New director named for University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute

Magda Vergara, the new director of UM's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, introduces herself in a class taught by instructor Jim Brennan. Photo: Evan F. Garcia/University of Miami

By Barbara Gutierrez

Magda Vergara, the new director of UM's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, introduces herself in a class taught by instructor Jim Brennan. Photo: Evan F. Garcia/University of Miami

New director named for University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute

By Barbara Gutierrez
Magda Vergara plans to bring new clients to the institute and increase its presence in the community.

Magda Vergara knows the importance of continuing to be intellectually and physically active in later years. The new director of the University of Miami’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute has ample knowledge of the studies that attest that when seniors are active, they are healthier and happier.

That is why Vergara is thrilled to lead the institute, which offers more than 64 classes to about 1,400 members (age 50 and over), ranging from Tai Chi to Constitutional Law.  

“If I were not the director of this place, I would be sitting in the classes,” said Vergara, who started her post a month ago. “This place offers intellectual engagement and a place to socialize as well.”

Born and raised in the Bronx, New York, Vergara’s Puerto Rican parents instilled a love and respect for education in her and her siblings. An avid reader who would devour library books and read encyclopedias for fun, she graduated from Yale University with a business major and Spanish Literature minor. She later received a Master’s degree through New York University and a Ph.D. in Spanish Literature from the University of Virginia.

“Education was ingrained in us as a way to succeed,” she said.

Although she worked in private industry and banking after graduation, in the late 1990s she moved to South Florida—drawn by the warm weather—and taught Spanish as an adjunct faculty for a number of institutions, including UM, Nova Southeastern University, and Miami Dade College.

She later honed her skills as an administrator as executive director of the Miami Book Fair, where she supervised everything from recruiting volunteers and putting together programming, as well as designing and planning the street fair. Most recently, she worked at Dartmouth College as associate director of Alumni Relations Communities.  

Rebecca MacMillan Fox, dean of the Division of Continuing and International Education, said Vergara’s diverse experience make her particularly suited for this position.

“Dr. Vergara comes to us with a wealth of experience in higher education and private industry,” said MacMillan Fox. “We went through an exhaustive and inclusive search process, and were fortunate to find someone whose passions and experience make her singularly qualified to lead the institute into the future.” 

Vergara sees many opportunities for the institute to keep growing and continuing to attract many professionals who seek the UM brand and academic excellence.

“We have doctors, attorneys, a lot of educators and other professionals in our classes,” she said. “So the class discussions are quite lively. These are people who are up to date on current affairs.”

Her plans for the institute include continuing to enhance the programming, which now includes classes taught by professors who may Skype in, as well as a good number of painting and language classes. Future plans include a class on social media. Members also want to establish a travel program for clients.       

Vergara also wants to create additional courses that are relevant to South Florida, such as the class on climate change, which is currently being taught.

Her plans also include reaching out to the community, including visiting local churches, to draw more clients.  

“OLLI offers a unique space where the experienced learner can enjoy the riches of an intellectually stimulating environment,” Vergara said.

Learn more about OLLI and available programs here.