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.

Lifelong Learning with Friends will provide the same excellence that students and families have come to expect and shares its predecessor’s mission: to provide adult learners with intellectual and developmental disabilities access to stimulating, diverse and fun post-secondary opportunities. Reverse inclusion is still at the program’s core – meaning – that neurotypical college-age students will learn and have fun alongside their neurodiverse peers. This unique opportunity to make long-term friends with students near and far is an exciting one! 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.

See the university’s health behavior guidance for the most current information on who should mask and when. LLWF is now offering a mix of virtual and in-person classes this fall. Students are encouraged but not required to wear masks during class.  Please check Protect Texas website for up-to-date information regarding staying safe during the covid pandemic.

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. 

Watch the video to learn more about Lifelong Learning With Friends

Fall 2022 Schedule: Classes, Instructors, Dates, and Times
(Central Standard Time)

Course TitleInstructorEnrollmentClass FeeDayDatesTimes
(In-Person) Theater Appreciation: Chicago the MusicalJen Kiple13$125Mondays9/12/22-10/17/226:00-8:00 p.m. CST
(Online) Beyond Book Clubs: What’s Your Story?Emily Yisa Hammons13$125Tuesdays9/13/22-10/18/226:00-8:00 p.m. CST
(Online) Protect Our Planet: Endangered AnimalsKaelin Rubenzer13$125Wednesdays9/14/22-10/19/226:00-8:00 p.m. CST
(Online) Onscreen Romance: Fact or Fiction?Lucy Gross13$125Thursdays9/15/22-10/20/226:00-8:00 p.m. CST
(Online) Let’s Talk About It: Dealing with Big and Small FeelingsAlicia Chen13$125Mondays10/31/22-12/12/22 (skip class 11/21)6:00-8:00 p.m. CST
(Online) Travel Back in Time: Ancient Empires of Greece, Rome, and EgyptKaelin Rubenzer13$125Tuesdays11/1/22-12/13/22 (skip class 11/22)6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. CST
(In-Person) It’s Your Move! Fun with Board GamesSusan Rozmiarek13$125Wednesdays11/2/22-12/14/22 (skip class 11/23)6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. CST
(Online) Down syndrome: “I Have 47 Chromosomes. How About You?”Jon Pierce13$125Thursdays11/3/22-12/15/22 (skip class 11/24)6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. CST
(Online) Gardens of AustinCourtney Williams13$125Sundays11/6/22-12/18/22 (skip class 11/27)2:00 p.m. to 4:00 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 one of our team leaders will be in touch with you.

Be sure to watch our Program Director, Lucy Gross, 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.

Fall 2022 Classes

All Classes are
Central Standard Time

(In-Person) Theater Appreciation: Chicago the Musical, Taught by Jen Kiple
Mondays 9/12/22 to 10/17/22, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. CST

Picture yourself in a smoky jazz nightclub during 1920’s prohibition, featuring the hottest act in town, Ms. Velma Kelly. Tonight, she’ll be arrested- for double homicide. The young woman in the audience who dreams of replacing her on the stage and the shady, yet charming lawyer fill out our main players in the groundbreaking and thrilling musical “Chicago” from John Kander and Fred Ebb. This course will explore themes of media, justice and celebrity. We’ll talk about how the innovative structure and staging made this show so influential and exciting. And- wait for it- we’ll even get to see the show performed LIVE at the end of our time together. Time to paint the town and ALL THAT JAZZ!!! Cost of course does not include additional fee to purchase group-discount tickets to “Chicago” performance.
Click Here to Enroll

(Online) Beyond Book Clubs: What’s Your Story? Taught by Emily Yissa Hammons
Tuesdays 9/13/22 to 10/18/22, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. CST
Do you love reading, but maybe don’t love reading long chapter books? Do you want more chances to practice reading? In Beyond Book Clubs- What’s Your Story? you’ll read short stories every week. Each class students will learn about a different type of short story; for example, action, biography, and romance to name a few. They will have time during class to read these short stories as a whole group and/or in small groups. Not a confident reader yet? No problem! Emily and class volunteers will offer reading support as needed (e.g., echo reading, assisting students by sounding out words, use of visuals to support text, etc.). At the end of each class students will be given an opportunity to creatively respond to some writing prompts of the same short story type of the week.
Click Here to Enroll

(Online) Protect Our Planet: Endangered Animals, Taught by Kaelin Rubenzer
Wednesdays 9/14/22 to 10/19/22, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. CST
Do you ever wonder why there aren’t T-rexes and triceratops walking the earth? Environmental pressures, like extreme weather, hunting, and human pollution, have caused long-term trouble for some of our favorite animals in the wild. In this exciting new course, students will discuss Siberian tigers, orangutans, red pandas, sea otters, Asian elephants, and other remarkable endangered critters who desperately need our help to preserve their environments. Students will discuss how competition for resources, shifts in the ecosystem due to global warming and invasive species, and sometimes even animals’ own behavior can threaten the overall success of their species. Guest experts specializing in endangered animals will share their expertise in cutting-edge research about preservation efforts around the globe.
Click Here to Enroll

(Online) Onscreen Romance: Fact or Fiction? Taught by Lucy Gross
Thursdays 9/15/22 to 10/20/22, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. CST

Are you a movie buff? Do you get sucked in by the glitz and glamour (and maybe a bit of the drama) of films? If you’re like most of us, movies have made a big impression on you and shaped your ideas about the world. Unfortunately, when it comes to romance and dating, more often than not, movies get it wrong. In this class we will talk about our favorite on-screen romances and debunk Hollywood tropes, all the while figuring out how to have happy, healthy relationships in our real lives. Join us for movie clips, lively discussion, fun games, and don’t forget to bring the popcorn!
Click Here to Enroll

