WESTFIELD-Westfield Technical Academy students in the Information Technology Department are eager to share their knowledge – and troubleshooting skills – with city seniors who may be struggling with a smartphone, laptop or computer.
“This is our second year offering this collaboration with the senior center, although we have been open to the community for general information technology (IT) services for several years,” said Kevin Grimsley, chair of the IT Department.
Grimsley explained that students who participate in the Westfield Senior Center’s “Technology Support for Seniors” program must be seniors and eligible for cooperative education.
“This ensures that the work they are doing is not interfering with their academic success and that they have demonstrated a desire to work in the field of IT,” said Grimsley.
For city seniors who would benefit from a one-on-one phone conversation with a student on a computer or smartphone issue, the first step is to call the senior center at (413) 562-6435 to schedule an appointment. When making an appointment, seniors will need to provide their name, telephone number, and a brief description of their issue.
“I receive that list of scheduled calls and help the students determine who and where they are contacted,” said Grimsley.
Grimsley added that most often seniors request help setting up new devices, learning how to use a particular software product, or trying to secure their data.
“The students have several days and times that they are available to work with the seniors that are scheduled ahead of time,” said Grimsley. “This interaction always takes place during their time in the IT Department and typically happens during the mid-day hours.”
For students Ksenia Zinchenko and Jackson Lambert, their participation in the program is one of the highlights of their week.
“As kids we understand how seniors can feel when they are struggling with the internet and devices,” said Zinchenko, who has focused her four years in the IT Department on programming and web development.
She will be applying to Springfield Technical Community College this spring and is still deciding whether her major will be engineer based or focused on computer science.
“I also plan to take classes focusing on management,” she said.
A recent call that Zinchenko troubleshooted involved a woman wanting to learn the intricacies of the Zoom platform.
“I feel this program is rewarding because we have the ability to help others,” said Zinchenko. “I also feel we come from an area of compassion for seniors. We are local and if something doesn’t work for someone they are not a number to us. We want to guide and help them.”
Lambert, who has concentrated his four years in the IT Department on information support services and networking, shared a similar sentiment.
“I’ve always had the aptitude for computers and fixing things,” he said, adding, “I am drawn to troubleshooting and solving problems.”
A recent call that Lambert took helped a local senior learn about the Amazon Firelab.
“The phone call was about 30 minutes and she gave me good feedback,” he said, adding, “She said it was helpful that I used layman’s terms, was slow and understanding, and was not too technical.”
Lambert is applying this spring to the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the Rochester Institute of Technology.
“I am still deciding on several fields, including biomedical engineering, electrical or computer engineering,” he said, noting the field of cyberspace security is also an area he continues to investigate.
Both students are hopeful that once seniors know about this service, they will reach out and seek their assistance.
“We don’t get face-to-face contact so we have had to adapt and learn how to solve their problems and be an ally for them,” said Zinchenko.
“We have a really good group of seniors here helping with tech support and are very tuned in to being understanding and listening to what someone has to say,” said Lambert. “We are not judgmental; we understand it’s hard to understand technology since it is fast, evolving stuff. I really appreciate that seniors are very thankful when we help them out and we appreciate the opportunity to help them.”
Grimsley encourages seniors to reach out since students are eager to help their community.
“Seniors should consider this service for three reasons – it’s free, they get to learn something new, and the students get a chance to demonstrate their mastery of our communication and troubleshooting skill standards,” said Grimsley. “Westfield Technical Academy remains successful because of the lively support of the community, especially our seniors that know the storied history of our school.”