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Anthony Otero

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Students Do Change Over Time... and That Is Not a Bad Thing

Posted: 02/27/2012 6:30 pm

Being an administrator at Syracuse University for 10+ years, I have learned many things about student life that I did not know when I was a student here nearly a decade ago. I arrived as a staff member with preconceived notions that students were students and not much had changed. Well, it turns out I was wrong.

I remember standing in front of Steele Hall, out in the cold, waiting in a long line to register for classes. A group of us had the same appointment time that we knew didn't matter. We had to wait for the next available representative to help us, even if they ran over.

In the 90's, we found our classes in a course book, wrote down class codes, and, of course, received approval and signature from our academic advisor. At Steele Hall, the registrar staff member would take our form and begin entering each class, one by one, per student. If one of your classes was full, you spent another 20 minutes looking for an alternative and waiting on another line! Typically, a class was missed waiting on that line because it stretched out the building towards the Carrier Dome, almost 50 feet away!

I was sly enough to forge my advisor's signature, never caring to see him (or her ...I still can't remember). Sometimes I would just sign my own name to see if the registrar person even noticed. Even though I wasn't the only student doing this and was never caught, I always felt like I had to break the rules just to register for classes.

Fast forward 20 years and long lines have been replaced by extra bandwidth to the wireless network on campus, ensuring that students never have to leave their warm bedrooms to register for classes with MySlice. With this website, they can see which classes are closed with the click of a mouse. Technology is a beautiful thing that makes my story about waiting on line equivalent to walking to class in the cold, barefoot, uphill both ways in 18 feet of snow. Of course, this is Syracuse University and that tale is very possible with the amount of snow we average per winter!

When fellow alumni ask me if things are the same, I have to tell them that the difference is not just in the amount of buildings that have been erected. The general state of the students has changed. Technology has enabled my students to plan their future in a way I could never imagine. Not just coursework, but the accessibility to their dream job and companies is instant through social media, an opportunity I never had. I still feel uncomfortable opening my laptop in the graduate class I am currently enrolled in!

Technology has made things so accessible for these "Millennial" students that I even wonder when classes will lose their social aspect. For example, Blackboard is a website where professors can upload notes and syllabi for students to download. The really great professors post all the readings, forgoing the need for textbooks -- which goes very easy on the wallet. But, with the growing popularity of the e-Readers, along with sites like Amazon and Half.com, it's no wonder that Follet's Bookstore, famously known as SU's unofficial alternative to the campus bookstore, is now closed. Now Follet's is another store with a "FOR SALE" sign on its window.

This is indeed a very different student body that communicates through Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter: mediums responsible for the deterioration of in-person social skills. This is why departments within the Division of Student Affairs feel the need to offer various on-the-job training and leadership development programs for students. Student Centers & Programming Services provide their CAPS (Customer service, Appearance, Problem Solving) Program to student employees, and Student Activities runs the Student Leadership Institute to develop student leaders. In fact, this past weekend we held the first Annual Student Leadership Conference, a one-day conference developing freshmen and sophomores for future leadership on and off campus.

While the issue of apathy remains constant from Generation X to these Millennials, the one upside I have seen is the increase of students who come to Syracuse University with a blue print of their future. I have advised many students over the years with dreams and goals that I could have never articulated at that age. It never gets old to watch them graduate and move on to the next level.

For all the talk we have about how these kids have it made, and how tough we had it when we were in college, these young men and women are prepared to join society in ways that we never were. Even though these kids make take for granted the things we fought for, we should be proud that they will end up achieving more than we have.