If you’d just as soon attend a good, stimulating lecture as see the latest Hollywood blockbuster, then Steven Schragis has your ticket.
Schragis is founder of One Day University, a company that gets A-list college professors to give their best lectures to a paying audience. One Day University began in New York, where Schragis lives, but has spread to 46 cities and towns around the country.
The company’s first North Carolina event will take place in Raleigh later this month, in partnership with The News & Observer. Four professors, including one from Duke, will give 75-minute lectures on politics, astronomy, neuroscience and music.
Schragis got the idea for One Day University nearly 10 years ago when he took his daughter to her freshman year at Bard College in New York. The school had arranged for parents to listen to lectures by a dozen professors on all sorts of topics.
“It was meant as entertainment for the parents, and it was great,” he said. “Everybody liked it. Everyone had the same reaction: ‘This was really fun, I wish I was going back to college.’”
One Day University now does 80 to 90 events a year, attracting well-educated, intellectually curious people who are almost all over the age of 50, said Schragis, 59. They’re the type who pine for some aspects of college life – but not all of them.
“They don’t want the homework, they don’t want the exams and they don’t want to study,” Schragis said. “But they do want the lecture.”
In Raleigh on April 30, the four lectures are:
▪ “The Five Most Powerful People in the World,” by William Burke-White, a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania.
▪ “What We Know About the Universe (and What We Don’t Know),” by David Helfand, an astronomer at Columbia University.
▪ “The Future of the Brain: Maximizing Our Cognitive Powers,” by Murali Doraiswamy, a neuroscientist from Duke University.
▪ “Gershwin, Ellington, and the Search for the American Sound,” by Anna Celenza, a music professor at Georgetown University.
All but Doraiswamy have done several lectures for One Day University, a “sort of all-star team,” Schragis said. He said the company usually finds its professors by walking around a college campus and asking students for the names of the coolest professors. Sometimes it’s distinguished, veteran faculty, other times it’s someone just starting out. But in every case, the company chooses professors who can give an engaging, entertaining lecture that will appeal to baby boomers.
“This generation, the baby boomers, is different than their parents and their grandparents,” Schragis said. “They go to our events for the same reason they go to Broadway shows or the opera or the symphony: To have a good time and learn something from someone who is interesting.”
This will be Doraiswamy’s second One Day University, following one in New York City a few years ago that drew almost 1,000 people, he said. Doraiswamy says he signed up for the Raleigh event because it’s local and because he wants to share what he knows about Alzheimer’s disease with that baby boomer audience.
“I really like the One Day University format since it is a fun, informative way to learn,” he said. “Yes, there is a speaking fee, but the main driver for me is educating others about the latest scientific findings.”
Doraiswamy said he plans to mix some “awe-inspiring new science with lots of practical tips,” leaving plenty of time for questions. He expects the audience will be more attentive than the ones he is used to at Duke.
“Boomers generally don’t multitask on gadgets during a talk and are usually very motivated to learn,” he said.
Schragis said One Day University almost always has a local partner to help put on its events, usually newspapers like The N&O. Newspapers have a similar audience of curious, educated people and are happy to try a new venture.
“It usually is a very good partnership for both sides,” Schragis said. “Newspapers are looking for new revenue sources, and the live event business is a strong and growing business.”
One Day University
When: Saturday, April 30, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: McKimmon Conference and Training Center, N.C. State University, Raleigh
Cost: $149, including lunch.
Information and tickets: www.onedayu.com or 800-300-3438