People in Your La Jolla Neighborhood: Meet Bonnie McKean, the new VP of Osher Lifelong Learning Institute



Newly appointed Osher Lifelong Learning Institute vice president Bonnie McKean of La Jolla has come a long way in the last two years. She moved to The Jewel seeking “sun, an ocean view and Osher” about 20 months ago, and was named the vice-president earlier this month. A learning program for seniors offered through the UC San Diego Extension, the Institute offers one-time lectures as well as six-week classes for adults, ages 55 and older. There are 120 Osher programs in the United States, and more than 1,000 people have registered for the program at UCSD.

What brought you to Osher?

“15 years ago, I lived in Orange County and a friend of mine told me about the program through UC Irvine, and I participated for as long as I lived there. Then I moved to the Bay Area and participated in the program offered at UC Berkeley for 10 years. When my kids moved to snow country and grandma could no longer be near the little ones, I asked myself what I was seeking? I came up with ‘sun, an ocean view and Osher.’ So I looked around and found the UCSD program. I’ve been delighted with it because it is different from the ones in Orange County and Berkeley.”

How does Osher UCSD differ from others?

“The other programs are more of a university format: you sign up for a class and take it for as long as the quarter lasts. Here, we have one-off lectures as well as longer-term programs. For instance, I’m taking a class on the Architecture of the Silk Road (a six-class program), and I took a one-off lecture this morning on the composer Gustav Mahler. All of them are phenomenal, we get professors who might not want to teach a six-week class, so we get a terrific caliber of professor.

Plus, the Berkeley program costs $900 a year, which is reasonable if you are there every day, which I typically was; but our program is $265 a year, and if someone cannot make it to campus — and this is unique to San Diego — you can view classes on a computer at home for $25 for the year. Through the online-only program, you have access to the whole archive past and present.”

How did you go from a new student to program VP in less than two years?

“The president asked! I had not volunteered before, but once I realized it would be been a great way to get to know people — and all it involved was talking to people about the program — I said yes.”

How were you as a student when you were in college?

“I wasn’t as gung-ho as I am now, but I went to Berkeley at a time that was very exciting. It was during the Free Speech Movement of the early 1960s. It was wasn’t as difficult to get in then as it is now, but it was a really exciting place to be. I enjoyed going to school ... life was exciting in different ways, maybe not so much in the book department. But I got through it.”

What is about Osher that appeals to you?

“I was very lucky that I retired at age 50, so 24 years ago, I found myself with no office to go to and wondered what to do with my time. I started taking watercolor classes, but when 9/11 happened, I wanted to learn more about the Islamic World because I found myself asking, ‘Why?’ Then I discovered these programs existed, and they fit the bill. Osher gives me structure and the opportunity to grow. I think it’s a great program for seniors. You are supposed to be age 55. but we have a couple of ‘kids’ in their early 50s who must sneak in with their parents.” (laughs)

Osher brought you to La Jolla, but what do you think about the town, now that you’re here?

“I love The Village concept. I like that I can walk around and see people I know, which doesn’t happen often in a major city. The fact that I went to The Conrad Performing Arts Center and could walk there from where I had dinner ... everything is so together. And I love the Scripps’ history! I connect to Ellen Browning Scripps because she was a publisher and so was I in my professional life. So we have a similar history, but in a very different time.

Art is also a passion of mine, and I did not know the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego would be closed (for renovation) and I thought that would be the center of my world. But I’m looking forward to it opening again.”

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute wraps up its summer session this month (with a handful of one-off lectures scheduled), and the fall Open House is Saturday, Sept. 21. Learn more at

La Jolla Light’s “People in Your Neighborhood” series shines a spotlight on notable locals we all wish we knew more about! If you know someone you’d like us to profile, call us at (858) 875-5950 or e-mail