In two recent books, Generations and Millennials Go to
College, co-authors Neil Howe and William Strauss examine the
generation of students now entering our colleges and universities.
Generation X students of the 80s and 90s are being replaced by a new
group called the Millennials, a name that refers to those born after
1981 and graduating from high school in the new millennium. Population
studies have established that Millennials have characteristics quite
different from gen X-ers. I encourage you to pick up these books,
especially the latter, as it looks at the impact of the Millennials
on higher education.
A challenge for engineering educators is the engagement of students
in campus research activities. This is not usually an issue for graduate
students since they often have research requirements for completion
of their degrees. For undergraduate students, however, research is
often encouraged but seldom required.
We tend to think that laboratory research enriches the undergraduate
course of study. It is definitely beneficial for those bound for graduate
school but can also be a broadening experience for students going
into professional practice. There has been substantial effort in the
past to increase the number of research experiences for undergraduates.
The National Science Foundation has a program, Research Experiences
for Undergraduates, to enhance funded research projects by adding
resources for undergraduate involvement.
How do the Millennials differ from the previous generation that has
populated our campuses for the past 20 years? And what will their
entry into college mean for research? The Millennial group is much
larger than gen X-ers or baby boomers. In fact, with 100 million members,
the group is the largest in the nation’s history and also the most
racially and ethnically diverse. The peak year for graduation from
high school for the Millennials is 2008.
Howe and Strauss identify seven core traits of the Millennials. They
are special, sheltered, confident, team-oriented, conventional, pressured,
and achieving. Millennials are more trusting of large institutions
and more willing than previous generations to acknowledge the importance
of their own actions. Their parents are very protective and expect
to be actively involved in their children’s university education.
Millennials are confident they can make a contribution to society,
and they will look for balance in their lives and careers. They recognize
the net benefit of teamwork and believe earlier generations placed
too much reliance on individualism. They favor the teaching of values
in school and believe in honesty, patriotism, and democracy. They
often have detailed plans for their own future, tend to like math
and science, and enjoy spending time on projects with their friends.
The Millennials have a number of traits that will make them strong
participants in research, including the value they place on teamwork
and accomplishment and self-confidence. The question is how to get
these students engaged in our research.
I recommend that you approach this task by highlighting the research
team and its work in a number of ways: