Building intergenerational bridges using technology

Smartphones, social media and a slew of emails — all these things came into existence in only the past couple of decades. Today’s college students grew up with this new technology, but it remains brand-new to older adults. MentorUp, a stimulating volunteer program at Eckerd College, bridges these two generations to help older adults with technological challenges.

I had a different experience in MentorUp than most students did. I participated in spring 2021 while college-sponsored travel was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We were forced to continue the program via Zoom. In MentorUp, I helped a wide variety of people, from those who struggled to find their computer’s camera to someone who started working with computers almost 50 years ago. While the growth and learning due to the program may be more immediately apparent among the older adults who participate, the program offers major outcomes for college students as well.

Participating in MentorUp is a requirement for students in Tamar Shovali’s Aspects of Aging course. This course stresses the importance of intergenerational learning. Not only do we participate in MentorUp as part of the course’s reflective service requirement, but we also often talk to members of the Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College (ASPEC). Members of ASPEC are older adults who are committed not only to lifelong education but also to intergenerational learning. It is important for young adults to have conversations with older generations because they have so much more life experience than college students. From these conversations, students gain new perspectives, which is a key piece of the experience at a liberal arts college
like Eckerd.

Patience is a crucial skill that students gain from interacting with older adults. I will never forget the woman who was falling for phishing scams in her email. My fellow students and I could tell what was happening. When we tried to explain the scam to her, she insisted that these interactions were part of her online game and that she could win money. The links she clicked on were all slow to load, which was another indication that they were schemes. In the end, we knew that convincing her to delete those emails would be impossible. For the rest of our time together, we put ourselves in her position, helped her with her concerns and made sure she was comfortable, even though we were all very frustrated.

Something we learn about in Dr. Shovali’s class is that older adults are not set in their ways, contrary to popular belief. We discovered this in new ways as each week of MentorUp went by. In my last MentorUp session, I helped a woman who was looking to learn more about social media to advertise her business. I led her on a tour of Facebook using my account. Since I don’t use that platform often, I learned from this coaching session as well. I also showed her Instagram and explained how it was a better way to reach younger people. I admired how she was willing to adjust to modern times to promote her business. She helped me realize that I also do not have to have my life perfectly figured out as a college student. Not only will technology and society change as I age, but my interests and aspirations may change as well. My path is dynamic, and maybe in a few decades, a smiley 19-year-old will be helping me figure out technology that people in 2021 could not even begin to imagine.

Julia Bennet is a sophomore at Eckerd College majoring in human development with an interest in older adults, death, and dying. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Bennet was recognized for outstanding academic achievement by the college. She plans to become a funeral director.