09:36 AM

Connecting Generations

UHD’s STAR Lab Empowers Seniors Through Digital Literacy


By Hayden Bergman

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the digital divide between older adults and the rest of the population was a serious issue. In a post-pandemic world, that divide has grown into a chasm, one with serious negative consequences if left unaddressed.  

But these older adults are not alone—UHD’s Service, Teaching, Aging, and Research (STAR) Lab and its Digital Literacy Initiative (DLI) will use grant money from AARP to step in and help Houston-area seniors with digital literacy, while also providing crucial socialization through intergenerational connections with UHD students. 

The STAR Lab, housed in the Center for Public Service and Community Research in the College of Public Service, recently won a $15,000 Community Challenge grant from AARP, one of only eight recipients in Texas, and one of 310 successful applicants out of 2,600 nationally. The monies will fund the lab’s DLI program, providing digital access via 120 tablets to older residents at the Big Bass apartments here in Houston, as well as hands-on training for seniors from UHD students on how to use technology for things like setting doctor’s appointments, socialization, and paying bills.  

It should be noted that, while many older adults have technical talents, those abilities may not transfer to newer technologies. Many of the Big Bass residents also live on fixed incomes, so there are several financial barriers to technology, regardless of the skills they may possess. 

Dr. Angela GoinsThe STAR Lab is the brainchild of Dr. Angela Goins, Assistant Professor of Social Work. For her part, she says the program not only provides valuable knowledge to seniors but also builds intergenerational connections that help them and UHD students. “[Intergenerational connection] helps the seniors because they’re able to give back, since their life is behind them now, whereas younger folks are looking toward the future,” Dr. Goins said. “As we age, we tend to look back and determine whether or not our lives had meaning. Sharing wisdom, knowledge, and skills adds meaning to an older adult’s life, as well as reduces loneliness.” And for UHD students? “They get to tap into the wisdom of another generation.” 

Vincent McCauley, a Vietnam Era veteran and senior in the Bachelor of Social Work program, brought the idea for improving digital literacy to Dr. Goins. As a resident of the Big Bass apartments, he knew firsthand the need for the initiative. That said, he also has a highly personal reason for working to improve intergenerational connections: “The recent passing of my oldest sister, Jackie McCauley, was an event that made me appreciate the gift of life itself and the importance of connection. I discovered nieces and nephews of whom I had been unaware. When you discover your mortality through the loss of a loved one, you appreciate everyone, regardless of age.” 

McCauley also said that the recent Surgeon General’s report on loneliness was a factor that drove him to work on the DLI program. After McCauley brought the opportunity to her, Dr. Goins took it from there and used her knowledge and resources to secure the grant from AARP.  

The DLI program will take place over several months, consisting of eight two-hour, on-site tutorial sessions wherein UHD students will teach the tenets of using technology to accomplish basic tasks. Students from all majors and colleges are encouraged to apply for one of 10 positions for which a $500 scholarship will be awarded. Of course, community service is a large component of a UHD education, so students who participate not only enhance their academic learning, but also their sense of civic identity. 

Research shows that overcoming the digital divide is not “a luxury”—it’s necessary for an inclusive and healthy society. Thankfully, the efforts of UHD’s faculty and students will serve to make it so.  

Interested students should submit an email of interest to Dr. Angela Goins at goinsa@uhd.edu stating why they want to participate in this initiative. There are only 10 positions available. Students should also meet the following criteria: 

  1. Have an interest with working with older adults. 
  2. Be familiar with using PC tablets. 
  3. Have transportation.  
  4. Be available to train older apartment residents during at least six of eight orientation sessions offered from September to November 2023. 
  5. Be enrolled at UHD at least part-time in fall 2023 (minimum of six credits).  

 Note: The scholarship will be awarded on completion of the project (six sessions). 

About the University of Houston-Downtown

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.

U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.