Smartphones buzzing, keyboards clacking and the hum of a printer. What does this sound like to you? For some veterans at the Tuscaloosa Veterans Affairs Medical Center, it’s the sound of future employment.
Many people in Tuscaloosa do not have the technological knowledge to build a resume, create a word document, or even send emails. The LIFT, or Learning Initiative and Financial Training Program offered by the Culverhouse School of Business is The University of Alabama’s way to give back to the community.
The program was founded in August 2014 by Culverhouse School of Accountancy Director Lisa McKinney. LIFT aims to improve the job skills of people of all ages in the Tuscaloosa area, especially those who do not have access to such education because they can’t afford it.. One particular class is aimed towards teaching U.S. veterans computer skills.
“A student and I had an idea in August 2014 about how business students could help in the community. We realized that computer and finance and professional skills were one way they could do that,” McKinney said. “We realized how important it was that as the university grows and gets more resources, that we should pass it on to the community around us. So we started with just a couple classes and it just kind of grew quickly.”
All LIFT instructors are trained university undergraduate and graduate students, and all classes are offered for free in a one-on-one setting. Honors College junior Katelyn Schnell is a leader for Veterans Affairs (VA) classes. Her responsibilities include communicating changes in lessons, keeping track of computers and tracking participants’ progress.
“I want to develop people in their careers, which is one reason why I decided to go into human resources,” Schnell said. “I really enjoy doing recruitment, so that also helped me decide to join. They really need this for their futures and enjoy and get a lot out of this.”
Schnell said there are two VA classes held each week with different participants and volunteers. One participant, David Bolling, has been attending these classes for a year.
“I bought this to do one thing: my insurance,” he said of his computer. “My wife had one before I did.”
Bolling has a black HP laptop and used it to send emails before asking the tutor for help attaching files. Before serving in Germany, Bolling lived near Tuscaloosa and attended Stillman College. He said that it is most important for young people to do things that keep them balanced and to work hard in their studies.
“[LIFT] is very helpful for me and I have a nice time here every time,” Bolling said. “I can tell I’m getting better with my computer.”
What makes LIFT helpful for people like Bolling is that they aren’t restricted to any rigid course material. Volunteers are trained to teach Gmail, Google Drive, how to scan photos, AirDrop and more. However, some participants choose what material they want to cover.
“Some participants do more structured lessons with Word and Excel while others set up emails or work on resumes,” Schnell said. “Anything they think will be most useful for them out in the world, we set them on the track to learning those [skills] first.”
Honors student Nic D’Amico, a sophomore majoring in Management Information Systems, also volunteers at the VA. Like many of the other volunteers, D’Amico volunteers for a lab credit in his Honors accounting class. His grandpa was a veteran, which he says also helped him decide to volunteer.
“It’s really cool to come and meet all these people, to hear their stories and about where they’re from,” D’Amico said. “A lot of them remind me of my grandparents.”
D’Amico explained that teaching these skills reminds him of how different our generation is for having grown up around technology.
“We’re so used to using technology that we want to fly through it, but you have to learn to take it slow and show every step,” D’Amico said. “Skills that we take for granted are easy to overlook.”
Though the generation gap is so broad, McKinney said the students are truly motivated by their willingness to help others.
“I’m really grateful the university supports us doing this. I’m also completely surprised with how many students want to do it, even if they’re not doing it for class credit,” McKinney said. “I’m completely amazed that this generation of students is so compassionate towards other people and is so service-oriented.”
McKinney said the new ideal of a business leader is someone who has functional responsibility, compassion, understanding of others, and understands people from other backgrounds and walks of life. LIFT continues to build these leaders while also giving back to the community that brought many of them so far.