One of the rewarding aspects of a college education, especially from four-year universities like Northern, is the opportunity to learn outside of the classroom. At Northern, students have the opportunity to participate in Skillbuilders! put on by the Center for Student Enrichment and Student Leader Fellowship Program. There’s also the Northern Center for Lifelong Learning which offers classes on topics like woodworking and local history. And, particularly with the NCLL, these classes are available not just to students but to the community as a whole so that everyone is able to share their knowledge and learn together.
These programs aren’t a new idea. A collection of classes and workshops, Free University started in the fall of 1976 with funds from the Student Activity Fee. When it began, there were seven classes and 85 people participated. By the early 80s, Free U included 50 classes and over 1,000 participants per semester.
The program was unique because it was run entirely by students. Similar programs at other schools typically had a paid staff, but Northern’s Free U was organized by students but included professors and Marquette residents to run the classes.
Workshop and class topics during Free U’s tenure ranged from “Investing for Pleasure and Gain” to “Appalachian Clog Dancing.”
In the early 80s, NMU students paid $1 to participate and non-students paid $3. In the classes, students made up 52 percent of the classes, and Marquette residents the rest.
Interest in Free U waned in the late 80s and the program was terminated. A similar program was revived in the fall of 1998, which focused on wellness programs like bass fishing and massage therapy. These classes were under the purview of the Student Activities and Leadership Programs, similar today. But Discovery Daze is also similar to the group fitness classes that are currently held at the PEIF. All of the programs today – fitness classes at the PEIF, NCLL and Skillbuilders! – are all organized by a full-time staff, losing what made Free U so unique.
Written by Lucy Hough