Early Saturday morning, four women danced in a studio in Ahearn Field House, practicing a belly dance routine. In the last 10 minutes of the session, the group sat down to stretch and debrief. One of the women said she had traveled an hour to get to class that morning.
The class’s teacher is Kathryn Harth, program associate in the College of Human Ecology. Her course, Tribal Fusion Belly Dance, is offered through UFM Community Learning Center, a creative educational program that has served the Manhattan community for 50 years.
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Harth said she first tried belly dancing when she lived in Denver, having never danced before and seeking new friends. After working her way through leveled classes, she performed with a belly dance troupe before moving to Manhattan.
“I ended up moving to Manhattan and was ecstatic to find we had a belly dance troupe here,” Harth said. “I danced with them, and how I kind of got teaching through UFM; it gives us the opportunity to teach.”
Though the local belly dance troupe is currently inactive, Harth said she continues teaching because she can introduce people to something she loves.
“I think that’s something UFM offers Manhattan that a lot of communities don’t have, some risk-free opportunities that are pretty inexpensive to try something new,” Harth said. “On the flip side, it allows people who are passionate about something to share it with anyone who wants to listen.”
UFM provides several non-credit courses every year like Harth’s belly dance class. The organization is also partnered with Kansas State’s Global Campus to provide fitness and recreational classes for K-State credit, said Linda Teener, executive director of UFM.
Teener said UFM was founded in 1968 by K-State faculty and students.
“They, at that time, felt the walls of the university were pretty narrow and prescribed, and they wanted opportunities to discuss things in an open, free way without having to have grades and requirements … so they could just talk about stuff with each other,” Teener said. “The mission became to bridge the campus and the community to allow conversations to flow both directions.”
UFM facilitates credit courses with four university departments: Horticulture and Natural Resources, Music, Dance and Kinesiology. When UFM’s partnership with K-State first started, Teener said, the university was looking for courses to enrich park management students’ education.
“They didn’t have faculty that were trained, necessarily, to teach canoeing or backcountry skills or camping and recreational things like golf,” Teener said. “They asked us to organize that; it was a nice fit because we were already doing that in the non-credit area. We recruited, on the behalf of the departments, faculty that became adjuncts with the skills needed.”
Now UFM offers about 100 credit classes during the academic year, each for one hour of K-State credit. Combined with the non-credit class options, Teener said UFM coordinates approximately 250 different classes each semester.
The non-credit course offerings vary each semester, but Teener said UFM consistently offers recreation courses such as golf and yoga. The rest depend on the interests of the community and instructor availability.
“We have international students quite often teaching language classes that go very well,” Teener said. “We have some K-State faculty who share things out of the box, such as beer making. We have people from the community who just know and share things. We have people of all ages who have taught for us. Our youngest instructor was six, who taught a course on how to take care of rabbits with her older siblings. … Our oldest was 98, and she taught a class on healthy living.”
The length of every non-credit course depends on the subject matter, the instructor’s capabilities and if students will build upon skills learned in previous classes. A class might meet one time or have several sessions over a few weeks, Teener said.
“I teach some sewing and some needle art classes,” Teener said. “For example, if I’m teaching a crochet class, I try to set at least three or four classes so they come, they get the basic skills and they can come back and practice and get questions answered, and we build on that.”
The cost of each non-credit course also depends on the course length and the materials needed for the class. Teener gave an example of a one-time cooking class, where the cost of the food needed is factored into the price students pay for the class.
While for-credit class instructors are required to hold a bachelor’s degree (as they are hired by K-State as adjunct faculty), Teener said people interested in teaching a non-credit course have to show UFM that they can effectively teach others about the proposed subject matter.
“For non-credit, just about anyone can teach,” Teener said. “That’s our philosophy: anyone can teach, anyone can learn. With some basic conversation with our education coordinator, you can teach.”
Harth said she has taken some UFM courses in addition to teaching. One class she took earlier this year was on photography.
“I didn’t know anything about photography, and while I don’t want to be a professional photographer and I don’t even own a very fancy camera … I learned how to use my phone camera better,” Harth said. “I do believe that I now take better pictures, and it doesn’t take any longer to take a better picture. I’m just more informed.”
Harth noted that a photography course through K-State would have cost more money and would have been a bigger commitment, but through UFM’s six-week photography course, she said she could learn about something just because she likes learning.
UFM is involved in many community-based projects beyond its class offerings. Teener said over the course of the organization’s history, UFM has been associated with over 40 different local projects. Some active projects include Project EXCELL, an educational program for special needs adults; the oldest community garden in Kansas; the Manhattan Nonviolence Initiative, which first started at K-State; and the Lou Douglas Lecture Series, which focuses on social justice issues.
“We can move fairly quickly on the things that we do, and we are always looking for projects and ideas that can advance enrichment in our community,” Teener said.
Information about UFM’s course offerings, how to teach a course and the organization’s other projects can be found at tryufm.org.