Citizen Scientist Program

Citizen ScientistThe OLLI Scientist Program was established in 2011, in partnership with the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology and the Institute for Genomic Biology. The program allows OLLI scholars to work as laboratory apprentices and research assistants in participating research projects on the Illinois campus.

Labs that are interested in hosting Citizen Scientist volunteers are invited to contact Daniel J. Urban, Outreach Fellow at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, at

The Citizen Scientist Program is a ground-breaking collaborative endeavor that pairs OLLI members with faculty in laboratories on the Illinois campus.  The central idea is that the older adult members of OLLI, who have a wealth of professional and life experience, serve as research assistants, rather than subjects, in research labs. 

The experiences of both the Citizen Scientists and lab members have been mutually beneficial – with the Citizen Scientists learning how science works in practice and about the important research being conducted on the Illinois campus, and the host lab receiving assistance from the Citizen Scientists in conducting research.  Finally, with undergraduate and graduate students and post-doctoral researchers working alongside older adults, the program creates a true inter-generational learning experience.

Citizen scientistAn external evaluation of the OLLI Scientist Program was conducted by the I-STEM education initiative and one of the findings reported was that the OLLI Scientists would recommend the program to their fellow members. Additionally, the faculty and graduate students felt that the OLLI scientists were able to meaningfully participate in the research and contribute their life-experiences and valuable skills to the lab.

The Citizen Scientist Program is coordinated with the help of a half-time OLLI Fellow, who is a graduate student in the Neuroscience Program. Additional assistance is provided by the graduate students in the participating laboratories, who serve as mentors to the OLLI Citizen Scientists.

We are especially grateful to IGB Director Gene Robinson and Beckman Institute Interim Director Jeffrey Moore for their generous partnership. As collaborators and OLLI instructors, they continue to enrich OLLI’s educational mission. OLLI Citizen Scientist Program brochure cover