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A talk about TALK: Meet Jean Garnett, a face of Third Age Learning at Kwantlen

‘What I get out of volunteering in terms of learning new things, meeting new people, and the satisfaction of a job well done, more than outweighs the time and effort I put in’
Jean Garnett in her home in Steveston. (Photo: Eseosa Eweka-Valentine)

Interview by Eseosa Eweka-Valentine, fourth-year journalism student at KPU

Apart from being a member the TALK board, the chair of program committees for both Surrey and Richmond, and the chair for the Philosophers’ Corners in Richmond, Jean Garnett is also an artist who started making art at age 50.

TALK is also known as Third Age Learning at Kwantlen, “a participatory learning experience with no quizzes, grades or prerequisites.”

• RELATED STORY: For 50+ adults, Surrey’s fall ‘TALK’ subjects focus on policing, artist Monet and more.

Eweka-Valentine: Tell me a bit about yourself

Garnett: “I’ve been involved with CFUW Richmond, the University Women’s Club, for 30 years, and I have volunteered the entire time on the board. I am currently the newsletter editor. I’ve also been on the board of the Richmond Arts Coalition for eight years. Before that, I was on the Richmond District Parents Association board when my kids were going to school and on my children’s parent advisory councils and school planning councils.”

Tell me about your art

“I started making art when I was 50. Before that, I would have said I wasn’t creative or artistic.

“This series of heads is called We are Women. I use the same styrofoam head for all of them and create the faces and headwear with paper. The idea behind this series is that we’re all the same underneath, we have the same goals and aspirations. However, we dress ourselves up differently. I do a lot of research on all these different head dresses. If you look at other cultures around us, we always wear something on our heads. For example, when she was a young adult, my mum wouldn’t leave the house without a hat. I think it’s important to show that even though people are different, we’re also very similar. We should get along a little bit better.”

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PICTURED: Garnett’s artwork displayed in her living room. Photo: Eseosa Eweka-Valentine

Tell me a bit about how you got into TALK

“TALK was started in 1998 by Joanne Cunningham. She has been TALK president and program chair and, recently, a member of the marketing committee. She was the person who began TALK, got it off the ground.

“In 2003, she came to a CFUW Richmond (Canadian Federation of University Women) meeting in Richmond to talk about TALK. I wasn’t there that night, but afterwards one of our members came up to me and said, I think we should do something with this TALK group, and I think you should chair it.

“So, we invited Joanne and the chair of the marketing committee to come out and tell us more about TALK. They were having trouble facilitating courses at the Richmond campus because they all lived in White Rock Surrey area and didn’t want to travel that far. I gathered a group of people around me and, since then, we’ve had an interest group that plans most of the Richmond campus courses and the Richmond Philosophers’ Corners in a typical (non-pandemic) year. In 2003, I also joined the program committee in Surrey to liaise between the two groups. In 2009, I became the program chair and joined the TALK Board.

“When TALK first started, most courses were four sessions, so it would be a little bit more in-depth in whatever topic it was. Now we tend more towards one or two session courses, as we find it’s easier to find presenters to volunteer. However, our Literary Designs course this fall is five sessions because we happened to find five presenters.”

How has the journey been so far?

“TALK has always been a volunteer organization, so facilitators, marketing committee, program committee and Board members are all volunteers. Presenters and speakers are volunteers, too.

“I love volunteering with TALK (and other organizations). What I get out of volunteering in terms of learning new things, meeting new people, and the satisfaction of a job well done, more than outweighs the time and effort I put in.”

How does TALK find presenters?

“For KPU presenters, we first come up with a topic. For example, if we want a course on physics, we go to the physics website, look at the faculty listing and see their interests. We then send them an email to ask them if they are interested in volunteering their time and expertise.

“Some of our program committee members listen to the radio, and they’ll hear someone being interviewed and say, Oh, that sounds like a good presenter for TALK. So they find out their contact information and ask them; sometimes they say yes.

“We have quite a few repeat presenters; some have given 13 courses over the years. Even if they’re retired, often they still want to learn things themselves. Peter Robbins, when he went to the South Pacific on vacation, decided to study before he went. When he came back, he gave us a course on Pacific Atolls.”

Who are TALK members?

“We’ve got two types of members. We’re always cautious in the description in the brochure to say whether the class is very interactive or not. Some members want to hear from the expert directly, and they don’t want the rest of the class weighing in with their opinions.

“Some members are okay with very interactive classes where the presenter does a certain amount of explaining but then wants to ask the audience what they think and answer questions and have a discussion, more like a seminar. All our members are very enthusiastic learners.”

How has TALK coped during the pandemic?

“In March 2020, we had to cancel the rest of the semester because the university had closed. With the help of KPU staff we started looking into how we could deliver an online version, so we researched Zoom and a couple of other things and tested and we figured it out.

“I sent an email to all the presenters that we had already booked for the fall and the ones that we cancelled in the spring and asked them if they’d be willing to give their course as a Zoom webinar. All but four of them said yes. Then we surveyed our members. 75% of them said they would be interested in online learning. So we decided to go ahead and do the online version in the fall of 2020 and continued in winter/spring 2021.

“Our membership stayed about the same, but our registrations were 50% higher on Zoom than they had been. We attribute that to people who live in White Rock who may not want to drive to the Richmond campus or vice versa. If the course is online, you can join from anywhere and don’t have to travel. We’ve got two members in particular we’re calling our TALK “superstars” from last year because one took 36 courses and the other took 28.

“This fall, we are offering about a third of our courses on campus and the rest continue as Zoom webinars, since that has been very popular with our members.”

For more information about TALK, visit

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