University of Pittsburgh

Generation Next

His Google calendar overflows with activities. His cell phone is the command center of a thriving social hub. He handles a full academic schedule while also working. He volunteers for good causes, belongs to multiple campus clubs, and he’s optimistic about the future. Ladimir Geake, Class of 2012, also is a great example of today’s university undergraduates—just ask his friends.

Written by Cara J. Hayden and Beth May

Not long before Election Day last fall, freshman Ladimir Geake was dressed up as a penguin, knocking on potential voters’ doors in Shadyside. He and 25 other Pitt students had donned costumes and were canvassing homes in the Pittsburgh neighborhood as part of a Halloween “Trick or Vote” campaign. College students across the nation got involved in the grassroots effort to encourage potential voters, especially young voters, to cast ballots. The event was sponsored by online sites like YouTube, MySpace, Flickr, and Facebook, and it inspired strangers in cities across the country to engage in community service for a worthy cause.

Although walking around town in a penguin costume to get out the vote might not seem like a significant aspect of Geake’s life as a Pitt freshman, the canvassing event offers a perfect example of a new breed of university students—the millennial generation or NetGen students—those who are entering adulthood early in the 21st century. They’re comfortable with and connected by digital technology, partial to working in teams, idealistic, engaged in community service, racially and culturally diverse, and tolerant of differences.

Typically, millennials are plugged into iPods and PDAs. They communicate by instant messaging on cell phones and computers. They read blogs at least as often as books. They twitter and wiki and socialize online. Eighty million strong, the millennials—often defined as those born beginning in 1982—are, in many ways, different from past generations of students, and they’re changing the way that colleges and universities attract and nurture freshmen.

Kathy Humphrey, vice provost and dean of students at Pitt, rattles off a list of phrases that describe the Class of 2012: Optimistic. Accepting of others. Pushed to excel. Close to their families. Fearless. For the uninitiated, she gives a great crash course on what makes today’s freshmen tick.

“They’re extremely bright and very technologically savvy,” Humphrey says. “The researchers tell us they score higher than any other generation has scored on college-entry tests. They’re also very accepting. Issues of diversity don’t alarm them.” Humphrey observes, too, that freshmen today have both confidence and a positive outlook: “They expect to leave here with ideal jobs—they’re very optimistic.”

Geake, who is 18 years old, is far more than just a vote-trolling penguin. He’s part of a millennial class of entering freshmen. One recent afternoon, he and fellow freshman Amanda Stubing sat in the basement of the William Pitt Union, talking over a granola bar (him) and a pepperoni personal pizza and chocolate energy drink (her).

“He’s friends with everyone,” said Stubing, with a slight eye roll, but it was clear she thought it was a good thing.

They met at a bingo mixer during orientation. Geake—an energetic social work major with a lean build and short, spiky brown hair—was going from table to table collecting soda pop tabs for the Ronald McDonald House, an ongoing project of his floor mates in Sutherland Hall. (The pure, high-quality aluminum content of the tabs makes them ideal for the nonprofit’s recycling fundraising program.) Geake struck up a conversation with Stubing, a pharmacy major, and a friendship was born.

Outgoing by nature, he personifies the millennial generation’s lifestyle. His Google calendar is chock full of volunteer activities and clubs, in addition to a full academic schedule. He volunteers for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh. He’s a work-study student at the University’s Office of Disability Resources and Services, where he does everything from proctoring exams for students with disabilities to running the front desk. He’s involved with Decisions for Life, an HIV awareness group. And, he’s a volunteer with the Pittsburgh Deaf Club and a member of Pitt’s American Sign Language Club.

Geake is a hearing child of two deaf parents. He learned to sign early in life so he could communicate with his mom and dad. He also learned how to live between two worlds—the world of the hearing and the world of the deaf. His ability to readily switch hats serves him well in college, where from hour to hour the landscape changes as he goes from class to class, from his work-study job to volunteering, and from studying to socializing with friends.

