Full disclosure: I am a millennial. Also known as Generation Y, the Echo Boomers, and the Net Generation, we're the individuals born between 1981 and 2000.
After three years teaching in public school classrooms, I joined Teach For America as a recruitment manager. Now, I work to inspire passionate soon-to-be graduates to become effective classroom teachers and transformational leaders in the fight against the systemic barriers that keep young people growing up in poverty from realizing their dreams.
Millennials often get a bad rap. As Chelsea Clinton points out in her recent TIME piece, people tend to see us as apathetic and impatient. The universities and college students I work with every day show me that this just isn't true -- well, at least the first part.
Millennials are far from apathetic, especially when it comes to what we plan to do with our lives. Many of us decide on a career path before we even enter college. You don't find that kind of direction among the uninterested. The college students I talk to every day are eager for a challenge that will allow them to leave the world a better place than they found it.
But impatient is another story. Raised in the age of rapidly advancing technology, we know that things are always evolving, that change is something we can create, and we feel the urgency of now. And it's true -- our generation is in part defined by the technology we use. We've barely ever connected via landlines or post -- instead, it's all about social media and mobile technology.
According to the Pew Research Center 86 percent of 18 to 29 year olds use social networking sites. Forty-eight percent of 18 to 34 year olds check their Facebook right when they wake up -- 28 percent on their smartphones before even getting out of bed -- according to a 2011 infographic by OnlineSchools.org.
Whether it's educational equity, gay rights, or health care access, every point along the path from awareness to advocacy requires social and mobile technology. A growing number of organizations are starting to harness the Millennials' drive to create change and the potential of cutting-edge technology to introduce them to the pressing issues that impact our country as they begin to explore their options. I feel very privileged to work at just such an organization.
Inspired by the students I taught, I work with the national nonprofit Teach For America to engage more of my peers in the broader effort to ensure that children growing up in poverty get the shot at a great education they deserve. Today, only 8 percent of children born into poverty graduate from college. But having worked with my amazingly capable, engaged, and inspired students, I know this doesn't have to be the case. They just need the right support and a system that provides the resources necessary to succeed.
At Teach For America, we don't have the recruiting budget of a Goldman Sachs, but with a robust technology network donated by Cisco and a team of resourceful recruiters -- inspired by their classroom experiences and the movement we're building -- we send thousands of our country's future leaders into the classrooms that need them most.
Wherever I am, my laptop and phone stay within reach. On a typical day, I begin by replying to students' late-night emails and text campus interns about that night's event, all from my phone. At a coffee shop, I access our internal server via VPN and reach out to new prospective teachers over email. On campus, I meet with students and collaborate with colleagues over a WebEx meeting. At a panel discussion that night, I present information about the inequities in our education system and how graduates can be part of the solution.
Engaging young people in the critical issues of their generation is nothing new. What is new is the incredible technological landscape that's all around us and that has the power to bring young people into social engagement like never before. With it, we can encourage more people to do the hard, collaborative work necessary to expand opportunity. Let's be bold and harness this power so the next generation of kids grows up in a better, more just world.
Alexander Donovan lives in New York City and works as a recruitment manager for Teach For America at several colleges and universities around the city.
With cash and information and communications technology (ICT) product grants from Cisco and the Cisco Foundation, Teach For America has been able to expand its network infrastructure to provide corps members, who are dispersed throughout the United States and travel frequently, with the resources they need to work and communicate more efficiently and effectively.