I have taught college writing and communication classes for six years now. Another semester is about to end, which means I will soon say goodbye to another group of students. Before I started teaching, I thought of teaching as a challenging yet rewarding career. It is both of those things. What has surprised me most about my work is the attachment I can feel for a particular class and the sadness I sometimes feel when a course ends. But that is the nature of teaching—you teach them and you set them free.
Every class is different, yet I have come to know this generation of college students fairly well. Guess what? I really, really like them. Society has dubbed them¬—them being my students and some 50 million other Americans between the ages of 18 and 29—the “Millennial” generation, also know as Gen Y.
They are coming of age at the dawn of a new millennium. They are generally open-minded and open to change. They connect with each other and the world with palm-sized gadgets. They can access information about anything, and do it faster than anyone else, anytime they want. They process information quickly. Sometimes, their questions totally stump me.
If there is a stereotype about Millennials it is no doubt related to their fierce knowledge of technology. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center (www.pewresearch.org), 80 percent say they sleep with their cell phones right beside them. Yes, some go to digital extremes. But in my observation—and I’ve actually had students write about this very issue—the vast majority feel face-to-face communication is the most rewarding and meaningful way to communicate. All the other options on the communication menu (texting and posting messages on Facebook “walls”) are ways of staying connected to each other almost all of the time. Is it really necessary to say connected to each other almost all of the time? It is to Millennials.
In my opinion, this generation is more concerned and more engaged in serious issues than we were back in the mid-90s when I was an under-grad. Granted, the times have called for it. My students were 10 to 12 years old during the events and aftermath of September 11th. Many of them were just beginning to follow the news. Like other Americans, the images of that day are seared into their memories, but they were still kids.
Today’s college students are making tough choices based on the reality of graduating during an economic downturn. Some are continuing with their schooling, others are applying for volunteer service programs that have more applicants than ever before. Students are understandably worried about their futures. But don’t under estimate a Millennial’s ability to be resourceful and adapt to change. They are realistic. They care about relationships. They seem to know that the road to a meaningful career may not be a straight one. And, I know they know that the world is full of possibilities.
### Erika Weisensee, a writer and native Oregonian, lives in Milwaukie and teaches journalism and communication courses at the University of Portland.