Bob Mitchell
Bob Mitchell

Bob Mitchell helps OLLI connect to UT’s rising scholars


Upon retirement, Bob Mitchell was determined not to “park his brain.”

Born in the UK, Bob studied chemistry and physics at King’s College at the University of London. After graduating in 1959, Bob embarked upon a career in the petroleum industry working for Exxon Chemical. His work led him to live and work in cities throughout Western Europe (London and Brussels) and the United States (Morristown, New Jersey and Houston, Texas). In 1997, Bob and his wife Elizabeth retired and moved to Austin after numerous trips to visit two of their daughters attending The University of Texas at Austin.

Like many Austin retirees, Bob enrolled in CIE’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) and became both a member and instructor with OLLI’s program UT QUEST. OLLI encourages its members to create their own programming and pursue subjects that interest them. As a young man serving in the British Army, Bob was assigned to survey the Napoleonic War battlefields. This assignment ignited a lifelong interest in history that has guided his pursuits in OLLI. Bob has presented seminars, not only to UT QUEST, but also to OLLI’s UT FORUM and UT SAGE, on such topics as “Photography of the U.S. Civil War,” “British Castles,” “Reel Romans” and “Monarchs of the Movies.” The two latter seminars employed film clips to demonstrate how history has been distorted by Hollywood for both dramatic and political effect.

Bob strongly believes that the challenge of developing and presenting strong, thought-provoking presentations is one of the greatest benefits—and challenges—of OLLI membership. To help keep strong programming for QUEST, the group formed the QUEST Excellence Fund. The fund is made from donations to QUEST and provides small grants to graduate researchers at UT Austin. In return, these researchers create interesting and challenging programs about their research and present them to the QUEST membership. Bob’s dedication to bringing dynamic programming to UT QUEST has resulted in his finding a way to financially support the QUEST Excellence Fund through a matching funds program of his former employer, ExxonMobil.

“The ExxonMobil Volunteer Involvement Program (EMVIP) provides matching grants for volunteer activities by employees and pension holders that benefit 501.3.c (non-profit and tax exempt) charities. In return for a minimum of 20 hours of volunteer work per calendar quarter, EMVIP will match that with a $500 donation to the charity,” explained Bob. “My volunteer activity—well in excess of the minimum 20 hours a quarter—consists of developing and presenting seminars to QUEST and other OLLI groups. The EMVIP proceeds are directed to the QUEST Excellence Fund with the stipulation that they be spent to facilitate the development of seminars with an appropriate level of intellectual content.

“I have also sought to have the EMVIP money spent within UT by encouraging the development of seminars by centers largely composed of graduate students,” Bob continued. “This serves multiple purposes—building bridges with suitable campus groups, obtaining novel seminars, providing graduate students with an additional source of funds and the opportunity to add a line to their resume.”

Recent presentations resulting from the fund focused on confronting the spread of AIDS in Eastern Europe and technological innovations such as the social media application “Second Life.” These presentations came from graduate students from the Center for European Studies and the Excellence in Distributed Global Environments consortium.

To discuss the QUEST Excellence Fund or to recommend university areas from which UT QUEST may recruit graduate researchers, contact the OLLI office at (512) 471-3124.


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