Meeting needs of students, parents

January 26, 2006, vol. 35, no. 2
By Diane Luckow

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“I really want my son to be a part of SFU's peer education program. How can he apply?” “How do I get access to my daughter's transcript?” “My daughter's sick, can I sit in class for her?”

For long-time student services staffers at SFU, parental questions like these have come as a shock. Only in the past five or six years, since the advent of millennial students, have parents been clamouring to participate in their children's university education.

SFU staff and faculty had better get used to it, however, says Dal Sohal, coordinator of health promotion and student volunteer programs with SFU's health, counselling and careers centre. She says millennial students - those born in or after 1982 - are unlike any other youth generation in living memory. They're better educated, more affluent and, she says, “They have been very close to their parents. They've led a very structured lifestyle growing up. Their parents have been very involved in their lives and extracurricular activities and the students come to SFU still looking for that.”

Today's students have a unique set of traits, attitudes and norms of behaviour that all have relevance for how the university can meet their needs, says Sohal. That's why she's offering a workshop, Understanding Millennials, on Feb. 1 from 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. in the Maggie Benston centre, room 0300.

She says millennials share a number of distinguishing features: they're very optimistic about their future, they have high expectations of themselves and they place a value on getting their needs met expediently. “From faculty, they're likely to expect well-structured assignments, explicit syllabuses and clear expectations,” notes Sohal.

Millennials are very team oriented, very accepting of different groups and cultural diversity is, for them, a norm. Yet, says Sohal, because they're so team oriented and accustomed to working in groups, millennials often avoid discussing conflict. “So,” says Sohal, “how can we help them develop skills in conflict resolution?”

With their strong focus on academic success, millennials may feel increased stress and anxiety in the face of competition with so many other high-achieving students.
“Programs that teach stress-coping skills should be at the forefront of services that we're providing,” notes Sohal.

Creativity is another missing skill-set, she says, since these students have spent so much of their childhood involved in structured activities.

“It's important for the university to consider how to foster skills in problem analysis, critical thinking, building their personal creativity, and questioning the status quo.”

Unlike baby boomers who were looking for stellar careers, millennials seem to be looking for meaningful work instead of a corner office and fancy job title.

Sohal notes that millennials don't mind having their parents involved in their education. “A lot of U.S. universities have responded by creating parental relations offices,” says Sohal.

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