16:21 PM

UHD’s STAR Lab Brings Joy, Connection, & Holiday Cheer


By Hayden Bergman

The season of giving is upon us, and, for most, this means shelling out a few shekels on our loved ones, be it our cousins, nephews, or chosen folks we love like family. And while it’s a wonderful thing to give gifts to those we know and care for, it can be just as rewarding to give to those we don’t know, especially those who are vulnerable and in need.  

IMG_1948Senior citizens are one such group. But this year, UHD’s Service, Teaching, Aging, and Research (STAR) Lab and its Director, Dr. Angela Goins, ensured they didn't go without. Using a $15,000 Community Challenge grant from AARP, the STAR Lab funded the lab’s Digital Literacy Initiative (DLI) to help 98 Houston-area seniors age 50 and older living in low-income apartment complexes. 

While the event on Nov. 30 was the most recent, there have been seven such training days over the past three months, during which each participating senior received a tablet. These events took place at six different area apartments: Big Bass Apartments (four events were held there), Laurel Point Senior Apartments (one event), and Pilgrim Place Apartments 1, 2, and 3 (one event was held at each). The final event (displayed in the photos that accompany this article) was held at Green House Village Senior Apartment Homes.

Goins, an Assistant Professor of Social Work, had two goals for these events: Provide digital literacy training and “crucial socialization through intergenerational connections with UHD students.” 

One of those students, Alexandria Mullins, is a Social Work major as well as the full-time Resident Services Coordinator at both Laurel Point Senior Apartments and Green House Village Senior Apartment Homes. It was Mullins, Goins said, who informed me of the needs of these two complexes early on in the project." Goins went on to say that, without Mullins, it would not have been possible “to provide the tablets to these seniors who live in distant parts of Harris County where there are limited resources.” Another student, Alexandria Flores, also a Social Work major, was the student project manager for DLI. 

Other student volunteers, known as the UHD Core AARP Student Team, were Social Work majors Jingli Talkington, Cynthia Galeano, Alma Flores, Yesenia Alvarenga, Vincent McCauley, Kwi Myers, Shamorrow Miller, and Jonnie Simmons.

(Not So) Basic Training

Each senior received a Lenovo Tab M8 Gen 4 8-inch tablet and was trained in the following: 

  • How to make a strong password 
  • How to use free AARP resources via an app 
  • How to recognize and protect themselves from scams or fraudulent activity 

IMG_1956The participating seniors were given basic instruction on accessing online portals to pay rent or utilities or to make doctor’s appointments. Follow-up training will be provided on those topics. 

But the training wasn’t all about basic needs. Each senior was also introduced to apps like Instagram, Skype, Solitaire, Spotify, and Senior Fitness 50+, an exercise app tailored for older adults. Goins called the tablets the STAR Lab’s “Christmas gift” to those present, and she made sure to highlight the contributions of Steven Villano, Director of the Center for Public Service and Community Research, and student Flores. ar1

And just like any kid would when receiving a gift, the seniors quickly began playing with their tablets, making plans to call family, share selfies, and play in online Solitaire competitions, while several pointed out that the tablet’s backlight would help them read the news and e-books without straining their eyes. 

More important than a tablet, though, was the gift of knowing that someone cared, and the chance to delight in that feeling.

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.