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A Life of Enrichment and Widened Horizons

Updated: Dec 12, 2022

by Mara Soloway, I Start Wondering Columnist

Lifelong learning isn’t just a catchphrase for Amy Ahlbrand Robinson, M.Ed., it is her intrinsic way of being. Now 62, Amy is a seeker of knowledge and new experiences, finding kindred spirits along the way that share her enthusiasm for insight and understanding.

After earning her Bachelor of Arts degree in interior design, she began traveling, living abroad, and raising two sons. “I lived overseas in my 20s and took classes in almost every place I lived – Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, and Finland,” she said. “I’ve continued that my whole life because it’s a way to grow and meet like-minded people. Classes work better for me than trying to learn it on my own.” 

One constant throughout her life has been her pursuit of personal development by taking art and other classes that fueled her interests.  Some of her favorite places to take classes is Rice University’s Glasscock School in Houston, TX, and Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at the University of Texas Medical Branch Health in Galveston.

Embracing Tech

In 2016 when Amy was in her 50s and working full time, she returned to college to earn her Master’s of Art in education. Despite her qualms about being an older student, her worries about using technology were even stronger. “Using the computers scared me to death when I started my master’s degree, so I put off the technology classes till my last year. I was that freaked out about it. But when I finally took digital storytelling, it ended up changing my life. I just fell in love with the whole process of creating multimedia stories,” she said.

“I did my capstone project on adult learners and technology because of what it did for me. Each of my classes involved the use of technology, and each time I would learn something new I felt better about myself and my confidence grew.”

Post-graduation, Amy has created scores of videos for OLLI, private clients, and for pleasure, including promotional ones for small businesses, a history of the Mount Vernon Church in Richmond, Texas, and, as a PR person for the Greater Houston Builders Association, videos to promote its remodeler council and charitable projects. 

Amy as a young girl with her mom

Telling Stories

Amy currently teaches digital storytelling to those 55 and over at OLLI. Amy’s students have told a range of digital stories in their video projects, including touching memories of a favorite family recipe, the Beatles, and how a woman’s mother helped hungry art students. “Once people have the idea about what story they want to tell, they get excited about the project,” she said.  

Along with teaching storytelling techniques, Amy advocates for her older students to learn current technologies that they may have been avoiding as she once did. “Many of us lived half of our lives without computers and so it doesn’t come naturally. But it’s something we do every day now and we’re going to have to do the rest of our lives. The more we learn to use technology to do everyday things like making doctor appointments and order photos online, the richer and less stressed our lives will be,” Amy explained.  “And then you’ll do something new and think to yourself, ‘Wow, I can do this!’” 

She encourages her students to not be afraid of tech and to realize it has changed how people learn. Printed encyclopedias are a thing of the past but we can find a video on YouTube to explain anything. She sends various links to her students to familiarize them with the process.

Amy feels learning the technology behind digital storytelling – which is as simple as using the camera and a video-editing app on your phone – is important for posterity. “Creating videos is important so that their grandchildren and future generations could know all about them – what interested them, what they were like when they were younger – and also may inspire the young people to learn throughout their lives,” Amy said.

Amy’s suggested projects include:

  1. “Interview people in your life! Hearing their voice is more powerful than anything else. The interaction between you and them is a big deal and you will appreciate having these videos, and so will others in the family.”

  2. “Another good project is to take a bunch of images of your family and create a story as a video.”

Amy’s late mother, Barbara Bell Lewis, influenced her lifelong desire to learn and to create. Barbara was a lifelong learner, too, and the one who introduced Amy to OLLI. (Amy watched her mom in a Tai Chi class there.) “When Mom turned 70, she started taking watercolor lessons and created some amazing art. She always took classes after she retired and that really influenced me. She had been an art major and went back to it, creating some seriously good pieces.”

Amy and her mom at dinner

Amy’s video of her mom reminiscing about life in Galveston in earlier times is a great inspiration for anyone hesitant to get started in digital storytelling. The memories are so interesting and the interplay between daughter and mom is sweet and meaningful.

Amy has been where her mature students start out – worried about technology but desirous to tell their story.  “The most important thing I learned while getting my masters in my late 50s was to not give up when I couldn’t learn something easily. And because I was working for a grade, I had to stay with it and that led to learning technology that intimidated me. I might not have persevered had I not been in the classes. And I tell my older students to not give up, to not be afraid, and to go to Google and search for anything they want to learn.”

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Visit Amy’s YouTube channel to see many of her digital stories, including other interviews with her mom, Barbara Bell Lewis.

To take OLLI classes in the Galveston area, click here for more information. Otherwise, try searching online for topics such as “adult education near me.”

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How do you practice lifelong learning? What new skills and concepts are you studying on your own, online, or in a classroom where you live? Let us know below!

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