You are hereMagazines 1990-1999 / Class Acts

Class Acts


New York is a living classroom comprised of motivated students of all ages. Driven by curiosity about the world they inhabit, a desire to be creative, or a yen to make more money, Manhattan’s continuing ed students are taking advantage of both degree and non-degree programs that promise to expand their knowledge years after college.

Returning students, generally in their 30s and 40s (and increasingly in their 50s and 60s), are electing to take a range of classes, from creative writing, internet skills, and wine tasting to public speaking, graphics, and interior design.

So, if you're looking to master a new skill, enhance your job peiformance, or re-charge your creative batteries; read on.

Lee Seham was a lawyer who wanted to make people laugh. James Rottner was a social services employee who wanted to sharpen his job skills. And Miriam Sirota was an actress who wanted to avoid waiting tables to pay the rent. What did they all have in common? They went back to school.

Seham, 34, studied stand-up comedy at The New School and honed an act that nearly got him an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show(the taping was canceled because of a monster Chicago snowstorm). Rottner, 44, spent every Saturday for two years at Baruch College earning a degree in public administration. And Sirota, 26, bypassed the waitress route by becoming a real estate salesperson through New York University School of Continuing Education's accelerated New York Real Estate Salesperson's Course. She closed over $1 million dollars in sales last year.

"I was trying to find something that would work with my acting career," recalls Sirota. "I didn't want to wait tables, and it was always difficult at office jobs to get away for auditions. I needed flexibility but also wanted something creative."

Some students desire to experiment with an artistic outlet or hobby. "I wanted to do something creative after hours," says Seham about his stand-up stint. "I was forced to expend creative juices that normally would expire by coming home and watching TV"

Many enroll for professional reasons. Rottner, an operations manager in the AIDS services division of the Visit1ng Nurse Service of New York, earned a master's degree through Baruch's accelerated weekend program, and gained the tools to increase his job productivity.

For others, the love of learning is an ongoing commitment to personal development-from learning to whip up a perfect souffle to mastering a foreign language, to earning a professional degree. What follows are popular courses in the top four areas:


Performing Arts

Have you ever wondered: Am I funnier than Jerry Seinfeld? A better actor than Meryl Streep? A more spirited dancer tha Mikhail Baryshnikov? If you've always harbored a secret desire to perform, you can test your artistic ambitions in a friendly forum: a classroom. New York is a mecca for starving artists of all disciplines. Here, you will find superior classes in acting, comedy, improvisation, music, dance, and other performance fields. The Lucy Moses School for Music and Dance, a division of Elaine Kaufman Cultural Center, is one of many venues that offer a testing ground for would-be-stars. "Kaufman Kabaret," for example, allows students to put on their own cabaret show of Beatles tunes, while the Drama Group features public performances of scenes from great dramas and comedies.

"It's a big thing for people who did creative work in grade school or high school and don't have a career in it," explains Sean Hartley, acting director of education at Lucy Moses. "These individuals like to sing or perform but don't have an outlet. Here they get a little coaching, a little focus, and then they can invite their friends to see them perform."


Fine Arts

Courses in interior design and computer graphics are among today's more practical fine arts offerings. The New York School of Interior Design is one of many institutions offering degree and non-degree courses for the professional hoping to expand his or her knowledge. "CAD Level" is typical: an introduction to the use of the computer as a design and drafting tool for interior design.

"There is a wide range of applications for interior design work," saysInge Heckel, president of the school. "Interior design is not just about doing a living room. There is a whole gamut of careers possible designing hospitals, schools, even space stations."

Fashion design is also in vogue, with professionals signing up to gain new skills and amateurs carving out new careers. The Fashion Institute of Technology has 8,000 part-time students who study tailoring, jewelry design, menswear, photography, textiles, and pattern-making. "There are a lot of people coming back for refresher courses and others who come for personal development," says Stayton Wood, vice president for student affairs at FIT.

Computer graphics courses are also on the upswing. Parsons' "Exploring the Digital Canvas," for instance, offers lessons in drawing, painting, and special effects on the Photoshop software program to experienced professional artists. "No two people's work looks the same," says instructor Mark Kaplan. "The glory of it is you're not looking at scanned images. This is a good course for experienced fine artists who are looking to make the transition to computers."

Pratt Institute has an array of contemporary computer graphics and design programs, too, including the popular "Multimedia," a course that shows students how to work with text, graphics, animation, and sound to create cutting-edge two-dimensional presentations.

Those who want to try their skills with a camera often end up at the School of Visual Arts. Award-winning photographer Jay Manis teaches "Basic Photography," a popular introductory course in which novice students learn the difference between an F-stop and

an F train, as well as the ins and outs of dodging, burning, bleaching, and archival processing. Say Cheese!


Culinary Courses

Many budding chefs or gourmands enjoy cooking and wine, but feel a need to learn more before dining at Lutece, Nobu, or many exalted Manhattan eateries. Luckily, excellent courses about food and wine abound.

"We teach mostly young consumers," notes instructor Harriet Lembeck about "Wine for Dummies," a course offered by The New School. "Our courses try to take the mystery out of choosing a wine."

Hands~on culinary courses, including those at Peter Kump's School of Culinary Arts and The French Culinary Institute, provide practical skills such as knife-handling, pastry-making and advanced culinary arts. The New School's culinary curriculum includes the ethnic offerings, "Introduction to Sushi" and "The Cooking of Malta" as well as "Low-Fat Spa-Style Cooking" and "Culinary Walking Tours."

The walking tours feature food history and, in the words of instructor Annie Hauck-Lawson, "help students look for the relationship between food and culture. When I do a walking tour of Polish Greenpoint in Brooklyn, I talk about how the neighborhood developed both historically and in terms of food. We talk about food symbols in the Polish-American community and how they are manifested in homes, churches, and stores."


Job Skills

Courses that impact career advancement are experiencing increased attendance. The "Media Management Program" at Audrey Cohen College is the first MBA program to focus exclusively on entertainment and media management. It is designed to prepare students for a foray into film, broadcasting, music, and multimedia through the planning, production, and promotion of a new media venture.

Those seeking certification ski1ls often turn to Pace University. According to Bill Clutter, executive director of adult outreach programs, Pace's courses "help people who are sitting down for certification exams." Good at accounting? Try the CPA certification course. Need to learn the latest payroll procedures? Pace offers a certification class from the American Payroll Association. "For years, Pace trained the majority of accountants in New York," notes Clutter, who adds that many in other professions return for refresher courses.



Public speaking is the No. 1 phobia for most Americans. No wonder TalkPower's 19-hour weekend "Stress Seminars for Public Speaking" have found a growing adult audience. "We offer a series of sequential exercises that develop neural patterns in the brain," notes Natalie H. Rogers, TalkPower president. "This helps people to focus on themselves rather than on their fear of the audience. This process was developed over 20 years, and will transform a nervous, uncomfortable speaker into a fluent, confident presenter. It works for speeches, meetings, job interviews, even parties where you don't know anyone. It really can transform you."

Which is appropriate since, in the end, transformation is what most continuing education is all about, isn't it?

New York Magazine, January 13, 1997