University of Maryland Student &
Sodexo Future Leader Intern
I represent Generation Z, a generation that spent our childhood taking care of virtual pets on Neopets and playing Pokémon Yellow on a Gameboy. We made Facebook accounts in middle school, as Facebook Memories likes to continuously remind us. We watched our parents cry during the terror attacks on the World Trade Center. We experienced “The Great Recession” firsthand. We saw millions of gallons of oil pour into the Gulf of Mexico. We witnessed our siblings terrified to go to school the day after the Columbine Shooting.
We’re a product of information, communication, and innovation. We’ve seen hardships not only on a national scale, but also on a global scale. The fusion of all of these experiences has led to a new generational mentality- one of strong work ethic, global understanding, and technological reliance.
Now, Generation Z is bringing this mentality into the realm of college. Much like past generations, college is a pivotal part in our lives; however, our expectations of our college experience are a bit different.
So here, as a member of Generation Z and a college Junior, are my hopes and expectations from a college campus:
An environment focused on academics and academic experiences.
A huge part of the academic experience is the facilities and classrooms. Sitting in a cramped classroom with no air conditioning, trying to understand triple integrals is a treacherous task. The facilities I had classes in that felt more spacious, were air conditioned, and had large projectors that displayed the notes clearly were not only more enjoyable to go to, but were also classes I got a lot more out of academically. Also, rooms designed to support smaller class sizes and promote discussion really help engage Gen Z students, which is important for a generation with an eight second attention span.
However, academic experiences don’t exclusively happen in the classroom. Providing labs for engineers to get their hands dirty and start building, preschool centers for education majors to get hands-on experience with children, and research centers for science majors to perform experiments are all key parts of the “experience” we seek in a college.
A campus focused on sustainability.
Providing students with sustainable options plays a key role in our college choice. 76% of Gen Zers are concerned about humanity’s impact on the planet. It makes sense, considering we grew up in a world with global warming being one of the largest political talking points. We’re a generation that’s okay with reusable takeout containers and sorting our trash into compost and recycling. With the right resources, we will strive to make a difference.
Encouraging and funding on-campus clubs and organizations dedicated to environmental and social change is important. Programs such as the National Wildlife Federation’s Campus Ecology Program and USGBC Students encourage student sustainability, promote responsibility and extend knowledge on campus and in the community.
A plethora of social spaces.
As much as I’d like to deny it, social media plays a huge role in my life. I, as well as many others, easily spend over three hours a day scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, often without realizing how much time I’ve wasted.
As a generation I don’t think we are opposed to face-to-face interaction; we just tend to not seek it out. Having it thrown in our faces is one of the most effective ways to get us to bond, interact, and socially develop.
Take, for example, our Student Social Lounge. Seeing familiar faces playing games, socializing, and laughing encouraged me to drop my stuff off at my dorm and come back to join in the fun. The small moments that occurred with my friends in the lounge are some of the brightest memories I have from my college experience. If I stayed confined in my room, those memories wouldn’t be there.
An up-to-date campus.
Generation Z is an extremely technologically literate one, and so when it comes to academics, facilities, and communication, we can handle and thrive off of the newest technologies. Whether it’s having an assignment submission system that works across every platform and device, or providing “smart” whiteboards that take note-taking to a whole new level, we’ll have no problem using the technology to its fullest.
An up-to-date campus doesn’t solely focus on technology, though. Staying modern with trends, from food to style, plays a huge role in our comfort on campus and our engagement on campus. College is our home for four years and having a school that acknowledges our interests and accommodates them really can make or break the experience.
In the end, my intentions aren’t to paint Generation Z as needy or self-indulgent. The list created serves more to provide insight into what I’ve seen help my generation thrive. I’ve seen my fellow generation-mates be some of the most adaptable and flexible people I’ve met. But, to encourage success, we have to pay close attention to the environments that are shaping the new generation and make sure they are not only inhabitable, but also flourishing.
Jake Hughes is a Future Leader Intern for the summer at Sodexo, USA. During the school year, Jake is a full-time college student pursuing a degree in Marketing at the University of Maryland.