Carmela Gets it Done


Bard LLI has good news and bad news. The good news is we have one of the hardest-working and most skillful and diplomatic volunteers we could have ever wished for. The bad news is we can’t clone her. She is Carmela Gersbeck, a three-year veteran of LLI, who co-managed the Online Team during the most dramatic technological change in our 21 years of existence. It was the adoption of Zoom classes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Her experience with the Online Team led to the Hybrid Team, and thence to Curriculum, Council, and on down the line.

What’s most telling about her story is her attitude toward volunteering. When she first went to our web page to explore the possibility of joining, she felt everyone was required to volunteer in order to be a member. Many organizations, even some LLIs, have such a policy. If you want to eat the cake, help bake it. Bard LLI takes a gentler approach. Come to committee meetings, think about it, choose what you feel is most appropriate for your skills, then wait until you jump on with both feet. For Carmela it was different.

Carmela and Al Gersbeck at the hiking class at Minnewaska with Chloe

Can-Do Mindset

“Deborah Schwartz needed help with Mail Merge,” Carmela recalls, ”and I had experience with it, so I volunteered to help. I only spent about an hour on Mail Merge, but it got me started with Deborah Schwartz on the Technology Team, and she invited me to a Communications meeting because I liked to write and take photos. I don’t spend a tremendous amount of time volunteering. People think it’s a huge commitment of time and effort to volunteer, but most often that’s not the case.” At the time ProClass was rolled out, Deborah Schwartz was shouldering most of the work, and that was a Herculean task. She asked for help and Carmela responded.

Carmela’s can-do attitude comes both from professional experience as well as her genetic makeup. On the professional side, she spent most of her career with investment banks — J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns — managing logistical projects. One such project was during her tenure at J.P. Morgan, the challenge being to restack 1,000 employees in an existing building with only three weeks of planning and only one weekend to do it. It was the largest move ever done at J.P. Morgan in such a short timeframe. Her boss sent not only food and fruit, but flowers.

Mastering Zoom

“When COVID hit, it became clear we needed to get online,” she recalls, “Zoom was the answer, of course, and for a week I watched videos, spent time with their customer service reps, and put together what we might do. That created the Online Team, and we knuckled down and went to work. It was confusing and raised a lot of questions at first, but before long we felt confident enough to launch it. I called Jeff Christensen and Susan Christoffersen for their advice, and both said it sounded like fun,” she recalls, “and the Online Team was born.”

As we all know, the rest is history. Zoom is now an integral part of LLI’s experience. It’s easily accessible, eliminates commute time, and makes life easier for those who have difficulty negotiating the campus pathways and hills in ways just as effective as on-campus classes. The presenters, producers, and class managers, under the aegis of the curriculum team, were traditionally the ingredients in conventional on-campus classes.

Carmela and Jeff Christensen, original members of the Online Team
Jeff Christensen conducts a hybrid rehearsal in preparation for a hybrid class.

Tech Team Help

We still need class managers, who act as the liaison between the presenter and the class. It used to be a time-consuming series of phone calls, individual emails each week, follow-up emails to the presenter, etc. The good news is it’s now easier than ever. ProClass has automated the process with a few screen clicks. “If you can send emails, you can be a class manager,” says Carmela, “At the moment we’re OK with session managers, but if you like technology, we can use help with ProClass and the website, so please let us know. You can contact Joanne Goodman ([email protected]) and Vicki Hoener ([email protected]) if you are interested in being a class manager.”

"All By Volunteers!"

When a friend called Carmela and started discussing Bard LLI, her friend commented about how much $175 provided. “Stimulating classes, a beautiful campus, social events, a choice of Zoom,” Carmela recalls, “And then added, ‘I can’t believe it’s all run by volunteers.’”

The Online Team -- we enjoyed our meetings!