Lifelong Learning with Friends

Welcome to

Lifelong Learning with Friends

A postsecondary education program aimed at adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  

It is our pleasure to introduce Lifelong Learning with Friends, the newest iteration of what was previously known as Informal Classes for Adults with IDD at the University of Texas at Austin.

Originating on the University of Texas at Austin campus over 12 years ago, Lifelong Learning with Friends (LLWF) provides adult learners with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs) access to stimulating, diverse and fun post-secondary education opportunities. In addition to widening access to courses, Lifelong Learning with Friends will be expanding the number of courses offered each semester by over double what was previously available through the University of Texas, guaranteeing there’s a course (or three!) to fit every student’s area of interest. Our courses are reverse inclusion, meaning that neurotypical UT college students will learn and have fun alongside their neurodiverse peers. 

The skills obtained through the Lifelong Learning with Friends courses represent building blocks for future higher education and employment opportunities. Social skills and professionalism are built into the curriculum and expectations of every class regardless of subject matter. These attributes are crucial to acquiring and maintaining a job. Students will learn how to follow multi-step directions, be accountable for their work, take direction, self-advocate and how to express themselves in a professional manner. The ability to communicate with a variety of people is an essential tool for employability across fields. LLWF gives students the opportunity to hone and practice these skills that they will carry with them long after the course concludes. 

This semester, we have decided to offer exclusively virtual classes due to popularity of our online option. We look forward to offering more in person courses in the future. Please check the Protect Texas website for up-to-date information regarding staying safe during the Covid pandemic.

Watch the video to learn more about Lifelong Learning With Friends

Spring 2023 Schedule: Classes, Instructors, Dates, and Times
(Central Standard Time)

Course TitleInstructorEnrollmentClass FeeDayDatesTimes
(Online) Touchdown! All About SportsKevin Gilbert13$125Mondays01/30/23-03/06/236:00-8:00 p.m. CST
(Online) Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth: An Exploration of DessertsKaelin Rubenzer13$125Tuesdays01/31/23-03/07/236:00-8:00 p.m. CST
(Online) Classic Games Gone VirtualEmily Yisa Hammons13$125Wednesdays02/01/23-03/08/236:00-8:00 p.m. CST
(Online) Creating Your Online Presence! Social Media 101Priya Mahablesh
13$125Thursdays02/02/23-03/09/236:00-8:00 p.m. CST
(Online) Feeling Your Emotions: Understanding Why We Feel the Way We DoAlicia Chen13$125Sundays02/05/23-03/12/23 6:00-8:00 p.m. CST
(Online) Oops! Accidental Discoveries and How They Changed The WorldMandi Severson13$125Mondays03/20/23-04/24/236:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. CST
(Online) Art for All!Lucy Gross13$125Tuesdays03/21/23-04/25/236:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. CST
(Online) You’re Right to Play: Write Like a PlaywrightJoshua Levy13$125Wednesdays03/22/23-04/26/2310:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. CST
(Online) Fun with Hollywood and HistoryLori Duran13$125Thursdays03/23/23-04/27/236:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. CST
Occasional absences due to vacation and illness are accepted.

Contact Us

Please do not hesitate to reach out to with any questions and concerns, and Kaelin Rubenzer, Director of Lifelong Learning with Friends, will be in touch with you.

Be sure to watch Lucy Gross, one of our fabulous instructors, discuss the program on our orientation video (scroll up this page to watch the video).

Thank you for sharing your enthusiasm for elevated and continual learning for all with us! We are excited to meet all of you soon!

Individuals with Down syndrome may apply for a $1,000 scholarship with Ruby’s Rainbow to take LLWF courses!
Click here to apply.

Spring 2023 Classes

All Classes are
Central Standard Time

(Online) Touchdown! All About Sports, Taught by Kevin Gilbert
Mondays 01/30/23 to 03/06/23, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. CST
Do you enjoy playing or watching sports? Have you ever wondered about the history behind different sports? Who was the first person to think of throwing a ball around for fun? Answers these questions and more in this course, where each week we will delve into the history, the rules of the game, how it has developed over time, and influential athletes in different sports. Get ready to explore basketball, football, soccer, baseball, and more!
Click Here to Enroll

(Online) Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth: An Exploration of Desserts
Taught by Kaelin Rubenzer
Tuesdays 01/31/23 to 03/07/23, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. CST
It’s not a real meal without dessert! Come indulge your sweet tooth with our new course all about the history, science, and cultural importance of desserts. We will learn about the origin and interesting history of the word dessert, which emerged over 300 years ago, and how it has evolved over time. Students will discuss fun traditions and superstitions surrounding desserts, such as making gingerbread houses during Christmas and freezing the top of your wedding cake to eat a year later. Ever heard the phrase that the best way to experience a culture is through its food? We will learn about the many sweets typical of weddings, holidays, and daily life for Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and more. From mochi to egg tarts, croissants to fruit cakes, baklava to malva pudding… students will learn about desserts from all over the world.
Click Here to Enroll

