NEWS RELEASE: Pace University Program Teaches Computing to Seniors, and Empathy to College Students

A professor and her students at Pace University have prompted media attention this year with their computer training for seniors. The students prepare for instructing the seniors with “sensitivity training” that includes 3-D glasses smeared with Vaseline to simulate vision problems and popcorn in students’ shoes to mimic mobility issues and help them empathize with older people.

As baby boomers age, program fills growing need

A professor and her students at Pace University have prompted media attention this year with their computer training for seniors. The students prepare for instructing the seniors with “sensitivity training” that includes 3-D glasses smeared with Vaseline to simulate vision problems and popcorn in students’ shoes to mimic mobility issues and help them empathize with older people.

With baby boomers aging and a society increasingly dependent on technology, Coppola’s program is filling a growing need.

Coppola and a colleague presented at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this past spring on Pace’s “Gerontechnology Program” in which computing students teach older adults basic computer skills including email, SKYPE, Wii, Google searches, Google Earth, instant messaging, attaching photos, and making greeting cards. The students teach at numerous community organizations in Westchester and New York City including United Hebrew of New Rochelle, Henry Street Settlement, and Brookdale Living’s The Hallmark of senior living in Manhattan.

Pace’s Gerontechnology program is different from others for several reasons: in addition to the sensitivity training, an interdisciplinary team works on this project including nurses and tech gurus, social science educators, and statistical data experts. Pace also collaborates closely with the Westchester Department of Senior Programs and Services, Westchester Community College (Prof. Barbara Thomas) and Fordham University (Dr. Janna Heyman) for expert data analysis and social work research experience. Moreover, this program has very strong ties to a growing list of community partners including MAZII in Brooklyn to Cerebral Palsy of Westchester. Moreover, a number of organizations want to model the program. In November, articles will come out in The Senior Gazette about the program in hopes that Hudson Valley organizations will also model the program.

The course requires students to do readings in service-learning (so they see the difference from community service which many did in high school), social gerontology (to learn the process of aging and its effects on the quality of life), and technology in action (where they learn items like setting up the computer for voice recognition for those seniors who can’t easily use their fingers, and reinforces computer topics since these are non-computer majors).

Another reason this project is unique, is that there is research performed on the students as well as the older adults. The students are tested for their attitude and advocacy for older adults. Based on reflections and quantitative data, the students changed their attitudes significantly after the semester interactions with the senior citizens. The older adults are tested for improved cognitive functioning, as well as depression, attitude towards computers, and aging.

The program began five years ago. This semester there are three graduate assistants working with Coppola, two of whom are nursing students and one Information Systems, and a an undergraduate computing student researcher focusing on open source assistive technology apps

The team has also been nominated for the AACN (American Association of Colleges of Nursing) award in partnership with Hartford Institute of Geriatric Nursing for an Innovative Clinical Rotation in Nursing Homes.


Their upcoming presentations include:

1.      “A Service-Learning Intergenerational Program: Engaging Older Adults in Computing and Educating Undergraduates on Aging” with S. Wexler, L. Drury, and B. Thomas, (ID: 1148200) Association for Gerontology in Higher Education’s (AGHE) 38th Annual Meeting and Educational Leadership Conference, Arlington, VA, (February 23-26, 2012).
2.      Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Las Vegas, NV (January 2012).
3.      Co-presenter, “Computer Skills for Healthy Aging: Students Mentoring Older Adults Online”, with S. Wexler, L. Drury, and B. Thomas, Gerontological Society of America (GSA) 64th Annual Scientific Meeting, Boston, MA (November 21, 2011),
4.      Panelist, “Service-Learning: New Models of Creative Instruction for Successful Teaching Strategies in the Millennium”, Faculty Research Network (FRN) 2011 National Symposium: Emerging Pedagogies for the New Millennium, with D. Larkin, W. Tanna, B. Thomas, and R. Zealand, San Juan, Puerto Rico (November 18-19, 2011),

5. Virtual Panelist, “Providing Computer Literacy to Older Adults via an Intergenerational Service-Learning Program”, 4th Annual SCALE: Read. Write. Act. National Virutal Conference, UNC Chapel Hill (November 8-10th, 2011),

6.      Co-presenter, “Successful Aging and Improved Attitudes towards Older Adults via a Community Intergenerational Service-Learning Program“, with B. Thomas, J. Heyman, L. Forman, and C. Phipps, 39th Annual Conference of the State Society on Aging of New York (SSANY) Seasons of Change: Promoting the Well-Being of Older Adults in a Challenging Environment, Saratoga Springs, NY (October 26-28, 2011),

7.      Panelist, “Community Empowering Service-Learning Courses through 21st Century Technologies”, with S. Feather-Gannon, J. Lawler, and P. Mosley. Proceedings Special Interest Group for Information Technology Education (SIGITE) 12th Annual Conference on IT Education, West Point, NY (October 20-22, 2011),

Graduation ceremonies are scheduled in December for the seniors. The United Hebrew seniors will “graduate” on Monday, December 5. The Hallmark ceremony is set for Tuesday, December 6.


Aging stats

The Census Bureau reports there are more than 46.5 million consumers over the age of 60 and the baby boomer generation, those now 44-62 make up approximately 25% (76 million) of the total US population. By the year 2012, people age 50 and older in the United States will number 100 million people.

According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project (August, 2010), social networking among Internet users ages 50 and older nearly doubled from 22% in April 2009 to 42% in May 2010. In that time period, social networking use among Internet users age 50-64 grew by a huge 88%. And those 65 and older grew a whopping 100% from 13% to 26%.

Professor Coppola can be reached at:

Jean F. Coppola, Ph.D., Associate Professor Pace University

Information Technology Seidenberg School of Computer Science & Information Systems

163 William Street, 2nd Floor 224 NY, NY 10038

Cell 718-288-5105 ; Office Phone: 914-773-3755 / 212-346-1004 ; Fax: 914-989-8212

SKYPE: jean.f.coppola   BBM Pin: 324E7AF9    AIM: Pacesuppor


If you would like to see photos with Pace students and their seniors, they can be found at


About Pace University

For 105 years, Pace University has educated thinking professionals by providing high quality education for the professions on a firm base of liberal learning amid the advantages of the New York metropolitan area. A private university, Pace has campuses in New York City and Westchester County, New York, enrolling nearly 13,000 students in bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs in its Lubin School of Business, Dyson College of Arts and Sciences, College of Health Professions, School of Education, School of Law, and Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems.


Cara Cea, 914-906-9680,

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