San Juan College will celebrate 14 years of adult education program

Encore program targets older students to promote health, learning, relationships and service

Megan Petersen
Farmington Daily Times
San Juan College Encore wood carving instructor Wendel Petersen works with his student Sybille Murphy Wednesday at San Juan College in Farmington.
  • More than 2,100 students have enrolled in the Encore program in so far this year.
  • Courses are offered at San Juan College's main and west campuses, as well as at two local community centers.
  • Students say Encore is a good resource for retired residents to stay mentally, physically and socially active.

FARMINGTON — San Juan College’s adult education program will celebrate its 14th year with a birthday party and enrollment opportunity from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Friday at the Henderson Fine Arts Center.

Party-goers can sign up for classes and purchase a discounted Encore benefits membership, as well as meet instructors and students at the event.

The college’s Encore program offers classes for adult learners, though the program targets students ages 50 and older, said Liesl Dees, director of San Juan College’s Community Learning Center. The program is geared toward helping Four Corners residents “age well.”

“When the program was created in 2002, (the college) looked at the research on what keeps older adults vital and active in life, and certain things kept coming up,” Dees said. “… Learning, wellness, relationships and service were the four things that formed the foundation for the Encore program.”

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Classes available through the Encore program span a variety of topics, including business and information technology, health sciences, humanities, and trades and technologies, according to the course catalog. Most classes are worth one credit-hour, though many of the students in the Encore program are not pursuing a degree or certificate, Dees said.

The courses are available at a significant discount from regular tuition, thanks to funding from the state, Dees said. Encore participants who are at least 65 years old pay $6.50 for most classes, while residents of New Mexico pay $47.50 and nonresidents pay $147.50, according to the course catalog.

San Juan College Encore woodworking student Sybille Murphy works on a project Wednesday at San Juan College in Farmington.

The program has been successful over the past 14 years, moving from a pilot program in 2002 at the Bloomfield Senior Center to offering more than 60 fall classes at four locations — the main campus, the Bonnie Dallas Senior Center and the Sycamore Park Community Center in Farmington, and the college's West Campus in Kirtland. Dees said 2,146 students have enrolled for 2,446 credit-hours in the program so far in 2017.

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Many students are repeat participants — for example, Sybille Murphy has taken an Encore woodcarving class for the past five years. She said she’s “hooked on carving” and finds the class a good social environment through which to explore the craft.

“Now it’s just kind of more a place to hang out and make friends. I mean, I’m still learning, don’t get me wrong,” Murphy said during Wednesday’s workshop, adding, “We’re here to learn how to carve, but it automatically happens.”

San Juan College Encore woodworking students Nancy Wray, left, Sybille Murphy and Encore woodworking instructor Wendel Petersen work on their projects Wednesday at San Juan College in Farmington.

Murphy encouraged her friend Nancy Wray to take the woodcarving class four years ago, and Wray said the program has helped her stay active.

“I retired four years ago, and you approach retirement and you go, ‘What am I going to do now?’ I’m not the kind of person that sits around and does nothing,” Wray said on Wednesday. “ … I need to be doing something. I can’t just do nothing, so it really has helped me to stay mentally and physically active.”

Wray said the Encore program offers important opportunities for Farmington residents who have retired but are still looking for ways to keep active and busy.

San Juan College Encore student Sybille Murphy's woodworking samples and tools are displayed Wednesday at San Juan College in Farmington.

“We have a lot of retired people living here, and retired people stay put; they’re not moving around, but they do need something to occupy their time, so this is a good resource — very reasonably priced, good instructors,” Wray said. “I mean, you can’t beat it, and I think it gives Farmington a good reputation as being a good retirement place.”

Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or