(Online) Classic Games Gone Virtual, Taught by Emily Yisa Hammons
Wednesdays 02/01/23 to 03/08/23, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. CST

Come hang out with friends at this weekly virtual game night! Many of us have played board games or card games before or maybe even enjoy having game nights with our friends and family. Have you ever tried virtual game nights though? There are surprisingly a lot of virtual games or games that can be played virtually. In this class we will build community by coming together to play some of the beloved classic games like hangman, bingo, or word searches, and some maybe less known games like trivia, Kahoot, and more. If you want to make new friends or see old friends, play games you know and love, and maybe even learn some new games then this class is for you!
Click Here to Enroll

(Online) Create Your Online Presence! Social Media, Taught by Priya Mahableshwarkar
Thursdays 02/02/23 to 03/09/23, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. CST
Do you ever feel like you don’t really know how to use social media? Maybe you don’t really understand how to get the content you want, communicate with friends, create posts, or maybe the platform seems too complicated. These are really common problems that we’ll tackle during the course! Students will learn the differences between social media platforms, as well at what type of posts you can make for each. One activity the students will participate in includes creating their own social media accounts! We’ll learn how to choose profile pictures, what to include in account bios, what to and what not to post, as well as the art of instant messaging. Any discussion of social media would not be complete without a lesson in online safety, so we’ll discuss how to respond to unsafe situations such as “hacked” accounts, bots, and scams. We’ll end our class with interactive activities that allow students to understand their social media “aesthetic” and how to build communities based on their interests!
Click Here to Enroll

(Online) Feeling Your Emotions: Understanding Why We Feel the Way We Do
Taught by Alicia Chen
Sundays 02/05/23 to 03/12/23, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. CST

Is it hard for you to deal with your emotions sometimes? Do you ever feel overwhelmed by your emotions? If you do, that is completely normal! Emotions are what make us human and are a part of almost every interaction we have. Sometimes it can be hard to fully understand our emotions and learn how to deal with them when feeling overwhelmed. In this class, we will learn about all the different emotions and how they can influence our behavior, mood, and decision-making. We will also learn how to deal with our emotions in different settings such as work, when we are with our friends or family, and when we are just out and about. Come join if you want to learn more about your emotions and how to deal with them!
Click Here to Enroll

(Online) Oops! Accidental Discoveries and How They Changed the World
Taught by Mandi Severson
Mondays 03/20/23 to 04/24/23, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. CST
Have you ever done something that didn’t turn out the way you thought it would? That’s exactly what happened to the people we’ll talk about in this course. They all discovered and invented things that changed the world we live in – completely by accident! None of these discoveries were what the inventor was originally planning to create, but all of these discoveries changed the world into what we know it as today. Come learn about accidental discoveries in many different fields, including everyday objects and toys, medicine, astronomy and physics, history and archaeology, food, and even drugs and alcohol. See how many things around us were discovered through part of the scientific method that isn’t often given much credit: chance and luck!
Click Here to Enroll

(Online) Art for All! Taught by Lucy Gross
Tuesdays, 03/21/23 to 04/25/23, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. CST

We all know people with disabilities are capable of great things—this includes being world class contemporary artists! In this course students will learn about different artistic mediums including pastel, watercolor and acrylic painting, weaving, and collage and the long history of artists with disabilities who have used these tools to create their stunning and iconic work. Guest speakers will include Austin-based artists with intellectual and developmental disabilities who will talk about how they got started and what their practice looks like today. Students will get to experiment with making their own work inspired by the art of makers with IDD and see they too have the potential for artistic greatness.
Click Here to Enroll

(Online) Your Right to Play: Write Like a Playwright, Taught by Joshua Levy
Wednesdays, 03/22/23 to 04/26/23, 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. CST

Friends, students, citizens, lend me your ears! In this class you will have fun learning to write an original play. We’ll study famous playwrights including Henry Miller, Lucy Prebble, Tennessee Williams, Neil Simon, Tony Kushner, and Lorraine Hansberry. We’ll explore genres such as mystery, science-fiction, tragedy, comedy, adventure, and more. You will compose your own pieces using writing elements such as characters, plot, setting, conflict, and resolution. The last class features the Showcase where you will perform in an original play!
Click Here to Enroll

(Online) Fun with Hollywood and History, Taught by Lori Duran
Thursdays, 03/23/23 to 04/27/23, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. CST

Do you enjoy history and movies? Then join us at the Third Installment in the series of Fun with History: Hollywood and History courses where we will study 2 popular movies that are based on true stories: “42” (about Jackie Robinson) and “Respect” (about Aretha Franklin). We will discuss how accurately those films represented actual historical incidents. For each class we will watch sections of one of those movies and afterwards discuss what really happened. We will also look at photos of the true stories that these movies are based on. The class will be informative and fun. Students are encouraged to have some popcorn, or another snack of their choosing, to munch during the movie watching. Movies have a way of bringing history to life for all of us while enjoying ourselves. Having the discussions afterwards will also help us to discern and remember historical fact from fiction.
Click Here to Enroll

Love our program? Get your own LLWF T-shirt, or sweatshirt (NEW!) shipped directly to you!

