I’d heard many great things about Kansas University’s Mini College, an event sponsored by KU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
The college offers courses, usually small lectures or participatory events like tours, yoga sessions or painting courses, taught by faculty in the college.
This year, about 130 people took part, many of whom had attended all three years of the Mini College. Registration for the event cost about $225.
And for one day this year, I sat in with them.
The day began with a discussion led by a Mini College participant, not a faculty member.
George Pangburn, a KU alumnus, talked about his work with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
This was fresh off the nuclear disaster in Japan, so it was a timely presentation.
His discussion was interesting and wide-ranging.
I learned that the NRC regulates all kinds of nuclear facilities that go beyond just power plants.
And I learned about irradiators, large nuclear-powered facilities that are used to sterilize things like surgical instruments.
They don’t leave radioactive residue, or make things become radioactive, Pangburn said, but they do use radiation levels that would be lethal in less than 30 seconds if humans were exposed to them.
He also detailed how a few towns had expressed discontent with such facilities being built in their cities.
After that, it was off to retired English professor Jim Carothers’ class about baseball literature.
We talked about all kinds of great baseball books, from Philip Roth’s “The Great American Novel,” to Bernard Malamud’s “The Natural.”
Having only watched the movie, I didn’t know that (spoiler alert) Roy Hobbs actually strikes out at the end of the book, instead of the made-for-Hollywood ending, where (another spoiler alert) he hits a towering home run into the lights.
“The book has occasional references to the Robert Redford vehicle,” Carothers said.
I had written an article for the Journal-World on the Mini College that had already run by the time I was touring classes.
In Carothers’ class, someone mentioned that I was a reporter, and that caused Evan Jorn, of Lawrence, to track me down. He had a bone to pick with me. Namely, that I had put the word students in quotation marks in the Mini College story I wrote. He felt that cheapened the effort that the participants were putting into the classes.
He was there with his wife, Mary Jorn.
“It gives us a year’s worth of stuff to talk about,” Evan said.
They attended Carothers’ baseball literature class together but split up for other courses, too.
And as for Carothers, he said the Mini College folks made for a great audience.
“People who look at the range of topics and say, ‘That might be fun,’ usually have pretty interesting minds of their own,” he told me.
After leaving Carothers’ course, it was off to the class of religious studies professor Paul Mirecki and a nearly 3,000-year-old scroll that detailed an Egyptian view of the afterlife.
Housed in KU’s Kenneth Spencer Research Library, the scroll dates from around 950 B.C.
It was found in a tomb in central Egypt and acquired by KU in 2000.
“It’s an illustrated guidebook to the netherland,” Mirecki said, and showed how the pictures told how a dead person would be guided through the underworld by gods and goddesses.
Enemies of the deceased are cursed and beaten with bloody swords, he said. It’s not a pretty sight at times. But the dead person makes it through the underworld to the rising sun.
Mirecki said that the Egyptians believed that if you drew something, that would ensure it would occur.
“It’s not a what-if situation,” Mirecki said. “It’s a we drew it, we modeled it, and now it’s going to happen.”
The scroll was available only to the rich, he said, who would have had the resources to commission such a piece.
All in all, it was an enlightening experience.
I met a number of good folks, too, many of whom remembered fellow classmates from previous years.
And I promised one of them I’d get her into the article, so here’s Tracy Gardner, a 1987 KU alumna from Topeka.
“Mini College is exciting, inspiring and fun, and it makes me happy to see so many people still have a love of learning,” she said.
The Mini College will be back next year, once again, scheduled from June 4 to June 7, 2012. More information is available at the Mini College’s website at minicollege.ku.edu.