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What We’ve Learned as Generation Z Goes to College: Podcast 43

Today, I’m excited to share with you a conversation with Corey Seemiller. Dr. Seemiller has worked in higher education for more than 20 years in both faculty and administrative positions. Now she works at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. She is also the author of “Generation Z Goes to College.” Here are some highlights from our conversation on her latest work.

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Tim Elmore: I want to talk about Generation Z and your book, “Generation Z Goes to College.” I loved what I read. Can we start by just talking about what were some of the surprises from your research on Generation Z?

Corey Seemiller: Generation shifts aren’t typically abrupt, but this one was significant enough for me to notice that something was different. You see, students are having more independence, autonomy, pragmatism, and realism. They are growing up in an era where they have to have all of that to survive.

Tim: There has been a significant shift. Let’s talk for a minute about this. What should college educators know about Generation Z?

Corey: Well for one thing, you’ll find these students less likely to take risks. They may tend to have less disciplinary issues. They grew up in this K-12 era which consisted of applied problem-based learning, group work, and required service learning. They have done a lot of self-learning, which is great, but they come to college having a lot of misinformation. We have to teach critical thinking skills, so they know what information on the internet is legitimate and what is not.

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Tim: That makes total sense. Well, I want to move forward to a very specific question. What are some new thoughts that increase student retention on a college campus?

Corey: If we look at the students themselves and at the structures around them, there are a few different pieces I would recommend. One piece is we have more students coming into higher education with mental health issues than ever before. Yet, we don’t have the infrastructure in our counseling services to provide ongoing long-term support. So, they may not be worried about their test on Friday because some of them are having a hard time just coping with life, in general. The second piece is that they crave face-to-face interactions with campus faculty. Although technology is helpful for quick responses, building relationships and long-term connections are significant to them—friendships they really don’t want to lose. In the end, the students have to see a value in college education.

Tim: No doubt about it. It’s a different day and we have to figure out how to educate them.

Corey: We are in an entrepreneurial age where Gen Z students are putting a song on YouTube, or a photo on Instagram, or selling their artwork on Etsy. You can be an entrepreneur and not even have a website anymore. You see students who just have a car become Uber drivers, and others are renting out their rooms on Airbnb. This is a generation that sees entrepreneurship as a viable career choice. One thing that would be helpful to student retention is to provide entrepreneurship classes in college that aren’t designated solely for business majors.

Tim: That’s good. Okay, I have one more gigantic question that I would love to ask you. As you study Gen Z, how would you say today’s students prefer to learn—and be communicated with—and be instructed?

Corey: These students prefer intrapersonal learning. They like journals, reflection, and quiet solo projects. And they like “pre-learning,”—having something to learn before they come to class, etc. My students ask me if they can have the PowerPoint presentations before class so they can read them, or they ask what they can study beforehand. They do not like group work. They like to be able to focus and go at their own pace and direction, and choose their own interests.

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