WMU News

College students needed as volunteer 'computer tutors'

Jan. 25, 2002

KALAMAZOO -- Area college students are invited to become mentors in a program aimed at bridging Kalamazoo's digital divide.

Volunteer "computer tutors" are being sought to participate in the Kalamazoo Partnership for Learning Technology program, a U.S. Department of Education-funded initiative that provides computer access and training in some of Kalamazoo's most needy neighborhoods.

The Kalamazoo Alliance for Service-Learning, comprised of Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo College, Kalamazoo Valley Community College and Davenport University, is coordinating KPLT's effort to recruit and train college students as volunteers in the program's eight Community Technology Centers.

According to Wendy Wintermute, KASL coordinator and project director of the Building Bridges program at WMU, the digital divide is still quite prominent for economically disadvantaged individuals, and providing computers and software is not the total solution to the problem.

"Many individuals will become discouraged or avoid using a computer unless they are guided through the process by a knowledgeable, caring mentor," says Wintermute.

College students make ideal mentors, says Dan Stauffer, who is directing the recruitment and training of the computer tutors. "They are already computer savvy and know the basics of Windows and how to get around on the Internet. For many of them, this is an ideal opportunity to get out in the community and use their skills in computers, teaching and training."

As computer tutors, students are asked to volunteer five to 10 hours a week for the duration of this semester. Each volunteer will undergo ongoing training in which they will learn social and communication skills, including conflict management, ethics and how to work with children and adults. Computer tutors will be assigned to work at one of the CTC sites, which are each staffed and equipped with computers, software programs, Internet connections and networking capabilities. All computer tutor candidates will be subject to background checks before being chosen.

"We've made this convenient for students, as each CTC site is on the Metro bus line and some are within walking distance of campuses," says Stauffer, who hopes to have 20 to 40 volunteers chosen by the middle of February.

The computer tutors project is just one facet of the KPLT program, which is a collaboration involving the city of Kalamazoo, the Boys and Girls Club, New Genesis Inc., Healthy Futures, Michigan State University Extension, Kalamazoo Community in Schools, KASL, and the Kalamazoo Public Library. KPLT was formed to help residents get access to and training in technology. The DOE grant the program received is from monies specifically targeted for communities considered to be economically distressed.

And while no formal agreements have been made, Stauffer says that some faculty members have expressed interest in giving students credit for participating in the program. "Students should approach their professors and ask what kind of arrangements can be made," he says.

Students interested in volunteering should contact Stauffer by phone at (269) 387-8716 or by e-mail to <xstauffd@groupwise.wmich.edu>. Stauffer encourages all students, regardless of their skill levels, to volunteer.

"Even if a student has a desire to help, but questions their skills, they should talk to me," says Stauffer.

Media contact: Marie Lee, 269 387-8400, marie.lee@wmich.edu

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