By Pam Hersh
In 2020, Zoom has become a new member of my family, as it has for so many COVID cooped up people. The relationship, however, has been virtually rocky. At times, Zoom has been my best friend connecting me with friends and family for virtual hugging fests, creative non-profit fundraisers, bridge/bingo/Mahjong parties and family celebrations. Zoom also has been the recipient of my expletive deleteds, when, for example, Zoom: displayed me as ghostly pale, disheveled, sleep-deprived, with coffee dribbling down my chin; refused (on purpose, I am sure) to share an important document with the other Zoom participants; and allowed a Zoom bomber to nuke a conference with pictures that were far more seductive than my face.
Thanks to the Princeton Adult School, I found a Zoom relationship counselor – Matt Parker, who has saved my Zoom marriage and brought Zoom and me to new heights of compatibility. Matt, whose day job is information technology manager for Princeton University, is exceptionally talented at teaching computer technology courses to individuals with all levels of computer technology expertise – ranging from Pam level (moron) to those who think they are in the Apple CEO Tim Cook stratosphere.
He has a knack for being able to teach how to put the human in control of the machine and software instead of vice versa, thus making people braver when confronting the brave new world of technology. His secret, he said, is “simply that I love teaching. I teach co-workers, as part (but not the primary part) of my job at Princeton University. I teach all the time – at the Adult School (since 2013) and at library programs throughout New Jersey. I teach my friends and family. The joy of teaching is being part of the process of awakening and enlightening. Plus I love to learn as well – and whenever I teach, I learn,” said the Monmouth Junction resident, father of two children and married to a first grade teacher at the Princeton Charter School.
Matt’s journey from Sitka, Alaska, to Princeton, New Jersey, is in itself a lesson in creativity, flexibility, and perseverance. Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Matt was raised in Sitka, “an idyllic, beautiful, tiny city, 8,500 people, with a huge volcano that I used to climb as a kid.” His father, a hospital lab technician, and his mom, a day-care operator, became involved in the Seventh Day Adventist Church and decided that their children should get a Christian education. After graduating from a Christian boarding school in Washington State, he was well educated and ready for college, when his parents encountered many financial challenges and were unable to finance any of his college education. Already showing a natural aptitude for technology and unwilling to incur staggering debt for college education, Matt enrolled in the federal Job Corps program in Alaska, where he could earn and learn simultaneously.
Job Corps is the largest nationwide residential career-training program in the country and has been operating for more than 50 years. The federally funded program trains financially eligible young people ages 16-24 for meaningful careers and assists them with obtaining employment. Job Corps has trained and educated over 2 million individuals since 1964.
He successfully competed for a position in the Jobs Corps program based Edison to further develop his expertise in computer technology. The NJ Job Corps program financed his degree in computer technology from Middlesex Community College. Parker is now a full-time IT manager and analyst for the Economics department at Princeton and has a bachelor’s degree from Western Governors University, which he obtained while working at Princeton.
“Princeton hired me with (just) a high school diploma,” Matt said. “My certification from Job Corps and Middlesex CC made the difference.” In fact, his 30 industry-recognized certifications ranging from IT security and mobile technology to project management and technical training also probably helped. The certification tests are “fun” for Matt, who equally enjoys the process of preparing others to take certification tests.
Matt said he’s considering pursuing a master’s degree, but he never will give up teaching others the skills they need to achieve their own higher education degrees or to achieve various degrees of tech expertise for their professional or personal goals.
This semester at the Adult School, Matt is teaching seven courses – three focused on all the “fulfilling” aspects of Excel, one on Zoom, one on the Cloud, one on Google search, and one on a technology treasure trove – a guided tour of tips tricks and secrets of Outlook, web browsers, Google Drive, iPhones, general operating system shortcuts and more.
“This class is for getting closer to your technology,” spoken like a true tech relationship counselor, whose counseling helps people keep their lives together virtually.
To register for Matt’s classes or any other Princeton Adult School class, visit www.princetonadultschool.org