Prof pushing Internet-savvy seniors

08/06/2007
By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online.

By MICHAEL LAFLEUR
Sun Staff

LOWELL "Hi i am still eating eggs."

With that simple message sent in reply to a missive from a UMass Lowell graduate student who she met while the former was conducting a study of eggs' effect on cholesterol levels an obviously delighted Gertrude Gleason demonstrated her full membership in the Internet age.

The spunky resident of the D'Youville Senior Care Center on Varnum Avenue said she spent 24 years of her life at the former Colonial Gas Co. in Lowell, her hometown, working as everything from a bookkeeper and cashier to switchboard operator, a job that required her to memorize 200 telephone extensions.

Only one thing was lacking, she said.

"I really didn't have the computer over there, so when I have the chance, I really like this," she said, as she nestled her wheelchair close to the keyboard in D'Youville's computer room.

Gleason declined to give her age, but whatever it is, she said, "I don't feel it."

She isn't alone in being invigorated by D'Youville's new computer training program, being run by UMass Lowell professor Patrick Scollin.

Scollin, an instructor in the university's Department of Health and Clinical Science, has been visiting the center every Wednesday since early August. So far, he has taught his elderly charges the basics of e-mail. The next step is surfing the Internet, which he plans to introduce later this fall.

"I wasn't really sure how it would work," he said, "but they really enjoy it."

Scollin forged his relationship with D'Youville when his mother was a resident there from 1998 until she died in 2002. He is the only person from the university regularly spending time there, though several other students and staff, such as Liz Goodrow, the aforementioned "egg study lady," contribute by writing e-mails to the seniors.

Teens with the Lowell-based program Girls Inc. maintain similar pen-pal relationships.

Eight seniors regularly take part in Scollins' classes, and there are hopes for expanding that number dramatically when other D'Youville residents hear about their computing experiences.

Angela Boucher, D'Youville's director of activities, said it was the senior participants themselves who helped come up with the idea.

"They all had family members that kept talking to them about 'www dot this' and 'Internet' that," she said. "They wanted to know what it was."

Michael Lafleur's e-mail address is mlafleur@lowellsun.com .