(Online) Let’s Talk About It: Dealing with Big and Small Feelings, Taught by Alicia Chen
Mondays 10/31/22 to 12/12/22, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. CST
(skip class 11/21)
Did you know a lot of communication happens without words? Do you know the difference between frustration and anger? Do you struggle with expressing your feelings sometimes? I think we all do! In this course we will learn about the different feelings we can feel and how to effectively communicate them to others. Being able to communicate our feelings is an important aspect in all of our relationships and in our everyday lives. We will also explore how these feelings can be connected to our everyday needs. Some come join and let’s talk about it! 
Click Here to Enroll

(Online) Travel Back in Time: Ancient Empires of Greece, Rome, and Egypt
Tuesdays 11/1/22 to 12/13/22, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. CST (skip class 11/22)
Calling all history buffs! Do you love learning about Greek Gods and tales from mythology, like Hercules, Poseidon, Medusa and Zeus? Are you fascinated by the ancient cultural practices of mummification and vicious gladiator battles? Do you want to know how ancient civilizations were able to construct the impressive Roman bath system, the Great Pyramid of Giza, and the Great Library of Alexandria? Join our new exciting virtual course: Travel Back in Time: Ancient Empires of Greece, Rome, and Egypt. Each week, students will learn about the rich history, cultural traditions, common foods, daily way of life, and lasting legacy of the most iconic ancient civilizations. Frequent group activities will encourage students to dive deeper into fan-favorite mythology dramas and distinctive art styles of each area.
Click Here to Enroll

(In-Person) It’s Your Move! Fun with Board Games, Taught by Susan Rozmiarek
Wednesdays, 11/2/22 to 12/14/22, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. CST
(skip class 11/23)
Are you bored with games like Monopoly or Sorry? Would you like to go beyond these old, tired, familiar mass-market games and play some fun, exciting games you’ve probably never heard of?  In recent years, the hobby game market has exploded with new, clever tabletop games that provide depth-of-play yet have easy rules. Many of them incorporate fresh, innovative gameplay mechanisms in their designs. We’ll explore these new mechanisms by learning and playing a different game each week in a fun, sociable setting. We’ll be taking a critical look at each game and discussing together how different mechanisms introduce luck or skill and influence strategy. For the final class, students will have the opportunity to share their favorite new games with their family and friends. NOTICE: There will be an additional class fee of $30 due on the first day of class for the instructor to purchase class materials. On the last class day, the board games played throughout the course will be raffled for each student to keep one.
Click Here to Enroll

(Online) Down syndrome: “I Have 47 Chromosomes. How About You? “
Taught by Jon Pierce

Thursdays, 11/3/22 to 12/15/22, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. CST
(skip class 11/24)
Do you have a loved one or friend with Down syndrome? Or do you have Down syndrome? Have you ever wondered about what causes Down syndrome? What does that extra chromosome do? What are scientists learning about DS? You might be familiar with some limitations associated with DS, but what about some special abilities? Moreover, what are people with DS truly capable of doing? In this course we will learn about the science behind DS and people who live with DS from Dr. Jon Pierce, a DS researcher at the University of Texas at Austin who also happens to be father of a son with DS.
Click Here to Enroll

Gardens of Austin, Taught by Courtney Williams
Sundays, 11/6/22 to 12/18/22, 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. CST (skip class 11/27)
Have you wanted to try your hand at gardening, but weren’t sure how to get started? Perhaps you wondered if you could grow plants if you didn’t have a yard or you were unsure when to plant seeds. In this class, we’ll explore a variety of ways to garden, we’ll learn what plants grow in which seasons, and we’ll dive into how to properly care for our plants so that they thrive. This class will have a special focus on plants that grow well in Central Texas, but students from other areas are encouraged to sign up and we can highlight what grows well where you live, too!
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.

Fall 2022 Instructors

Jen Kiple started out professionally as a stage actor and director.  She attended American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City in 1994 and holds a Master’s Degree in Theatre from Washington University in St. Louis.  After having her daughter in 2003, Jen transitioned to a professional culinary career and became a chef.  Her daughter was diagnosed with ASD in 2006.  A few years ago, Jen decided she wanted to devote herself to working with other people with special needs and found her way to Joshua’s Stage, where she has worked as an Instructor and Site Director.  Currently she is teaching full time at William’s Community School and moonlighting as a culinary instructor for folks with disabilities.  In her free time, Jen enjoys making breads and pastas while rocking out to classic vinyl in her renovated school bus.

Courtney Williams graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor’s of Social Work in 2011 and has volunteered with LLwF since 2020. In her free time, Courtney can be found volunteering at the local food bank, taking care of her many plants, or playing with her two very silly cats. Courtney loves hiking, cooking, reading, and putting together jigsaw puzzles. 

Kaelin Rubenzer 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. 

Susan Rozmiarek has been teaching evening classes for adults with IDDs for over five years. While not teaching or at her day job in a neuroscience research lab at the University of Texas, she can be found enjoying one of her many hobbies. These include hiking, gardening, vegetarian cooking and playing board and computer games.

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! 

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! She has had so much volunteering with LLWF and is so excited to teach her first class! 

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.

Jon Pierce is the father of an adult with Down syndrome. He obtained his PhD at the Univ of Oregon followed by a postdoc at UCSF Medical School. He conducts research on Down syndrome, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, and more as Associate Professor at the Univ Texas at Austin. He founded Lifelong Learning with Friends and its predecessor programs so that adults with IDDs could access the sophisticated learning and deep friendships unique to the college experience. Over the past decade, he offered over 120 unique courses to hundreds of adults with IDDs to learn alongside college student volunteers. 

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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