As rainfall tapered off outside, 11 students listened attentively to St. Thomas associate professor of biology Adam Kay talk about the troubling reality of food deserts in urban areas. It was the fourth week they had gathered inside the 3M auditorium of the St. Thomas Owens Science Hall. Each time, for two hours, the discussion circled around one big question: How can we meet a growing demand for food while preserving the environment?

“The subject is so inspiring and far-reaching,” student Dick Hasselman said. “It gets your mind really stretched on what we have coming, what we have for potential solutions … and what plans we can have.”

Not exactly a light, summer-y topic, right? But it’s right in the wheelhouse for the Selim Center for Lifelong Learning’s lecture series, which features St. Thomas faculty teaching courses to lifelong learners. With about 20-25 options each year, there’s no shortage of learning opportunities.

“Our students benefit so much. We have some [courses] that are in the hundreds [of students], but some like this summer are a dozen people. It’s like your ultimate seminar class, and they’re having so much great learning in an intimate learning experience,” said Susan Anderson-Benson, program manager for the Selim Center. “It’s a chance for faculty to really shine and be appreciated.”

In the process of taking Kay’s course, Hasselman reconnected with the university that educated his four sons – one of whom pointed him to the center and took the four-week summer course as well.

Dietitian Julie Anderson was drawn to the course to better understand food sourcing.

“How can we overcome food deserts? That was another question that drew me here,” Anderson said.

Anderson pointed toward the evolution of recycling in the last 15 years to being a normative and expected thing for everyone, and hopes the same shifts in mentality can occur with urban gardening, unlocking even more potential for addressing food issues in urban areas.

“We can definitely do more,” she said.

Being educated in different topics helps anyone do more, and hundreds of people each year look to the Selim Center’s lecture series for opportunities to do exactly that.

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