Adventures in Learning (AIL) is thriving in its third decade at Colby-Sawyer. The lifelong learning organization, founded in 1998 by a group of local residents and Professor Emerita Hilary Cleveland, has a well-earned reputation for thought-provoking courses and a remarkable sense of community.

AIL offers year-round courses and lectures to nearly 500 members, with topics that reflect the interests and expertise of volunteer study leaders. Courses meet in a state-of-the-art classroom in Lethbridge Lodge, which was named in honor of AIL in 2016 when individual members pledged $42,000 for a building campaign. AIL lecture series are held in Clements Hall, where faculty, staff and students are also invited to attend.

AIL students
Nancy Kean Salmela ’67 with AIL study leader Richard Hesse in his Fall 2019 course, The Supreme Court, The Least Dangerous Branch.

With its mission to “provide lifelong learning experiences for adults with an interest in the world of ideas and who wish to continue their intellectual growth in an informal setting,” AIL complements the college’s mission to “prepare students for their professions and lives of ongoing learning.” It’s part of what could be called the “arc of learning” at Colby-Sawyer — beginning with Windy Hill School’s early childhood laboratory, extending to undergraduate and graduate students, and later in life with AIL.

Who are these lifelong learners? Many are retirees who came to this region because of the recreational, cultural and educational opportunities here, and they include a good number of alumnae.

“I truly appreciate being back in New London,” said Nancy Kean Salmela ’67, a member of the President’s Alumni Advisory Council who retired in New London along with her husband for the surroundings and active community.

“As a student at Colby-Sawyer, I took for granted the beauty of the region. I now absorb all the magnificent landscapes around us. AIL classes are a wonderful opportunity to explore new topics as well as to meet others from the community. From Pre-Raphaelite Art to the Supreme Court, the subjects are stimulating and relevant.”

Longstanding AIL member Debra Lamson Perkins ’57, who has never left this quaint college town, agreed.

“Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to expand on a theme or to embrace a totally new concept,” Perkins said. “Lately, I have selected topics I had little knowledge of or really any previous interest in, but something in the course description, or most likely the presenter's credentials, piqued my curiosity. One of my first AIL courses in 2002 was Robert Frost: A Lover’s Quarrel, and many of us are still meeting informally to share poetry.”

AIL painting class
Frances Wilson ’55 leading her Summer 2019 AIL course, Summertime is for Painting.

After years away, Frances Wilson ’55 also returned to New London, a childhood summer destination and the home of her alma mater where she studied with painter and Department Chair William Holst. Although she spent her career as a psychiatric nurse, Wilson nurtured her lifelong love of painting by encouraging her psychiatric patients to express themselves in ways they never had before. As a study leader, Wilson continues to share her passion for art with AIL members.

“As a study leader of courses about historic figures, I have been stimulated to learn not only by extended study, but by visiting places where subjects lived and worked,” said John Roberts, Wilson’s older brother. “Touching base with different cultures widened my horizons and increased my understanding. As chair of the Curriculum Committee, I experienced real pleasure working with highly motivated, dedicated people who serve their community brilliantly. AIL is a major reason New London remains my happy place.”

The connection between AIL and Colby-Sawyer includes collaboration with faculty, too. Since 2017, AIL has offered a lecture series in which faculty present a favorite topic. School of Business & Social Sciences Pro­fessor Randy Hanson, who has guided this series, said he enjoys teaching in the AIL program because participants are engaged and excited to learn.

“AIL students always ask great questions and share thoughtful insights,” Hanson said. “For me, participating in AIL classes is a labor of love.”

AIL fosters engagement between the college and community, discussion of important issues, and awareness of history, culture and current events around the world. Study leaders and course participants who begin as acquaintances become friends and the arc of learning grows stronger.

Please contact the AIL office if you would like to learn more about this vibrant program at or 603.526.3690.