The goal of KACL is and has always been 'to provide adults, regardless of educational background or age, with opportunities to attend stimulating courses, lectures and special events.'
In life, there are always lessons to be learned, whether they be behavioral or conceptual. The beauty of knowledge is that it is infinite, defying the barriers of space, time and magnitude. Even the most educated minds have room to expand, to learn something new.
East Tennessee State University at Kingsport, in understanding the unceasing potential for knowledge, has offered an education program called the Kingsport Alliance for Continued Learning (KACL) to the public since 1993.
The goal of KACL is and has always been "to provide adults, regardless of educational background or age, with opportunities to attend stimulating courses, lectures and special events."
The year 2013 marks the program's 20th anniversary and, since its start, 4,411 students have participated; averaging out to around 120 people annually or 60 per six-week session.
The classes are not accredited through the university, but they are still offered in two terms, spring and fall, just as college courses are.
"Those who've been to college, typically like the college atmosphere," said George O'Neill, Ph.D. and curriculum chair of the KACL board of directors.
It is not a requirement, but most of the program's participants have achieved a bachelor's degree or higher. Courses are only offered during the day and many students are "retired scientists and engineers," finding the opportunity to take classes in subjects like art and history - subjects that their full college course load didn't allow - exciting and intriguing.
It's a "pretty well-educated group," O'Neill explained. "Typically we work with folks who are AARP qualified because they have the time."
Most of the instructors for KACL are professors of ETSU, "our mainstay," as O'Neill describes them. However, speakers, such as retired doctors and dentists, novelists, travelers and other knowledgeable persons, are also asked to come share their personal expertise on the subject matter they specialize in.
"A most unique aspect of this program" is that aspiring master's degree candidates at ETSU are sought out to come and teach an eager audience about their area of study and the research results that they hope will lead to an accepted thesis and graduation.
It has been "enthusiastically received by our students," O'Neill said, and has been "a source of pride" that these young scholars come from ETSU to demonstrate the high quality of scholarship taking place there.
Outside the obvious educational intent of the program, there lies another objective.
With people migrating to the Tri-Cities region from all parts of the country for jobs, whether at Eastman or otherwise, or seeking an attractive place to retire, KACL strives to offer "stimulating topics for those who are intellectually curious," as O'Neill phrased it.
Topics for the 20th anniversary year are no exception. Subjects for the spring 2013 session of KACL will include: History including: USA, Scotland, Railroads, Economy of Today; Art Appreciation, including: Sculpture Walk; Science including: Mineralogy, Innovation Failures, Coal in Southwest Virginia; Travel, including: Bush Beans Museum-Dandridge, Hong Kong-Osaka Afloat; Religion: Lutheranism; Medical: Myths and Lies; Philosophy: Health, Disease; and Native American Literature.
With 30 classes, two hours each, offered weekly, students are invited to take part in as many lectures, events and "road trips" as they please for a minimal $45 fee per six-week session for the first family member and $22 for each member thereafter.
Inexpensive and highly informative, the KACL offers individuals the opportunity to learn and experience new topics in a casual college setting. There are no grades and the level of education a person has is of no consequence; it is but people sharing what they know with other people who are interested, a scholarly adult show-and-tell if you will.
Since it is a non-credit program, some may question what has fueled KACL's existence all these years. It's simple: the pure, unadulterated quest for knowledge. And well, perhaps also that it's "a lot of fun."
For more information about the Kingsport Alliance for Continued Learning visit their website at www.kingsportlearning.org or their Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/KACL/358902464126821.