Back to School: Seniors Returning to College

"I looked forward to going to that class every week," Shabad said. "There was this back-and-forth dialogue ... and [Oasis members] talked to us about history, and we got that first-person perspective."

Shabad said the perspective of Oasis members helped her decide whom to vote for in the 2008 presidential election.

When she read that the Religion and American Politics course was also intergenerational, she immediately signed up.

The changing perspective goes both ways.

Both Shabad and Thompson shared a story about an Oasis member in the 2008 course who expressed his reservations about same-sex marriage during a discussion about Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative designed to restrict marriage to a man and a woman.

Their classmate, who they did not want to identify, told the class he had a gay son and was struggling to accept his lifestyle.

"It was pretty heavy," Shabad said.

Thompson agreed, but said the discussion ended up being "remarkable."

"I think the fact that [the Oasis member] saw a group of young people that was very diverse -- with Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives -- almost all of whom were very accepting of same-sex relationships, made him feel better about the life of his own child," Thompson said.

"It opened his eyes," she said, "and he was able to find people who were supportive and sympathetic."

Healthy Minds and Bodies

When 78-year-old Dee Fabbioli leaves class each week, she feels "energized."

"I've noticed [the undergraduates'] enthusiasm is contagious," she said.

Fabbioli may be experiencing what doctors say is a connection between a healthy mind and a healthy body.

Dr. Sharon Brangman, chief of geratrics at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, said those with better physical fitness often have sharper memories.

"We somehow used to think that the brain was a whole separate part of the body ... but now we know that it's vitally connected and anything you do to keep your body healthy also keeps your brain healthy," Brangman said.

But does it go both ways?

"I'm not sure, because it's all connected," she said. "It's like the chicken or the egg."

Life-Long Learners

The senior citizens from Syracuse Oasis are not the only members of their generation who choose college courses as part of their retirement.

At 80 years old, Dr. Irwin Mindell thinks he's just as alert now as when he was 30.

"I'm a compulsive learner," Mindell said. "I'm a perennial student."

Mindell audits classes two times a week at Hunter College in New York City. He still practices dentistry once a week in midtown Manhattan -- that is, when he's not studying British literature and anthropology.

This is his second semester at Hunter and he lives by the motto, "the mind is stretched by a new idea and never goes back to its original shape."

"I truly believe the brain is like a muscle and if you don't exercise it, it atrophies," he said.

Brangman thinks having someone like Mindell in a classroom not only can bring new perspectives, but also shatter stereotypes.

"We have a stereotype of aging activities, and that's playing shuffleboard or bingo or making crafts out of popsicle sticks," Brangman said. "But there's really no need to suddenly change the way we've been active and involved our whole lives just because you've gotten older."

Mindell says he's proof that it's true: "Last week, I had to do a presentation on Singapore -- and I aced it." contributor Danielle Waugh is a member of the ABC News on Campus bureau in Syracuse, N.Y.

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