Seniors & Aging

Retiree excels at teaching Excel

Name: Pat Hawley.

Age: 65.

Hometown: Bellingham.

Family: Husband Jim, two children, three grandchildren.

Good gig: Not long after moving to Bellingham from Southern California eight years ago to be near family, Hawley found what she discovered was the perfect part-time job for her — teaching computer courses in Whatcom Community College’s Community Education Program.

“I looked at a WCC catalog, saw what they had, and asked if there were any job openings,” Hawley says. “I interviewed and they offered me a job teaching Excel.”

Perfect fit: Hawley, a former elementary school teacher, had been using computers in education since the 1990s. When she started working at WCC seven years ago, she found that teaching Excel provided the perfect combination of her experience, aptitud, and her appreciation for a skill that adults in many walks of life can use, including business people and eager-to-learn retirees.

“I love teaching Excel,” Hawley says, noting that it helps keep her and her students mentally sharp. “I can see myself doing this in my 80s. I learn something every time I teach a class. And I use my computer every day. I keep all sorts of spreadsheets with Excel.”

Workable schedule: Hawley’s beginning Excel fall classes run six hours; three hours each on Monday and Wednesday afternoons. She follows up with an intermediate class on the same schedule the next week. In all, she works two weeks each quarter of the year, so she isn’t even close to burnout.

“There are 12 to 20 people in each Excel class, with 20 the limit,” she says. “My students are required to begin the course with a basic level of computer literacy. If they don’t yet have that, WCC offers night courses for beginning computer students. Students can learn basic Excel in those first six hours.”

Seniors enjoy Excel: In her most recent spring class, Hawley had 18 students, including three older than herself. She loves to see the light go on when seniors realize how useful and stimulating Excel can be.

“Two of those students were retired professors, and one student was a retired gentleman who was trying to keep some personal financial information on his computer,” she says. “I have seniors every time I teach a course. Sometimes, they’ll start out with less confidence, so I feel great that I’m there to help them gain that confidence. And some seniors appreciate that I’m not 30!”

Physically fit, too: Hawley wasn’t an athlete in her school days, but she now belongs to a Bellingham gym and works out regularly. She also reads a lot, especially espionage and mystery novels.

Born for math: When young, Hawley found herself to be one of the few girls in school who loved math.

“My dad was my geometry teacher,” she says. “When I taught first grade, my favorite subject was math. I always tried to make math fun. People shouldn’t be afraid of math. And there’s math in Excel.”

How she found computers: “I was very active as a volunteer with youth,” Hawley says. “PTA, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, swimming, all sorts of organizations. I got interested in computer programming through a friend who developed his own program to keep track of swim meets.”