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Meeting the Millenial Generation Halfway: Reconceptualizing Faculty Work

November 17-18, 2006
University of the Sacred Heart and the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras
San Juan, Puerto Rico

Laura L. Behling , Associate Professor and Chair of English, Gustavus Adolphus College


Millennial students have come to college and have elicited two different characterizations. For some cultural observers, they are “self-absorbed, attention-deficit-disordered, digital addicts who disrespect authority and assume they can control what, when, and how they learn.” Others view them as “smart, self-assured, technology wizards who follow the rules and who are on their way to becoming the powerhouse generation” (Faculty Resource Network). Faced with these students in their classrooms, many faculty work hard to create and enhance learning experiences for these millennial students that take advantage of new ideas and pedagogies, such as non-traditional classrooms, service learning, experiential learning, immersion in language or community activities, use of contrasting technologies, cultural comparisons, and collaborative learning.

What I would like to do, however, is back up a generation, or two, or maybe even three. Even though Millennials have come to college, they are not alone on their campuses. They are recruited, taught, advised, evaluated, and mentored by faculty, some of whom were born at the tail end of the Traditionalist Generation (1925-1945), many who are considered the Baby Boom generation (1945-1960), and others who are Generation X (1961-1981) faculty. Thus, it is imperative to not only provide educational experiences that understand the distinctiveness of Millennial students, but also to provide educational experiences to faculty who also need to understand the distinctiveness of the students in their classrooms.

Ernest Boyer’s Scholarship Reconsidered argues “the academy must become a more vigorous partner in the search for answers to our most pressing social, civic, economic, and moral problems, and must reaffirm its historic commitment to what I call the scholarship of engagement” (11). Suggesting that scholarship consists of four phases—discovery, integration, application, and teaching—Boyer’s work calls for a more intentional and stronger connection between people inside and external to the academy. Eugene Rice recently concurred, positing that faculty work “is undergoing a major transformation,” and the challenge is in preparing faculty to succeed in this transformation. “How,” Rice writes, “do we prepare faculty to build on the vision of academic excellence? How do faculty prepare students for life in an inclusive democracy?” (11) He continues:
We already have shifted focus from faculty to learning. Shaping an academic staff to prepare students for participation in an interdependent global community where innovation is vital for success presents a different kind of challenge.

Getting faculty to change the way they think about their work—moving from an individualistic approach (‘my work’) to a more collaborative approach (‘our work’)—is a critical transition that challenges deeply rooted professional assumptions. Related to this is the call for ‘unbundling’ of the faculty role…. What is already being called for are new ‘networks for learning’ that will reach across academic staff and into the larger community. New ways of integrating what we have known in the past as faculty work will need to be developed” (12).

Kelly Ward amplifies the emerging new responsibilities and roles of faculty, often linking them into the discussion about the scholarship of engagement. Ward, like other scholars, offers a new vision for college and universities that is both “committed to its students and faculty and fulfilling its traditional role in teaching and training students,” and “to serving the communities and constituencies that surround and support it” (1).

Helping faculty think differently about their work, traditionally defined as research, teaching, and service, and their millennial students, requires more than calls for such change or challenges to the academy to do so. Rather, assisting faculty in this crucial reconceptualization requires colleges and universities to deliberately design and provide opportunities for faculty to experience for themselves learning opportunities to which Millennials respond. And it also requires that the language of traditional faculty work be recast in order to better demonstrate an understanding of engaged learning opportunities.

Let me first offer an example of a faculty development program that engages faculty in experiences we hope to provide to our students. At my college, we have a specific program for faculty to learn about service learning pedagogies that we have deliberately connected to a social justice-themed seminar in a country other than the United States. In groups of 14-21, faculty have traveled to Northern Ireland, Guatemala, Cuba, and most recently to Namibia to focus on issues that are global but also specific to a locale. This is an intellectually stimulating intercultural and international experience that begins to give faculty the experience of study abroad that we impress upon our students. This past summer, we included a service learning component and homestays with families in Namibia—replicating on a very small scale what many students experience while living abroad for a semester—as well as visits to governmental agencies, social service organizations, schools, and health care facilities.

Why do faculty need to have experiences that parallel the opportunities that we say students ought to have? There are three reasons. First, we know that people learn best by doing, be they students or faculty of any age. So, as faculty, we may understand the value of these programs, but to experience them ourselves makes us more powerful advocates of them. Second, we enhance our own credibility. We can encourage a student to study in the developing world or accept an internship, but if we want students to get outside their own comfort zone, we have to be willing to get outside ours. It is often challenging enough for faculty to interact with other faculty of a different generation, even though we share a common position or role. It is more of a challenge for faculty to engage with students who may be two or three times removed from their generation, and have a vastly different interface—technological and otherwise—with the world. Third, in mentoring a student, it is not enough to wax nostalgic. Although we may have studied abroad or completed internships as undergraduates—I, for instance, studied in what was then West Germany and held internships at a publishing company and a newspaper—we need to acknowledge how the world has changed (West Germany no longer exists, and news doesn’t come across teletype machines anymore).

