Students, it’s not you. It’s me.

I feel like I do not understand most of my students. I still like them, a lot. But, I do not understand them. I have often wondered if this phenomena is discipline-specific. It might be. But, I am also learning that something bigger is happening for me= generational shift.

One of the groups of students I advise are accelerated second degree students. They have already earned a bachelor’s degree in another field and are applying to do a nursing degree in 14 months. It’s intense. THEY are intense. In the application process  there are lots and lots and lots of questions. They are high-achieving, high-need, high-touch and labor intensive. Then, after orientation they disappear. I don’t see them until I read their names at graduation. This used to bother me. This used to hurt my feelings.

This morning in our staff meeting we got talking about current students and technology. Today’s students come with technology. They don’t have to learn it (like I did in college when e-mail was just starting). Today’s students also come to college to learn skills to get a job. This is a drastic shift from when I was in college. I was an English major. What else was I going to do but go on to more school? I gladly jumped into a liberal-arts degree having absolutely no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. I just figured that my quality education and the broad thinking and writing I was trained to do would lead me somewhere. (It did. Eventually.)

In our meeting, my supervisor mentioned this article by Allison Slater Tate. I LOVE this article. I wish I had written this article. I could have written this article. I sense that Tate and I are the same age and had similar college/technology experiences. I feel the way she does with my own children. C is asking for an i-pad for Christmas and I am trying to resist.

I can also relate to this article on a professional level. Where she says, “children” I think “students” and “parenting” I think “work.”

When it comes to parenting, I find this middle place extremely uncomfortable, because I know what childhood and adolescence were like before the Internet, and my parenting models all come from that era.

Ahhhh….lightbulbs exploding everywhere!

Students coming to college expecting skills (and if they learn in the process, great) is especially evident with my discipline-specific students. The very nature of the nursing curriculum encourages this. They have to learn certain skills and gain certain experiences to graduate and then to be licensed. Experiential, hands-on, “internship like” experiences are embedded into the curriculum.

My students want and expect information. They want and expect me to provide them with that information. They want information so they can get into a competitive academic program, get the skills they need, and then go on to be what they want to be- nurses. They are not interested in developing relationships with me. There are exceptions, of course. But for the most part, my role is customer service: know what I know, refer out when I don’t, solve problems, and follow-up. (This article from highlights millennial’s expectations of customer service really well.) This transactional customer relationship is the very opposite of why I got into student affairs (and I guess most of us). And, it is the very opposite of how I approached my own learning. 

Relationships are what I do. Relationships are even in my MBTI type. So, then, how do I reconcile who I am, what I value, and what my strengths are, with my current role which matches very little of those? I am slowly coming around to the idea that what I currently do doesn’t have to match or define who I am. This is a huge shift for me as a professional and as a woman in a female-dominated helping profession. The very core of student affairs is to co-create learning environments with students. Well, some students are not interested. They are who they are. And, my frustration or lack of fit with them is about me. Not them.

I truly am from a different generation. I expected and valued different things as a learner and student. My current students may not value those same things. I need to stop thinking that what I valued as a student was better. It’s not. It’s just different. I am getting it! I need to stop venting and cavetching about students emailing the wrong person or asking me questions that are clearly stated on our website.

They [millennials] do not want to talk through the decision making process with a brand. They may want faster service, but they only want the information they ask for.(Amy Tobin,

Ahhhhh. More lightbulbs! When I was a student, I was engaging with the brand. And the brand was the entire college experience. As a student affairs professional in the late 90s, I was also trained to see myself as part of the.brand. My role was to help students engage in the college experience, the brand, and thus, engage with me.

Today’s brand is…not that. I am still figuring out what it is. But, I’m recognizing that it isn’t what I experienced. And, I can offer more than what some of my students are looking for. But, they do not have to want it. They do not have to have the experience that I had. And the sooner I realize that and adjust to them, the better we will both be.

Students, you’re fine. You’re great. I am the old Gen Xer advisor who has been a little slow on the uptake, but I am getting there!



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