Eastern Michigan University collaborates with University of Michigan Ginsberg Center to launch Digital Connecting Corps aimed at bridging gap in intergenerational digital divide

Program to use student coaches to help older adults in Washtenaw County learn technology skills

A young woman helping an older woman use a smartphone

YPSILANTI — Eastern Michigan University’s Engage@EMU office is collaborating with the University of Michigan’s Ginsberg Center to launch Digital Connecting Corps (DCC), a program meant to help bridge the gap in the intergenerational digital divide in Washtenaw County by helping older adults learn technology skills.

The program will train students at both universities to be "tech coaches," who will then work with older adults in Washtenaw County to help them learn how to use their smartphones, laptops and desktop computers. The coaches will work one-on-one with the participants in a virtual setting (such as Zoom) to assist them with learning the technology.

The training program is free to participants and laptop computers are available for those who need one.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has increased social isolation and the lack of digital access and digital literacy among older adults in Washtenaw County,” said Julie Vogl, project coordinator for Engage@EMU. “Before the Digital Connecting Corps, there was no County-wide infrastructure or nonprofit focused on digital connection and literacy for older adults—the DCC begins to fill that void.”

Senior center directors noted in initial conversations with Engage@EMU that digital access, understanding, and connection are critical aspects to the health and wellness of older adults who live in Washtenaw County. Engage@EMU then approached the Ginsberg Center to partner as a way to expand project capacity and scale.

“When the team at Engage@EMU reached out about this idea, we were thrilled to collaborate to meet this community-identified need,” said Sara Saylor, assistant director for community engagement at the Ginsberg Center “This project fits well with our model of sustainable partnerships to build community capacity, and provides Washtenaw older adults and students at both institutions with a unique intergenerational experience. An Americorps VISTA member serving at the Ginsberg Center provided support for the planning and helped build project infrastructure.

“This partnership is really using institutional resources in a groundbreaking way to help address that divide,” said Decky Alexander, professor and director of Engage@EMU. “We anticipate this program will increase our county’s older adult digital access and literacy, all while providing a mechanism for older adults to learn needed technology to decrease social isolation. We’re really excited to be launching this program and know that it will be transformative for older citizens in the County.”

Training sessions will be customizable based on the participant’s needs and interests, and could include any aspect of learning to use technology, including learning how to send emails, download apps on their phone, set up/use a Facebook account, and more.

The program will also launch a tech support hotline this summer so that seniors can call to have a tech coach walk them through a shorter-term issue. These would address issues such as computers that won't turn on or unexpected changes in font size, as examples.

A grant from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation served as initial funding to operationalize and begin the pilot program.

For additional details about the program, visit the DCC website.

Engage@EMU is Eastern Michigan University's primary entry way to navigating and cultivating collaboration and partnerships between the University and business and community entities. Current social service programs and collaborations include: the EMU Family Empowerment Program, the Ypsilanti Housing Commission’s Supportive Services program; The Collaborative: Ypsilanti YMCA Child Development Center, The Legal Resource Center and education programs such as EMU Bright Futures and Upward Bound. For more information, visit www.emich.edu/engage.

For more than 20 years, the Ginsberg Center has cultivated and stewarded equitable partnerships between communities and the University of Michigan in order to advance social change for the public good. The Center is committed to empowering students, supporting faculty, and connecting community organizations with students, faculty, and staff who are invested in positive social change. For more information, visit Ginsberg.umich.edu.

About Eastern Michigan University

Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest public university in Michigan. It currently serves more than 16,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Engineering and Technology; Health and Human Services; and, its graduate school. EMU is regularly recognized by national publications for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website.

May 12, 2021

Written by:
Morgan Mark

Morgan Mark