ALFA Ukulele players at 20th celebration May 2024

ALFA celebrates 20 years of learning and growth

May 29, 2024
In its first 20 years, ALFA has supported hundreds of learners across disciplines.
ALFA Ukulele players at 20th celebration May 2024
Lapidus with ALFA May 2024
President Lapidus addresses the ALFA celebration at the Falcon Hub in Hammond Hall.

Adult Learning in the Fitchburg Area - better known as ALFA - celebrated its 20th anniversary with style this spring, bringing longtime learners and instructors together to reflect on the program’s growth and legacy.

At the program’s 20th anniversary celebration, ALFA Board President Barbara Friedman recounted the program’s technology-assisted growth from the vision of its founders, including original board members in attendance Karen Pick and Shirley Wagner. (See additional photos from the event on the university's online photo archive.)

“ALFA has changed,” Friedman said. “ALFA experienced what everybody else had during the last four years: we had a pandemic. So what did we do? We got better. We are Adult Learning in the Fitchburg Area, except the Fitchburg area now extends to California, Wisconsin, Florida. It is a wonderful organization that deserves another 20 years.”

University President Richard S. Lapidus joined the celebration, which occurred not long after the spring commencement exercises. “As you all know, the word ‘commencement’ implies a beginning, not an ending,” he said. “These graduates are embarking on an ongoing lifetime of learning, and I can think of no better illustration of that spirit than ALFA.”

Lapidus saluted the opportunities for learning and enrichment that ALFA has created for adults to indulge their curiosities across a variety of topics. 

“From personal fitness to arts appreciation, the exploration of ancient history and foreign languages, or guided excursions that allow participants a renewed appreciation for the natural world around us, you’ve thrived on a healthy appetite for learning for learning’s sake,” he said. “Also critical to its success was the community that ALFA continues to foster each semester. All of you represent that spirit in your continuing desire to satisfy your varied curiosities, and to find joy in the pursuit. I salute the vision that led to ALFA’s creation, as well as the ongoing work of the volunteers and university staff members whose collective efforts make it a reality, every day.” 

Lapidus reminisced about his first impressions of Fitchburg State and the remarkable sense of community he encountered on campus. “It’s always about the people,” he said. “I have been privileged to be part of this community for nine years, and I know the spirit that animates the university, and ALFA, will continue to thrive because of the passion and enthusiasm of lifelong learners like all of you.”

Karen Pick at ALFA celebration May 2024
Karen Pick discusses ALFA's enduring impact.

A history of ALFA shared at the celebration recalled the program’s origins from a meeting in 2003 between educator Shirley Pick and former Fitchburg Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Phil Fallon. They discussed the possibility of creating an adult education program in the region.

They brought their idea to Dr. Robert V. Antonucci, who had recently been installed as Fitchburg State’s 10th president. He supported the idea, as did then-Vice President of Academic Affairs Shirley Wagner. A steering committee was formed and two courses were offered in 2004.

“From that modest beginning, ALFA has grown to offer scores of courses, trips, lectures, and special events each year,” wrote George French, a member of ALFA’s 20th anniversary committee. “Nature, instrumental and vocal music, cooking, fine arts, art history, architectural appreciation, creative writing, poetry and literature, fitness, local, national and world history, social issues, our legal system, philosophy, computer technology, travel, languages, geology and other sciences are among the areas of study.”

The program has grown to include collaborators such as the Fitchburg Art Museum, the Fitchburg Cultural Alliance, the Fitchburg and Leominster public libraries and the Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary. University faculty invite ALFA students–affectionately known as “ALFAs”--to collaborate as mentors with undergraduate students, and ALFAs also embrace programming sponsored by the university’s Center for Italian Culture. 

By the Numbers

  • Over its 20 years, ALFA has had more than 19,500 individual course enrollments.
  • The average age of an ALFA student is 72, with an estimated 48 first-time ALFAs taking a course each semester.
  • An average of 300 students register each semester, among them more than 60 Fitchburg State alumni.
  • Out-of-state students come from California, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia.