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Class of 2014: Times of Change on Campus

By Kelly Sather

Nov. 12, 2010--Between different generations in society, changes in life have altered the ways different people live, act, learn, and think.

“Baby boomer” is a term well known by most people. Currently the baby boomers are the work force and soon-to-be-retired generation, but the generations that followed the boomers also have their own unique characteristics and qualities.

College-bound, Generation Y adolescents (also known as the Millenials) bring attributes and attitudes that are rapidly changing the culture of the campus at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and around the country. It is common to see today’s students walking around campus either talking or texting on a cell phone that it almost seems natural and expected. Few stop and do a double take when someone uses a computer to call a friend and video chat, or uses their smartphone’s radio application to listen to music from around the world.

“I remember when I was in school, there were no cell phones. If you were walking across campus you talked to the people next to you,” says Sarah Egerstrom, director of UWRF’s First Year Experience office.

Egerstrom notes that technology has changed the way students interact even before they get to campus.

“Today students can go online and look up who their roommate is on Facebook and get an idea of who they will be living with before they even get to school. In the past, students moved into the dorms and saw their roommate for the first time when they walked in the door,” says Egerstrom.

The perks of technology can be tremendous, especially for students whose families reside far from UWRF.

“For our international students, some call their families and video chat on Skype on a daily basis, whereas in the past they could only write letters which could take weeks to send and receive, or occasionally pay the high long distance charge for a chance to phone home,” adds Egerstrom.

However, this generation’s technology isn’t just about entertainment or connecting with family and friends. The impact of technology on education is huge, and UWRF professors are taking advantage of the latest tools and immersing themselves in the digital culture of their students.

“I started to see that my examples in class weren’t translating in class anymore, so now I watch more of what students watch, and listen to the types of music they do. Some students are shocked when I name the song and artist of their ringtone when their cell phone goes off in class,” says Jennifer Willis-Rivera, assistant professor of communication studies and theatre arts.

Technological integration into universities also is allowing for students to take online classes, allowing for a new form of access for higher education. This is not only beneficial for students of this tech-savvy generation, but is also convenient for adults going back to school while still working, such as the students in UWRF’s Adult Degree Completion program.

Advancements in technology are helpful to the environment as well. Many UWRF professors give out many Web-based assignments and have papers turned in, tests taken and reading assignments all done electronically. This saves a tremendous amount of ink and paper, and helps UWRF meet its goals of being a sustainable campus.

These new generations of students are handling the college experience much differently than those of the past generations in other matters as well, notes Egerstrom.

“I see more and more students trying to balance jobs with their classes. Some are quite frankly trying to pursue too many hours of work with too high of a course load,” says Egerstrom.

The economy of today seems more and more influential to these students and this is evident with the amount of hours they are trying to work. It also plays a role in the prospective job market. Many students seek internships and some of these may not be paid.

“Without question, students are going to have to be much more creative with how they match their experiences to the positions they are applying for. Students also are thinking about getting into the job market much earlier than I had to when I was in college,” says Rivera. “These students know from the get-go that they need to find their strong skills and develop them to find a place that can help foster them.”

Even with the state of the economy in the United States, members of Generation Y remain positive about their career prospects and education.

“I know the rate of unemployment is higher than ever before, but really, this did not affect my choice for my major. I’m going to study and pursue a career that I enjoy. The economy is not going to dictate what type of job I choose,” says Bridget Macomber, first year student from Caledonia, Minn.

UWRF’s class of 2014 may be faced with many obstacles that previous generations were not, but they also have many opportunities that previous generations did not.

“Students today have a bigger perspective of the world. They have the ability to think in multiple ways. They can think technologically, interpersonally, and at a group level. They have the potential to interact through multiple channels,” says Rivera. “There really isn’t much this generation isn’t capable of doing.”


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