each semester. The cost to enroll as an alum is $150 per course, without credit (more information can be found through Dickinson’s Annual Fees page). According to Glyn Toth, faculty can decide to opt into opening their courses to alumni, and can limit the number of alumni that enroll for the semester. This opportunity can present a valuable experience to alumni wishing to become more involved in the Dickinson community.

“We promise alumni a lifelong connection to Dickinson, and this is one way of promoting it,” said Neil Weissman, provost and dean of . “Alumni can bring a useful perspective and experience to the classes they audit. Faculty know [however] that their focus remains on the current Dickinson students in the class.”

Dickinson alumni Dr. Olivia Lanes’14 and Ben Compaine ’67 are both auditing a political philosophy course this semester. Ben Compaine is a professor of entrepreneurship and lecturer at Northeastern University, while Dr. Olivia Lanes is a physicist, having been enrolled in a Ph.D program for the past six years and graduating this past summer. Both alumni spoke with The Dickinsonian about their experiences and how the remote format has been beneficial.

“I have a full-time job but everything is at home, and when I would finish my job at five o’clock I would just sit on the couch, watch Netflix, and not be productive.” Dr. Lanes said. ”When you’re in graduate school you’re used to working all the time, so I didn’t really know what to do with my newfound free time. Then I saw an email from Dickinson, and I’ve always secretly wanted to learn philosophy.”

Compaine also saw this opportunity as a productive use of time. “We got an email from the college and I said, ‘Well, you know, I’m stuck.’ I’m stuck at home and not doing any travel. In the past, I would sometimes be invited to give talks in different places or do things, and my wife and I would go places” Compaine said. With a change in plans for their time in quarantine, Compaine felt as though he should spend his time keeping his mind active. “I might as well do something besides eating bon bons and watching soap operas,” he said.

Both alumni also spoke of the benefit of their experiences so far this semester.

“I like coming back and having the opportunity to learn for the sake of learning,” Dr. Lanes stated. “I think a lot of the time when you’re taking classes, like chasing a certain grade or a certain achievement, really sort of ruins the learning [experience]. So it’s nice to do it without that kind of pressure.”

“It’s very gratifying to be in the class and to see the students. It’s nice to be a student and just do the reading, then come in and listen in the breakout room and maybe make a comment. Which, ultimately, is all we’re supposed to be doing,”  Compaine added. “Every student at some point will think, ‘is this going to be on the test?’ or ‘no, we have to do this’ so it’s nice to be in that position,” he said.

According to Provost Weissman, there are a total of 133 alumni enrolled as auditors for the Fall 2020 semester, with 125 courses opting in to alumni auditing. This is a significant increase in program participants compared to years past.

“Alumni are thrilled to experience being Dickinson students again,” Glyn Toth states, “It’s a wonderful chance for Dickinsonians to connect with each other, even when we need to be physically apart.”