Inspiring Minds

Inspiring Minds: Phoebe Cowles and Vivalon’s new Cowles Active Learning Program 


Phoebe Cowles, an outstanding lifelong learner, has not only shaped her own educational journey but also made a generous contribution to create the Cowles Active Learning Program, an innovative new offering at Vivalon.  


Phoebe’s passion for learning ignited early, finding solace and inspiration in Spokane’s library. Raised by a highly educated mother and a history of familial academic achievements, education became integral to Phoebe’s DNA. 


Embarking on a solo train journey to California at age 14, Phoebe’s commitment to education persisted, leading her to Wellesley and later to pursuing an MA in History at the American University. After transitioning to Stanford’s graduate program, she navigated the challenges of being a single parent of three little boys by delving into finance. Her academic pursuits continued at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, exploring profound questions about theodicy and life’s purpose. 


Decades of dedicated learning at the Fromm Institute showcased Phoebe’s insatiable curiosity and joy in intellectual growth. Now in her 80s, she continues to read challenging books and explore intricate subjects.  


Inspired by the Healthy Aging Campus and the opportunities presented by its new model of care for older adults, Phoebe made a generous contribution to Vivalon to create the Cowles Active Learning program. Exemplifying the essence of a lifelong learner and emphasizing the importance of mental stimulation at every life stage, her commitment to education remains vibrant, evidenced by her generous contribution to Vivalon. Her legacy will inspire generations to embark on their educational journeys and to challenge the misconception that learning has an age limit. 



The Cowles Active Learning Program is set to revolutionize education with its hands-on, participatory, and experiential approach, departing from traditional academic models by creating a fun and engaging atmosphere. Covering diverse topics, from classic liberal arts with a twist to social issues, art immersions, and practical skills, the program offers both in-person and virtual learning options. 


Expert facilitators include multiple Emmy award-winner Corey Rosen and climate justice policy specialist Kevin Gallagher, social change strategist Rae Abileah, public opinion pollster and campaign finance expert Richard Hertz, psychologist Dr. Peller Marion, and Dominican University’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Executive Director Stacy Poe. This impressive lineup of facilitators will provide nurturing and interactive experiences and, following each program, participants are invited to join facilitators for an hour of Coffee, Cookies, and Conversation. 


The diverse formats include sequential series which require a multi-week commitment, modular series for topic-specific sessions, and stand-alone immersive workshops. The program ensures continuous learning with clubs, group projects, and volunteer opportunities explored within each series. 


Phoebe’s vision, rooted in her family tradition of educational excellence, aligns with her commitment to pass on the love of learning to the Vivalon community and beyond. As one Vivalon member aptly puts it, “When it comes to learning, I don’t want to stop!” 


To learn more and register, please click here or contact Lisa Rhode, the Cowles Active Learning Manager: [email protected] or 415-456-9062 x191. 



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