Humphrey knows that motivated, involved first-year students like Geake are the norm rather than the exception. “Freshmen today are very civic-minded,” she says. “They see the world as their community.” In particular, Humphrey has been impressed with students’ commitment to civic responsibility. In October, the University sponsored the first annual Pitt Make a Difference Day, giving students a chance to work on volunteer projects throughout the city. “More than 2,000 students showed up, including a lot of freshmen,” says Humphrey. “They were willing and ready to serve.”

Geake and his floormates from the 10th floor of Sutherland Hall spent Make a Difference Day mentoring youngsters involved in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. His friend Amanda Stubing volunteered with a debris-cleaning project. Other students cleaned a Salvation Army warehouse, helped sort toys for the Operation Toy Lift project, or worked on a home rehab in Penn Hills, Pa.

Humphrey also says that millennial students are interested in actively engaging in their academic passions. In recent years, Pitt has developed learning communities that help freshmen adjust to University academics and meet people who are interested in similar fields. This fall, Pitt offered learning communities with focuses on Islamic civilization, computing in biology and medicine, and politics and the media, among others. Geake was a member of the psyche learning community, in which all students took an introduction to psychology course and a gender in composition seminar while also meeting weekly to explore theories of mind, body, identity, and sexuality. “The learning community was probably one of the first experiences that shaped my ideas on college life and academics as a whole,” says Geake. “We were able to talk a lot not only about psyche, but about the new experiences we were all sharing in the neighborhoods of Pittsburgh.” Although the students met face-to-face several times a week, they also communicated with each other through course Web sites.

During the past 20 years, Pitt has seen sweeping changes in the way technology influences the daily lives of freshmen. The University’s handling of admission applications and many other processes has been transformed for today’s tech-savvy student. The millennial generation doesn’t like to wait. “If you say, ‘Come to this office and pick up a form,’ that’s just ridiculous to them,” says Humphrey of today’s students. “‘Just put it online,’ they’ll say.”

And Pitt does.

In recent years, just about anything can be put online. Even a whole dorm.

Hi. I’m Dan, the RA on 10 West. This group is designed to unite the freshmen gentlemen on Sutherland West’s 10th Floor. Check periodically for upcoming programs, and feel free to post messages, discussions, pictures, etc. … I want to make our floor community strong and make all of your first years at Pitt more than awesome.

This is part of resident assistant and junior pharmacy major Dan Yarabinec’s online pitch about his virtual floor for Pitt’s Sutherland Hall residence. This is the second year Pitt has constructed virtual residence halls on the social networking site Facebook to help incoming freshmen get to know one another before they even step foot on campus.

Most of the 45 residents on Yarabinec’s floor, including Geake, signed on prior to the start of the fall semester. There, they got to know each other by writing on the Wall (Facebook-speak for the space on a page where friends can post comments). Incoming students posted comments about everything from hobbies and interests to who was bringing what to their campus rooms or suites.

“Facebook is the social glue that holds us together,” says Geake, who explains that the site’s applications go far beyond virtual floors. He uses Facebook to find out what’s happening on campus, learn about organizations he may be interested in joining, or shout out to friends he grew up with in the Poconos. He also uses it to join virtual groups with like-minded people, such as the “Vote for Pitt to play in the Sun Bowl!” group, or the “Support our men/women in the military” group.

Even though freshman millennials are approaching university life in different ways, there are aspects of the freshman experience that haven’t changed much. The basic hopes, dreams, struggles, and triumphs of entering students are part of a long tradition of university education. Freshmen are still anxious about those first classes, still excited about making new friends, still learning how to handle independence from their families. “They’re still students who are trying to become men and women,” Humphrey says.

And although Geake may be only 18 and not long out of high school, he’s well aware of his potential and intends to use it to the fullest. He plans to earn his social work degree and work within the deaf community. And, he says, he will make his mark: “I want to do something that is notable in the world, whether it be for the deaf community or elsewhere, it’s my goal to do something big.”

