After half a century, The Alumnae of Northwestern University’s Continuing Education program has racked up some big numbers. These include more than 675 non-credit courses taught by more than 500 professors, which have generated more than $8 million in Northwestern grants, teaching awards, scholarships and fellowships. But none of it would have been possible without the help of countless Alumnae members, who volunteer more than 1,000 hours each year.

“From the beginning, the strength of Alumnae Continuing Education has been built on two pillars: recruiting top Northwestern professors and the vision and dedication of an unusual group of alumnae who have volunteered to run the program,” said Cindy Pinkerton, who served on the Continuing Education founding committee in 1968. “The unexpected bonus has been that, because of this volunteer effort, profits from the courses have allowed The Alumnae to give significant financial support to a wide variety of projects within the University.”

Oct. 2 will mark the 50th anniversary of the first Alumnae course. The idea grew out of the success of “NU Woman’s Day” events of 1966 and 1967, which brought local residents to campus for a day of lectures. The first Alumnae courses were held in the Woman’s Library near the Guild Lounge in Scott Hall. The fee per course was $30 and 146 participants enrolled.

The program expanded and enrollment continued to grow, largely from word of mouth. Fourteen noncredit courses a year are now offered at Norris Center. Fall courses this year are “Reading Lincoln,” taught by David Zarefsky; “Musical Discoveries,” taught by Stephen Alltop; “Profiles in Leadership,” taught by faculty from various departments; and “Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and You,”  taught by faculty from various departments.

Each year more than 3,000 people enroll. Tuition is $195 per course and proceeds support programs and activities in five categories: Northwestern building restoration and renovation, teaching awards, scholarships and fellowships, internships and other student awards and an Alumnae Award to female graduates who have achieved prominence in their fields. Recent winners include NBC-TV news reporter Kelly O’Donnell; Gwynne Shotwell, President and Chief Operating Officer of SpaceX; and Lisa Franchetti, Vice Admiral and Commander of the U.S. Navy Sixth Fleet.  

“I have been taking Alumnae courses for more than 20 years,” says lifelong learner Dudley Heer (Class of ’57). “During that time I have had the privilege of listening to a wide number of Northwestern’s fine faculty from many disciplines. Not only have these classes imported new knowledge, but, more importantly, they have caused me to think more about the subjects and to intensify my own exploration of each subject studied.”

Evanston resident Donna Davies wrote, “Kudos… for lining up excellent lecturers on such interesting moments in history. Attending Alumnae course lectures is one of our favorite activities.”

The Alumnae group is planning several events to celebrate the 50th anniversary. There will be a special lecture by Kellogg School of Management Distinguished Professor of International Finance Sergio Rebelo on “What Can We Say About the Future?” which will take place from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Sept. 27 at Norris Center. The lecture will address “ongoing changes in the labor and energy market, the impact of population again, and the promises and challenges associated with automation and artificial intelligence.” For more information visit The Alumnae website at nualumnae.org.