When you register for a course there will be an optional add-on $30 charge for a LLWF T-shirt, or $45 for a LLWF sweatshirt/hoodie (shipping included). After ordering, expect an email from our main LLWF email account to confirm your shipping address and T-shirt and/or sweatshirt order details.

Spring 2023 Instructors

Kevin Gilbert is a big sports enthusiast, both playing and watching. His favorite sport is basketball. He has a Master’s in Special Education from the University of Oregon and has been teaching at Kealing Middle School for 3+ years in east Austin. He specifically works with kids that need social, emotional, and/or behavioral support. He has been volunteering with LLWF since 2019 and is looking forward to teaching his own class. For fun, he enjoys hiking, playing video games, and spending time with his dog, Stella, and his wife.

Kaelin Rubenzer, Direcotor of Lifelong Learning with Friends, is a graduate from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience and has worked with adults with disabilities in vocational and educational settings for over 7 years. After volunteering more than any other volunteer in the program, Kaelin began teaching courses ranging from Global Cultures Culinary Arts to Adaptive Outdoor Activities. Kaelin loves to cook, bake challenging pastries, garden, read Japanese fiction, and learn a new crafting hobby every month. 

Emily Yisa has 10 years of experience working with individuals with IDDs. She has volunteered and taught classes through UT’s Informal Classes for adults with IDDs. She started a book club for adults with Down syndrome through DSACT in 2013 and continues to facilitate it today. Emily taught life skills for 6 years at Crockett Early College High School. In 2017 Emily received her 200 hour yoga certification. Emily is excited to combine her love of yoga and her passion of working with individuals with IDDs! 

Priya Mahableshwarkar is currently a student at the University of Texas at Austin studying Neuroscience with a minor in Anthropology. In high school, Priya was involved in an initiative that helped local students on the autism spectrum connect with students in her highschool on a 1-on-1 level. She fell in love with working with neurodivergent individuals and has been volunteering with LLWF since 2021. In her free time, Priya loves to crochet, scout Austin for the best matcha latte, and make digital art. She can’t wait to teach her first class for LLWF!

Alicia Chen recently graduated from the University of Texas with a BS in Neuroscience. Alicia is currently attending The University of North Texas to get her master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling to become a therapist for adults with IDDs. She has been volunteering with LLWF since 2020 and works at The Center for Pursuit, which is a non-profit organization in Houston that provides services for adults with IDDs. Alicia loves her two dogs, listening to music, trying new foods, and doing puzzles!  

Mandi Severson loves all things biology. She has a Bachelor’s in Biology and Human Physiology from the University of Oregon, and she’s in her third year of graduate school at UT Austin. She’s currently working on a PhD in Neuroscience, and more specifically, she studies the visual system. She’s been volunteering with LLWF since 2019 and has greatly enjoyed getting to know the students and learning about topics ranging from the history of Austin to the history of alcoholic beverages. When she’s not in the research lab, she loves to go to concerts and go hiking. Her favorite places to hike are National Parks – she’s been to 8 out of the 63 National Parks and hopes to visit all of them someday!

Lucy Gross is a practicing social worker with over eleven years of experience working with adults with disabilities. She co-founded SAGE Studio, a studio and gallery for Texas-based artists with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Austin. She currently works at AISD’s Go Project, a transitional program for special education students ages 18–22, and as the Program Director for Lifelong Learning with Friends. She earned her undergraduate degree at Emerson College and her master’s of social work at Texas State University.

Joshua Levy has been teaching individuals with disabilities for over 30 years. He is the Founder and Executive Director for Joshua’s Stage, an enrichment program for individuals with a wide range of special needs featuring after-school programs, camps, and workshops through activities in the performing arts. He is the President of Joshua Levy Educational Consulting, facilitating parents and educators, to strengthen their relationships with individuals with disabilities. He is the author of The Creative Outlet Method: At-Home Activities for Children with Special Needs. Joshua enjoys cooking, running, spending time with family, and dog time. 

Lori Duran loves history and the joy of a good story. She has a Bachelors in History and a Masters in Latin American Studies and Business Admin from UT Austin. She captures history with photos and tales in her work including her new book “The University of Texas at Austin: The First One Hundred Years”. She is also a proud mother of an adult with autism and has brought history alive for adults with IDDs over several years with our program.

Outreach Team

Kaelin Rubenzer
Natalie Osterlund
Shilpa Rajagopal
Elizabeth Rodriguez
Haity Yu Qin
Courtney Williams

Check out our program’s previous courses.

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