I met with a student this week who is contemplating transferring to another university at the end of the semester. I serve on the University’s retention committee so I spent some time getting a sense of what factors were in play for him as he contemplates transferring. I wanted to talk with him for two reasons, one to inform my work on the committee and two because this is a student I genuinely didn’t wanted to lose – I like him. He’s talented and there is something about him that seems as if it could blossom in the right situation. Perhaps we could make that happen for him here. (I myself transferred in college and if a university is not the right for someone I’ll be behind them 100% to help find the right fit. I won’t try to make this student stay if it’s not right for him.)
The conversation was peppered with a lot of maybes, and I don’t knows.
- Why did you come here? I don’t know. I applied late and didn’t want to go to local community colleges.
- Would you be willing to stay here? Maybe.
- What do you want to do? I don’t know.
- What do you really like to do? I don’t know.
- What are you really good at? I don’t know. (Based on one completed assignment in his art class his work was so good that he was questioned by the professor if he was an art major).
- What do you want to major in? Maybe this but I don’t know why.
- What about art? Maybe but I don’t know.
- If you got in at the other school (he should, his grades are solid – but he doesn’t know what they are) and financial aid was a non-issue what would you do? I don’t know.
Capable but Disengaged
As our conversation progressed I was reminded of a recent meeting I had with colleagues about our current generation of students. Today’s college students were described as capable but disengaged and disinterested. I understand this is a generalization and perhaps you are a talented, interested and engaged student so you have nothing to worry about right? I’d caution you to consider, however, that your capabilities are being observed through a generalized lens that has been colored with a ‘capable but disengaged’ film. You have a strike against you before you even start. What if the above conversation was a job interview? The employer would have passed him over in a heartbeat – capable and talented is a dime a dozen.
I don’t think there is any doubt that the world sees this generation of students as capable and interested in changing the world around them. I think that has been going on for the past few years – the past presidential election is an easy example of what can happen when talented, capable and interested people engage.
Distancing Yourself from Generalizations
So how do you distance your self from the negative generalizations of your generation? To begin, I think it’s key to understand how your generation is defined. A quick search for Gen Y can give you some easy starting points. Again it may not be ‘right’ for you, but you have to understand the generalized perception of your generation to be prepared to push back against the barriers your membership sets up against you.
- How is your generation perceived with respect to cultural, social and workplace norms and expectations?
- What do popular culture trends indicate about your generation?
- With capable as a given, what are you doing that can tangibly demonstrate that you are engaged?
- What examples and stories can you share that illuminate you desire to earn your keep and that you have a minimized sense of entitlement?
When I was talking with the student in my office I asked him why he really wanted to transfer? He answered I don’t know and then drifted to silence. Hopefully for him that silence won’t be filled with the generalizations about his generation: He’s just another capable but disinterested student. Hopefully we’ll be able to spend some time together in a way that helps him identify his passions, highlights his talents and prepares him for success. I think he can but I don’t know yet if he wants to.
Hopefully for you, you’ll be able to answer the challenges your generation places in front of you in a manner that builds on your capabilities and demonstrates a level of engagement our world needs from your generation. Everyone knows you can do it. You just need to prove it.
What do you think? Make it a good day.
Mike Severy is the Director of Student Life at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He views his work through the lens of student leadership development believing that students are developed over time through a series of meaningful experiences and that his role is to help students create and find the meaningful experiences in their lives. You can connect with Mike on Twitter (@MikeSevery).