By Bill Horner
NEW BERN – At the intersection of growing older and learning new technology, there’s a metaphorical “STOP” sign for many senior citizens.
Corliss Udoema wants to install a green light there instead.
“Wisdom Meets Technology,” a free course teaching essential computer literacy skills to those 62 years and older, will be sponsored this month by a non-profit that Udoema, a former New Bern resident, founded. The class will be facilitated by Craven Community College and held at New Bern Towers in downtown New Bern.
Udoema, who lives in Manassas, Virginia—she’s the CEO of Contract Solutions Inc., a staffing firm which in 2017 was named to the INC Magazine’s list of 5,000 fastest-growing private U.S. companies – said the goal of Wisdom Meets Technology is to “take the fear out of learning about technology and respect the wisdom and knowledge of senior citizens.”
“Think about it,” said Udoema, a senior citizen herself who had to learn new digital skills in order to build her business. “These days, who writes a letter? Who takes a picture and has it developed? We can do all that on our computers now, but many senior citizens are fearful of even trying to turn a computer on. To them we say, ‘It’s never too late to learn.’”
A pilot Wisdom Meets Technology program was first launched in 2016 in a partnership with the Rev. Phillip Jones at St. Mark AME in the Rocky Run community. In the spring of 2017, 15 students aged 62 to 84 years old completed the first local three-course WMT curriculum in partnership with Craven Community College, the City of New Bern and Udoema’s nonprofit organization, AGAPE Love in Action (ALIA). In addition to the free training, ALIA provided those graduating students with free laptop computers.
Udoema said she believed all seniors needed to be familiar with technology, including gaining the skills to use computers and various software programs for daily living and to stay connected with family members and friends. To that end, the 72-hour course has been designed to teach essential digital literacy skills, including basic computer operation and keyboarding, word processing and spreadsheet software, Internet basics, using Facebook and other social media platforms, and email.
Two different class schedules will be offered, including classes beginning June 27 that will be held on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and a second block of classes beginning July 9 that will be held on Mondays and Tuesdays. All classes begin at 2 p.m. and will take place at New Bern Towers, located at 1125 Walt Bellamy Drive.
The very first full Wisdom Meets Technology course was held in 2016 at Central Carolina Community College in Sanford, and a subsequent series of classes were held at NOVA-Woodbridge, a campus of Northern Virginia Community College, which is the second-largest community college in the country. To date more than 400 seniors have completed the WMT program, with the oldest graduate successfully getting a course certificate at age 89.
“Learning is enhanced when seniors are encouraged and allowed to learn at their own pace,” said Udoema, who was also named Small Business Person of the Year for Virginia in 2017. “The instructors for this course at Craven Community College won’t necessarily be trying to teach seniors how to create complex spreadsheets or graphics or anything that advanced. The curriculum will be focused on learning the basics, how to turn on a computer, check bank accounts and pay bills online. We’ll teach them how to safely watch content online, use the Internet and learn how to send and receive email messages and photos.”
Classes will be structured to provide a unique learning experience at a pace suitable for the needs of each class member and to maximize the learning experience through individualized assistance.
Udoema said the WMT model was developed to “meet our seniors at their point of knowledge – whether limited or none.” She cited a university study that revealed that seniors who engaged with technology had higher self-esteem and greater social interaction compared to those not involved. Just over half of adults over age 65 use the Internet and email, but those who do learn that skill use the Internet on a daily basis.
Jeff Schulze, the Business, Information, Technology & Ed2Go Coordinator at Craven Community College, said the New Bern area’s large retirement community made it a logical place for the WMT program.
“Think about the ability to connect with grandchildren living hundreds of miles and more away,” he said. “Teaching them how to do a live video conference is like magic the first time they experience it. We want to focus on being comfortable with using a computer and not being so intimidated when something does not work as expected.”
Those interested in signing up for the Wisdom Meets Technology course can contact New Bern Towers Property Manager Latasha Simmons at 252-638-3663. Information is also available in the Workforce Development offices located at Craven CC’s New Bern and Havelock campuses.