Directing a booming 50 Plus Program that this semester reached enrollment of 1,100 for the first time in memory, Alesha Vardeman has introduced new classes and extended travel trips for the community over 50.

The program has existed since 1973, and enrollment neared 800 when Alesha came in 2011. Now it offers all areas of a juried art show: acrylics, oil, watercolor, photography, drawing, fusion glass and stained glass classes. Other popular new courses include iPad/iPhone for Beginners and Computer Scrapbooking.

“My pride and joy of the program has to be the many art shows that we have been able to produce in recent years, including being selected as the Mayor’s Choice Featured Artist exhibit at the 2015 Texas City Art Festival,” said Alesha.

“We are now permanent exhibitors each year at the festival, one of the largest in the state. Our students have had the chance to compete with the community and professional artists. When our student Patricia Wright won first place in 3-D art with a gorgeous quilt, I was beaming.”

With over 75 courses, lectures and educational travel adventures to choose from each semester, the 50 Plus Program offers a wide variety of experiences from conversational Spanish to Tai Chi. Alesha looks forward to continued growth.

“To be able to grow the program to include things like dance and cake decoration that benefit all ages, we have to be able to move to a new place to accommodate it. We are looking forward to moving into Gulfway Plaza later this year,” said Alesha.

It will also let the program begin evening and weekend classes for adults who work. Classes are open to students of all ages, but generally offered at $15 for those over 50.

“We have one of the largest programs in the state. This is what makes us a community college: providing lifelong learning opportunities to the community members,” said Alesha. “We have people from all over the U.S. who retire here because of the warm climate. We have retired NASA engineers and construction supervisors and people who’ve never worked outside the home who are part of the program. It’s for everyone.”

Alesha listens to students to determine what classes and trips are in demand and also visits with community groups.

“She represents COM on the Texas Administrators of Continuing Education Conference Planning Committee, and she continually networks with community businesses and organizations to form opportunities for mutually beneficial activities,” said Dr. Carla Boone, Director of Workforce and Continuing Education.

Passionate about serving those over 50, Alesha began her career in student life and has worked in higher education for over 25 years.

“I’ve worked for both universities and community colleges, but I truly enjoy the community college environment the best.”