Student volunteers share their techno genius


Sheridan students looking to add a co-curricular to their profile can earn one by sharing their techno know-how with seniors through the Elder Technology Assistance Group.

The ETAG program runs Monday, Wednesday and Friday, thanks to its volunteers, many of whom are Sheridan students. Neil Williamson, a Computer Systems Technology student, joined the program after one of ETAG’s emails reached him.

“It very much runs around a student’s schedule,” said Williamson. While the sessions run for three hours, he’s only there for half the time, and the program is close to him, just off of Speers Rd.

While volunteering can build a student’s co-curricular record, Williamson finds this experience to be more than just resume building.

“It can be a real meaningful connection,” he said. “It’s a lot about empathy.” Some people have a real disconnect from technology, and one of the biggest barriers Williamson has encountered is language.

“The language we use can be kind of impenetrable,” Williamson said of the jargon surrounding computers. Williamson overcomes that by explaining technology through metaphor, “making something similar to something else.”

But it’s not one-sided. One client asked how to use an app Williamson wasn’t acquainted with, and together they learned how it worked.

Cindi Clawson, 70, an X-ray technician for more than 18 years is an ETAG regular, who was working with David McMillian, one of the volunteers. Clawson had just bought a new computer and was trying to get a missing program on it.

Clawson joined ETAG after her cousin recommended it, now Clawson spreads the news to anyone she thinks could benefit from the program.

“I think it’s terrific,” said Clawson. “David showed me how to get photos off my camera, and onto a USB.” Clawson said she knew enough about computers to get by, but ETAG has helped her learn Excel for her work. “I’m trying to get David’s number to bug him all the time,” Clawson joked.

ETAG is always looking for new student volunteers, and the help is greatly appreciated explained McMillian, who has been a community volunteer for six months.

“We’ve had everybody in here,” said McMillian. “We’ve had people who didn’t know how to turn on a computer.” McMillian finds the experience incredibly rewarding, “it’s nice watching the light turn on,” McMillian said of when people figure out something new.

Chris Bint, a Sheridan grad, created ETAG. He volunteered for a program, started by Pat Spadafora, back in 2006, which investigated technology use for an aging population.

“We saw a ton of benefit to the people that were participants in that research study,” said Bint in a phone interview. “But it was only a small group because we couldn’t do anymore than that.”

After graduating from Sheridan, Bint and his business partner, Phil Shainian, developed the ETAG program, and through the partnership with Sheridan and its Elder Research program. Bint was then able to get funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

While ETAG does offer lectures, with a set agenda, student volunteers assist with a more hands on learning experience. Seniors will come in and ask for help with a specific topic in mind, such as basic computer help, or learning about a specific program such as Microsoft Word.

For students interested in volunteering, they can visit