Writer: Ms. Keri Collins Lewis, MSU Extension Service
MISSISSIPPI STATE – Getting and keeping a job often depends on an individual’s ability to use basic computer programs and social media applications.
The Mississippi State University Extension Center for Technology Outreach provides a variety of training workshops on common software programs for word processing, spreadsheets, and graphic design. Staff members also teach classes on using tablets and smartphones, digital cameras and GPS systems.
“I teach people how to use computers,” said John Giesemann, a computer specialist with the center. “I know that in this day and age, people assume everyone is good at that, but many people haven’t had the opportunity to learn.”
Giesemann travels around the state to deliver workshops at county Extension offices, businesses and WIN job centers.
“People don’t realize the Extension Service does this type of training,” Giesemann said. “Many of my students are new to Extension -- they don’t work with the agricultural, 4-H or Master Gardener programs. So these classes are a new way for the Extension Service to reach out to Mississippians.”
Giesemann said his students generally fall into one of three categories.
“I have seniors who get a computer because they think they need it, but they have no idea what to do with it,” he said. “They really get excited when they start learning all that they can do besides email, and they start helping other people learn. I also have people who are working and want to increase their job skills and people who want to get a job.”
Sara Dionne of Vicksburg has taken numerous classes at the Warren County Extension office, including workshops on social media, internet security, and taking and managing digital photos.
Dionne said she signed up for the classes to become more computer literate as she transitioned from caring for her elderly parents to helping her husband with his business. She has put the information to good use in a variety of ways in her personal life, too.
“While campaigning for election commissioner, I used Excel to create a spreadsheet of all the registered voters in my district, sorted by street name,” Dionne said. “I was then able to plan out a route and personally visit each of these houses. I created a separate document to track my progress and record statistics from each day I spent campaigning.”
Dionne also created a webpage for the Warren County Election Commission, designed brochures and business cards for her husband and made teaching materials for the Money Mentor program at the Extension office.
Dionne uses spreadsheets to track invoices and rebates for members of the River Bend Co-Op Food Buying Club and to manage her husband’s business income and expenses.
“I’ve used everything that I have learned from John’s classes. Even my photos are organized into labeled, dated folders on my computer so I can find a photo when I need it,” she said. “John is an excellent teacher, very knowledgeable and able to teach many computer programs to folks with a variety of computer experiences with humor and encouragement.”
For the past five years, Giesemann has been teaching once a month at the Madison County WIN Job Center.
Jessica Nichols, workforce manager for the Central Mississippi Planning and Development District, said workshops are a major draw for the center.
“Workshops attract not only job seekers, who are our primary clients, but also other clients, such as senior citizens who want to learn new skills, employed people who want to keep their skills sharp and entrepreneurs who need computer skills to operate their businesses,” Nichols said.
Nichols said workforce development remains a high priority as the economy and unemployment rates fluctuate.
“Investing in our citizens and in our workforce through training programs will be critical as we move forward,” she said. “Computer- and math-related professions are projected to grow more than 20 percent by 2018, so attention to training in technological areas will serve our population well.”
Nichols said the Extension Service’s computer classes are always in demand and bring people to the center who might not normally come.
Vern Boothe, a graduate of MSU’s Class of 1965 and a 77-year-old retiree from Ridgeland, said he has been challenging himself by taking computer classes at the Madison WIN Job Center since 2008.
“I’ve attended nearly all of the computer classes that Dr. Giesemann has offered,” Boothe said. “If he weren’t so personable and down-to-earth, I don’t believe attending his classes would be as informative, interesting and enjoyable. I don’t recall a computer question that he could not answer and explain.”
For more information on technology classes, call the Extension Center for Technology Outreach at (662) 325-3226.