The Question Matters


College Administrator: Millennials Believe There’s Something Bigger and Better

Recently, you’ve read my interviews with a college career coach at Abilene Christian University and a professor at Texas Women’s University who specializes in first year students.  I have to say that my conversations with higher learning administrators and professors is fast becoming on my favorite pastimes in blogging. Here’s interview #3.

James Townsend and I knew one another at Abilene Christian University, where I was a student and he was a recruiter and administrator.  A great guy and a good friend, I’m grateful for the time he’s given me via Skype and by email.  Our conversations touched on the spirituality of college students, how well they’re prepared for college life and learning, and what they can expect as they leave college life for their careers.  Here’s a quick bio of James:

[Even before] graduating from Abilene Christian University in 1989, I began a 24 year professional journey in Christian higher education as an administrator, consultant, and first year experience instructor.  Most of my professional life has included visiting with high school students and parents about the college admissions and financial aid process and the best ways to transition to the collegiate environment. I completed my MBA at LeTourneau University in 2006 and am currently working towards a Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership in Higher Education through Grand Canyon University in Arizona.  I’m currently the director of admissions for LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas.

I asked James the following questions.  I look forward to sharing his responses with you in the coming days:

  • Compare graduating high school seniors now to graduating seniors ten years ago when you started at LeTourneau.  What changes have you noticed?
  • How well prepared are students for college?  Where are they well prepared?  Where are they lacking?
  • Share a couple of stories about students who’ve really impressed you.
  • What can this generation bring to any arena of life (work, home, whatever) that’s unique and needed?
  • What are the biggest challenges this generation will face?  Specifically, how are they going to have to grow?

I know James as “JT,” and of everything he told me, one phrase stood out.  This generation has the numbers, the relative youth, and the resources to maybe just maybe be right about this:

This generation always believes there is something bigger and better around the corner.


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Achievers and Pragmatists about Aiming High

Dr. Guy Litton, professor at Texas Women’s University and their semi-official first year students’ supervisor, spent his valuable time with me recently.  Yesterday, I shared some thoughts around his observation that the current group of college students is achievement-driven, to the point of missing out on more meaningful pursuits.  In short, I think there are some connective threads between the achievement-driven approach Dr. Litton is observing in college and the short-sighted educational strategies we’re seeing in our educational system.  If you read the comment on Tuesday’s post, you know that at least one Millennial is seeing this same dynamic carry over into the job market.

In spite of our system’s limitations and our own imperfections, there are always standouts.  Dr. Litton shares two stories which I find uplifting:

This student overcame long odds

I had a student from a small town called Seymour, TX.  She competed for a NASA internship with hundreds of other students from much more competitive and prestigious schools.  Her goal was to become a high school science teacher.  She had the “gumption” or “pluck” to compete with phenomenally talented students from all over the country for one of only 20 spots.  I admire tremendously the guts she had in going after it and winning it.

Good thing this student wasn’t written off too soon

On the other hand, I had a student who was a first generation student (parents didn’t speak English) who was on probation after year one, but she had such a positive attitude, such curiosity about life and learning that she went on to graduate study at George Washington U, was a major worker for the Hillary Clinton campaign, and is now finishing her PhD in Public Policy.  I tease her now and then about how insecure she was.  Little did she know then that she had so much more than most of the peers she thought were superior students.

I’d like to hear from you: what other impressive stories have you seen or heard from our 20-somethings?

  • An accomplished businessperson
  • A polished and confident communicator
  • A master at their craft at an early age

We need more good stories out there.  It’s easier to point to negative trends and thereby paint an entire generation with assumptions and generalizations.

Fighting Pragmatism with Meaning

Posted in Generation Y,Leadership,Next Generation Leaders by treyfinley1008 on September 2, 2010
Tags: , ,

Dan Pink, in his recent book Drive, names three elements which must be present in the 21st Century workplace in order for employees to be motivated:  Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.  I’ve discussed his work previously on my blog.

The hunger for meaning in the workplace is, in my opinion, a symptom of a larger trend in Western culture: an over-emphasis on pragmatism has yielded a starvation for meaning.  One could suggest that the Boomers spotted this starvation in their youth, Generation X resented it when they experienced it, and now Millennials are facing ever increasing levels of this dearth of meaning.  Western culture is displaying a fascination, an obsession with pragmatism. Consider the pragmatic nature of the world into which Millennials are entering:

  • As they enter the workforce, they are experiencing an economic downturn of generational proportions (it’s been four generations since a recession of this size) that leads to very pragmatic decisions about who will have work and who won’t.
  • Their education has emphasized standardized testing in primary and secondary schools, measuring pragmatic skills over creativity, problem solving, and learning for its own sake.

(You can probably name other examples. Thought of one? Email it to me at trey@thequestionmatters.com.  I’d like to know what you think).

Pragmatism sounds like a disease, doesn’t it?  It makes me want to ask, “Is there a cure for that?”  For Millennials, MEANING inoculates them from the relentless pragmatism of what must be.  Instead, meaning searches for what could be and what should be, with a hope that these are what will be. You could say that Millennials are intensely pragmatic about their search for meaning in what they do.  If I want to lead Gen Y, pragmatism is required, just not pragmatism about things they believe meaningless.

Coaching for meaning can be a bit tricky.  After all, who gets to decide what is meaningful?  And what happens when what is meaningful to me isn’t meaningful to someone else?  How can both perspectives be honored?  Below are some coaching suggestions for bringing a Millennial’s pragmatic search for meaning to bring transformation to whatever context they find themselves.  Warning: they will fail from time to time with these important decisions.  But then that’s the point, isn’t it?

Co-Create Opportunities to Do What Matters

Consider the following questions to help a Millennial friend or colleague decide if what they’re doing now connects to what’s most important to them:

  • If someone asked you to say what you believe in most, what would you tell them?
  • If you could spend a year not working living that belief, doing something constructive for society, what would you do?
  • What first steps can we take together to get you headed in that direction?

In the Workplace, Replace Meaningless Tasks with Vital Decisions

The tyranny of the urgent is something no one escapes.  Nevertheless, if you want to lose a Millennial, clog their schedule with tasks seemingly unconnected to the bigger picture.  Coach yourself with these questions:

  • Which tasks am I assigning my younger employee simply because I disdain that task?  How well have I explained how that task serves a larger purpose?
  • On which decisions have I invited my younger employee’s input?  How many of their ideas did I actually incorporate?