Colin Whaley plans to attend medical school one day and has always had an interest in mental health. In his third year of undergrad at the University of Waterloo, Colin and his friend and fellow student Peter Hoang decided to turn that interest into action. As a Biomedical Sciences student, Colin had learned how older adults tended to have better mental health if they were more closely connected with their families.
With that in mind, Colin and Peter founded the enTECH Computer Club. The premise: recruit student volunteers and connect with local retirement homes. Have the volunteers teach older adults how to use technology to build and maintain these connections with family and friends.
“It took about four months for us to get the paper work ready, and even still once they train left the station, we were sort of waiting for the wheels to fall off,” Colin remembers with a laugh. “We were trying to provide this service not as an NGO or charity, but just as a group of people affiliated with UW who want to help older people use computers.”
Today, enTECH has had over 100 volunteers visit local retirement homes like the Schlegel Villages at the Village at University Gates for these sessions. They run weekly sessions where volunteers meet with residents in a common area and work through a variety of technology-based tasks. The enTECH volunteers come equipped with donated laptops from Communitech.
“Our goal is to always start with what the older adult is interested in. Do they want to look up old songs they know? Skype with a family member? Find information on the web? We start there and try to weave in conversations about cyber security and password protections,” says Colin.
Colin’s efforts as founder of the club were recognized as part of the first ever President’s Accolades. These are honours bestowed by the University of Waterloo President’s Office to recognize university community members who go above and beyond and make our community a richer place. While he’s no longer the leader of enTECH, Colin holds an executive position on the team and has developed robust skills from his experiences with the club.
“Coming from a science and research background, the project management and people management skills of founding and leading this club were new for me. It was a trial by fire, managing the club on top of courses, labs and other extracurriculars.”
The club is now developing knowledge translation pieces – documentation on their curriculum and processes - that they want to share with other post-secondary institutions. The hope is that there will be enTECH chapters at schools across Ontario and beyond.
As a M.Sc. student, Colin was drawn to working under the supervision of Prof. Kelly Grindrod, who also examines the intersections of health and technology. His research with Grindrod explores medication labelling and the implications on medication use that result from such labelling.
“I chose the School of Pharmacy for graduate studies because I was inspired by the kinds of clinician scientists – like Dr. Grindrod – who work here. As an aspiring physician, I appreciate the examples of clinicians who conduct research and are involved in their communities.”
Congratulations, Colin, on receiving the President’s Accolade!
Students who are interested in volunteering with enTECH can learn more on the enTECH website.