I love working with the students of today. Their energy and enthusiasm is contagious, and working with them truly does help to keep me young. I am certain that I learn as much from them as they do from me. Older generations are notorious for complaining about younger generations: “In my day we never would have . . .” But I must compliment this generation for being so accomplished, for their ability to multitask and to adapt to new technologies. I am impressed.
To me, this generation of students is different for two primary reasons: technology and closer family relationships. The technological advances of the past several years have been substantial. Today’s students grew up with the Internet, computers and cell phones prevalent in all aspects of their lives. They embrace new technologies and adapt faster than their predecessors.
Additionally, as many families have fewer children we’ve witnessed a closer relationship between parents and children. It often seems more friend-like and less authoritative. This is evidenced by the number of phone calls home each week. In the past, most college students would report talking to their parents once a week. Thanks to cell phones, many of today’s college students talk to their parents multiple times a day.
While this closer relationship is positive in many ways, the drawback can be a lack of independence. Rather than hearing about the highlights of the week, parents hear every daily frustration. This can be problematic if parents use this time to solve rather than listen. I do not mean to imply that today’s students are not independent, however. In many respects, most are confident and embrace the opportunity to try new things.
Students at Notre Dame are nothing if not impressive. The admissions requirements have become so stringent that every student is quite accomplished, not only in terms of academics but also in terms of athletics, performing arts and humanitarian efforts. So accomplished, in fact, that some faculty members, including me, sometimes wonder how we are teaching at a university that would not have admitted us.
While Notre Dame students are some of the best and brightest in this country, they still deal with the same issues of transitioning to a college environment and managing their time among all the opportunities and distractions. Sometimes faculty members forget that just because the students are accomplished does not mean that they aren’t struggling with various choices.
Speaking of choices, the college years have been referred to as a time of emerging adulthood and a time of both exploration and commitment. As educators we need to encourage exploration as a means of helping students to make independent decisions for the future, to make a commitment. We hope they will develop these abilities during their time with us. They are the future leaders of this country, and we want to encourage and enable their passion and ingenuity.
Kerry L. Meyers is a faculty member in Notre Dame’s College of Engineering.