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Courses to change your life

There is a lot being taught in college classrooms these days that might be difficult for close-minded, stubborn people, determined to remain set in their ways. In familiar courses such as math, science and languages, one might survive. But if you're stubborn about changing, you haven't a prayer when it comes to stress management, assertiveness and public speaking. These courses deal with our basic philosophies of life. At the Spring Hill Center of Pasco-Hernando Community College (PHCC), the list of Continuing Education courses that are available keeps growing, but I was particularly interested in courses that have to do with changing the way we relate to one another. The elderly, attending along with younger people, are just as eager to learn skills you might suppose they already had mastered in their journeys through life. Actually, most of what everyone is learning is brand new. After talking with their instructor, Vince Vanni, about the material covered, I understood why these courses are so popular.

First of all, the fees are reasonable, ranging from $8 to $12 for several weeks of instruction. Techniques learned in one class usually carry over into the next. Students who learn how to cope with a stress-filled world become assertive and gain self-confidence.

Vanni and I talked about the need to handle stress in a world that seems to be picking up speed by the minute. His classes concentrate on three areas: relaxation techniques, coping skills and philosophies of living. "I'm not dealing with personalities in these classes," Vanni hastens to explain. "I'm not a psychologist, and these groups are not therapy of any kind," he says. He thinks, however, that the best part of his job is watching how people change, and grow in their self-esteem.

Learning to become assertive can be quite a surprising experience. "There's a good deal of misunderstanding about assertiveness," Vanni says. "It's a far cry from aggression, and people are wrong if they think they have to beat the other person down to become assertive." Vanni thinks that the more assertive you are, the more sensitive you become to the feelings of others. "As you become more caring toward one another, you learn to behave in more appropriate ways," he says.

Classes in public speaking deal with the fear many people endure when called upon to speak in front of an audience. Vanni said there were quite a few people in previous public speaking classes who are now in public office or involved in politics this year. The students at PHCC face the problem of fear head-on.

"There's only 10 seconds out of Public Speaking when I teach my students to perform," Vanni says. The physical act of striding to the podium is something they can control, he thinks, so Vanni coaches his students in how to get up, walk to the podium with an air of confidence and hold on. "The goal after that is communication," Vanni says. "A speech is not a performance. It's a conversation with the audience."

Vanni says there are plans to introduce a class in sales skills, which will begin the week after Thanksgiving. The same thread of ideas will run through this class as in the others: focusing attention away from oneself toward others.

Vanni brings to his classes his enormous enthusiasm and years of experience as sales manager for Grolier Inc. in New York, and as director of community relations for HCA/Oak Hill Hospital. He works as an instructor at PHCC during evening hours.

For registration information regarding any of these classes, call the Spring Hill Center of PHCC at 688-8798.

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