Retiree Laura Robert develops her art and mind through Cornell SCE's Part-time Study program

by Shelley Preston,
Cornell SCE, July 31, 2023

On a recent summer afternoon, on the ground floor of Tjaden Hall, Laura Robert, 70, stood next to a hulking steel ink press used for print making.

“I’m not allowed to use that one,” she laughed. “That’s for the graduate students.” On the wall behind beside the press, though, was Robert’s latest artworks, a series of prints featuring an array of hiragana-like characters jostling inside a golden haze that emitted the energy of a lively conversation. “When students first see me in class, they often think I’m the instructor,” she said. “But then they get to know me as a fellow student.” She smiled. “They become my community.”

Since retiring from her work as stacks manager at the Cornell Law Library in 2014, Robert has taken full advantage of a benefit awarded to Cornell retirees: Part-time Study, offered by the School of Continuing Education(SCE).

Part-time Study allows Cornell retirees to take up to six credits at Cornell every semester with permission from the instructor, for free. Current Cornell employees may take up to four credits for free each semester. Other interested adults, visiting students, high school students and international students who want to earn college credit at Cornell without enrolling in a degree program may also register through Part-time Study, but pay tuition.

Robert uses her Part-time Study benefit to explore her interest in art and stay connected to ideas in academia and the world in general. Over the years, she has taken classes in painting, photography, sculpture and writing.

This summer, she chose to take ART 3399—Print Media: Special Topics, a six-week course offered during Summer Session.

“Beyond being in the studio making art, I value the ideas and the changing conversations we have in the classroom,” Robert said. “It’s like being in a garden that’s constantly flowering. These 20-year-olds I hang out with all the time are game for having discussions about their work and my work. They give me new perspectives constantly.”

As Robert makes her way to the second floor of Tjaden where another of her art installations is on display, several faculty and staff say hello. Jennifer Gioffre Todd, the advanced digital media services and photography manager for the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning said, “Laura is an institution here, she’s a great resource for students and we’ve all got to know her very well.”

As for how she is treated as a “non-traditional” student, Robert says she is very well received.

“A student, is a student, is a student,” said Paul Ramírez Jonas, professor and chair of the department of art. “But the difference between Laura and a more traditional Cornell undergraduate is the decades of life experience she has within her.”

Ramírez Jonas also noted Robert’s dedication and work ethic. “She is an ideal student: curious, passionate, fully aware that you get out what you put in and always willing to extend her boundaries and gently encourages others to do the same. Her presence in the classroom elevates discussions and humanizes our interactions.”

Arriving at her second-floor destination, Robert pauses in front of her most recent work: a collection of small, hand-painted “L” shapes, fit together to form a larger “L” followed by the letters “o-v-e.” Robert’s keen placement of the letters create a jaunty feel, seemly bouncing along in their space, joyfully espousing their collective sentiment to anyone who passes by.

When asked what she would tell others about the Part-time Study program, Robert said, “I would encourage other retirees to take advantage of a wonderful opportunity to continue to learn and grow by using the facilities and resources Cornell offers. It’s a great way to build a healthy, active future.”

To learn more about Part-time Study and register for the fall semester, visit the SCE website and the Cornell employee and retiree page.