Get ready. The turn of the century may have signaled the rise of the next Greatest Generation—the millennials.



Ladimir Geake

Ladimir Geake

Ladimir Geake

Year: Freshman

Major: Social work

Campus Residence: Sutherland Hall

Hometown: Tobyhanna, Pa.

Work-Study Job: Assistant with Pitt’s Office of Disability Resources and Services

Activities: Pitt American Sign Language Club; Decisions for Life club, an HIV awareness group; Pitt Make a Difference Day; psyche learning community; Pittsburgh Deaf Club; and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh

Outlook: “Who has time to be sad when at ANY moment someone could take a picture of you? Gotta look good!”

Jess Collazo

Jess Collazo

Connection to Geake: High school friend and fellow Pitt student

Year: Sophomore

Major: Political science

Activities: American Red Cross volunteer, Jumpstart children’s mentor

Pitt Tidbits: “I tell people the Cathedral of Learning is reminiscent of Hogwarts [the fictional school in Harry Potter novels]. Also, my mother was really taken by Pitt when we first visited, and it’s safe to say that I cause her the most grief compared to my siblings, so I thought attending Pitt was the least I could do.”

Tricia Keefer

Tricia Keefer A&S ’06

Connection to Geake: Job on campus

Pitt degree: B.A. in interdisciplinary studies: global issues and human rights, 2006

Pitt staff position: Administrator with the Office of Disability Resources and Services

Life in the ’Burgh: “I love this city. It has so many quirks to explore. I also chose Pitt because my sister was attending, so it was easier on our parents when they wanted to visit.”

Facebook groups: “End the siege on Gaza now,” “When I was your age, Pluto was a planet.”

Larry Long

Larry Long

Connection to Geake: Decisions for Life club

Year: Freshman

Majors: Marketing and Japanese

Activities: Society for International Business; Decisions for Life club; Rainbow Alliance

Favorite Quote: “Life is too short to wake up in the morning with regrets. So love the people who treat you right, and forget the ones who don’t.”

Dan Yarabinec

Dan Yarabinec

Connection to Geake: Resident assistant

Year: Junior

Major: Pharmacy

Activities: Resident assistant, 10th floor, Sutherland Hall; Kappa Psi pharmaceutical fraternity; volunteer with Children’s Hospital of UPMC

Why he volunteers: “I love the sense of good it creates, and it helps me to see the world differently.”

How he keeps in touch: “I talk with my parents and siblings daily, using my cell phone and the Internet—instant messaging, e-mail, Facebook.” Damilola Aliu

Connection to Geake: High school friend and fellow Pitt student

Year: Freshman

Major: Nursing

Activities: Research assistant in Pitt professor Aletha Akers’ women’s health laboratory, FOCUS (Facilitating Opportunity and Climate for Underrepresented Students), judo

Aspirations: “I feel that the future is way ahead of me. I like to plan, but I don’t want to get so carried away that I forget I’m living in the present. Eventually, I hope to obtain my PhD in nursing education.”

Damilola Aliu

Damilola Aliu

Connection to Geake: High school friend and fellow Pitt student

Year: Freshman

Major: Nursing

Activities: Research assistant in Pitt professor Aletha Akers’ women’s health laboratory, FOCUS (Facilitating Opportunity and Climate for Underrepresented Students), judo

Aspirations: “I feel that the future is way ahead of me. I like to plan, but I don’t want to get so carried away that I forget I’m living in the present. Eventually, I hope to obtain my PhD in nursing education.”

Amanda Stubing

Amanda Stubing

Connection to Geake: Pitt pal since Freshman Orientation

Year: Freshman

Major: Pharmacy

Activities: Make a Difference Day, ballet club, treasurer of the Tower A residents’ association

Goal: “I want to make my parents proud. They have worked extremely hard to get me where I am today, and I want to show them that I didn’t take everything they did for granted.”

Facebook groups: “Honestly, I write ‘lol’ and I’m not even laughing,” “Remember when Pitt kept WVU out of the national championship?”

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