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Blugold teaches foreign language and technology use to senior citizens

| Lucy Grogan-Ripp

Johannah Erffmeyer, an information systems and German major, is completing her 30 hours of service-learning at L.E. Phillips Senior Center in Eau Claire. While there, she helps senior citizens learn about technology while also aiding in German lessons.

Growing up in Eau Claire, Johannah became connected with the senior center through her grandparents. “My grandpa used to go to the senior center and he really liked it; and I wanted to do something that went with one of my majors. I know that the senior center is always looking for people to help out with technology training, so I decided to get involved,” Johannah commented.

However, it wasn’t until she arrived at the senior center as a technology volunteer that she realized she could also help with German lessons. “Someone at the center asked me about my majors, and when I mentioned German they informed me about the German club,” Johannah said.

Every Friday afternoon, Johannah spends two hours at the center working with senior citizens. The seniors are given the opportunity to sign up for an appointment with Johannah, where they spend an hour working on technology use. “Sometimes the German club members will come in, and if I don’t have any appointments, then I get to work on stuff with them as well,” Johannah noted.

Among the many awarenesses Johannah’s project has brought her, the diversity of working with an older population has been especially impactful. As a member of Learning and Technology Services (LTS) at UW-Eau Claire, the population Johannah is used to working with is a far cry from that of the senior center.

While a large majority of the college students and professors who utilize her campus LTS services are already largely familiar with technology, Johannah has noticed that the senior citizens come in with little to no prior technological knowledge or experience. Because of this difference in learning styles, Johannah’s project has forced her to adapt and learn how to accommodate people at all different skill levels.

Coming from a generation that grew up in the golden age of technology, Johannah has noticed the disparity in technology use among different generations. She noted how it never previously occurred to her that she might be taking her knowledge of technology for granted.

“One concept that the seniors frequently seem to struggle with is the difference between the internet and the iCloud. I never really thought of this concept as hard or difficult to grasp, but seeing how they struggle with it makes me realize how much I take little things like that for granted,” Johannah stated.

When asked about any possible setbacks that the generational gap provides, she also noted, “I don’t think the generational gap is by any means a hindrance to the learning environment. It’s just a matter of having to go the extra mile to explain things that I’ve always taken for granted as common knowledge.”

In addition to her hours spent at the senior center, Johannah’s dedication to her fields of study goes above and beyond. In her free time, Johannah is involved with the Eau Claire community Stammtisch, a group of local people who come together to speak German.

Through this, Johannah received a German scholarship and was able to meet the man who inspired it. “A few years ago, I got to meet Manfred Poitzsch. He was a German professor here at the university and I had received a scholarship in his name. It was a really amazing moment,” Johannah said. In addition to serving as a German professor at UW-Eau Claire, Manfred Poitzch also served as the German club faculty advisor and organized the first international folk fair.

In all, Johannah’s service project with the L.E. Phillips Senior Center is an experience unlike any other. Not only has she been able to exercise her major fields of study, but she was able to meet Dr. Poitzsch, the namesake of her scholarship and a pillar of the Eau Claire German community.