Students, as Mary Taylor Huber and Pat Hutchings suggest, are asked to “go meta.” But, they continue,

many educators would argue that students are unlikely to develop such habits of reflection and intentionality if faculty do not do the same. Helping students to ‘go meta’ involves designing better opportunities for them to connect their learning within and among courses and contexts. It involves faculty getting smarter about the look and feel of integrative learning so that students’ efforts can be recognized and fostered. And it also involves faculty modeling, through their teaching, the thoughtful approach to learning that they want their students to develop. (8-9)

If faculty believe in the value of life-long learning, than participating in similar experiences allows us to model citizenry that is educated and still learning. Faculty, too, can “go meta.”

But these programs are often expensive to implement, difficult to schedule around busy faculty lives, and a challenge to integrate into the daily life of an academic year or program, and “integrative learning” is more than creative internship or intercultural opportunities for faculty. I would like to suggest that there is another way to meet the Millennial generation halfway in their learning styles, to show an awareness of generational differences in teaching and learning, and to model for students—both in deed and word—the kinds of behaviors and language about this kind of learning—without leaving campus or the community. There already are experiences that faculty have on a regular basis in their teaching, scholarship, and service, that speak the language of the millennial student and model the kind of ways students today are learning.

One way to make faculty service work a more legitimate use of faculty resources is to treat outreach and service activities as scholarly activities in the same way that research always has been and teaching is increasingly being treated. Acknowledge the important role of service in both the internal and external functioning and health of the campus—and the role it plays in leading integrated academic lives. One way to consider this shift in understanding faculty work is to consider what activity, on campuses and in communities, is the faculty version of:

An internship
A service project
Intercultural/International experience
Leadership opportunities
An intensive research experience
Collaborative research

For example, faculty often serve as a member of a board for nonprofit organizations in their communities or they volunteer. In order to better understand this important community work, we may research what role boards play in nonprofit groups, consider ways to introduce group training to enhance a board’s function, or interview community members about expectations. Another faculty may offer volunteer consulting services to local history collections, and most faculty serve on campus committees that offer leadership and collaborative opportunities.

We need to be willing, first, to talk with other faculty and our students about our experiences, and then second, to reconceptualize faculty work as full of the types of experiences we want our students to have. How can faculty work incorporate the language of student experiences to talk about their work? What are ways faculty and administrators can reframe and recast professional or service commitments according to the scholarship of engagement? Rearticulating the work that faculty already are doing not only begins the transformation of research, teaching, and service that this new world requires, but appreciates the experiences the Millennials are bringing to our campuses, and welcomes the opportunities they demand.

References and Bibliography for Further Reading
Bellah, N., Madsen, R., Sullivan, W., & Tipton, S. (1996). Habits of the heart: Individualism and commitment in American life. New York: Harper & Row.

Boyer, E. (1996). “The scholarship of engagement.” Journal of Public Outreach 1,1,11-20.
- - -. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: priorities of the professoriate. New York: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Bringle, R. G., Games, R., & Malloy, E.A. (Eds.). (1990). Colleges and universities as citizens. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Chibucos, T. R. & Lerner, R. M. (Eds.). (1999). Serving children and families through community-university partnerships: Success stories. Norwell, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Driscoll, A. & Lynton, E. A. (1999). Making outreach visible: A guide to documenting professional service and outreach. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education.

Ehrlich, T. (1995). The Courage to inquire: Ideals and realities in higher education. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.

Ellis, J. and Noyes, H. (1990). By the people: A history of Americans as volunteers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc.

Fairweather, S. (1996). Faculty work and public trust. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Glassick, Charles E., Taylor Huber, M. & Maeroff, G.I. (1997). Scholarship assessed: Evaluation of the professoriate. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Harkavy, I & Benson, L. (1998). “De-Platonizing and democratizing education as the bases of service learning.” In R.A. Rhoads & J. Howard (Eds.), Service learning: Pedagogy and research (pp. 11-19). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Huber, M. T. and Hutchings, P. (2004). “Integrative Learning: Mapping the Terrain.” The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land Grant Universities. (1999). Returning to our roots: The engaged institution. Washington, DC: National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges.

Lynton, E. (1995). Making the case for professional service. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education.

Michigan State University. (1996). Points of distinction: A guidebook for planning & evaluating quality outreach (Revised). East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Board of Trustees.

Palmer, J. (1998). The Courage to Teach. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Rice, Eugene. “From Athens to Berlin to LA: Faculty Work & the New Academy.” Liberal Education (Fall 2006): 6-13.

Sandmann, L. R., Foster-Fishman, P.G., Lloyd, J., Rauhe, W., and Rosaen, C. (2000). “Managing critical tensions: How to strengthen the scholarship component of outreach.” Change 32,1, 44-52.

Schon, D.A. (1995). “The new scholarship requires a new epistemology.” Change, November/December, 27-34.

Ward, Kelly. “Faculty Service Roles and the Scholarship of Engagement,” ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report Volume 29, Number 5

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