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A Generational Thing

by Jason Matthew Smith, editor

Some 29,000 students recently showed up on the U of U campus, which can only mean one thing: Fall Semester has begun.

So, are these students different from those of past years? In fact, a sizeable proportion of them belong to what demographers and sociologists have dubbed “the Millennial Generation.”

Roughly speaking, Millennials are those born between the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s (although there is, of course, some debate as to when the beginning and end dates defining the group should be). Like previous generations, Millennials shape the world just as much as they are shaped by it.

But in some ways, today’s college students are nothing like Baby Boomers or Gen Xers. For most of their lives, Millennials have been digitally tethered to one another in some fashion. For them, the lines of communication are always open, whether in the form of cell phones, instant messaging, or blogs. Communication is not a tool, but a way of life. Some Millennials lay their lives bare on a MySpace page, or in an online journal, for conceivably thousands of strangers to peruse. Some believe Millennials are unconcerned with issues of privacy because they’ve grown up in an age when celebrity and attention—in just about any form—are deemed particularly valuable. The jury is still out on that point, but one thing is clear: Understanding the mind of the Millennial (insofar as such a thing is possible) grants us a glimpse at the U’s future, since members of this generation are destined to become among tomorrow’s professors and/or administrators.

On page 24, writer Paul Ketzle helps us gain just such an understanding. Ketzle, who wears several hats at the U, paints a colorful portrait of contemporary college students, revealing how the ubiquitous presence of technology has shaped their lives—for better and for worse.

But biology trumps technology every time, and regardless of how techno-savvy Millennials may be, some 50 percent of them are likely to have developed some form of dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease by age 85 or older. Brett Hullinger traces the U’s efforts to understand this disease, which sometimes punctuates the end of a dignified, exemplary life with numerous indignities and hardships. But on this front, the U is moving forward aggressively with the establishment of the Center for Alzheimer’s Care, Imaging and Research. As we get ever closer to understanding this devastating disease, there is the very real possibility that it could be a treatable—or even preventable—condition by the time today’s twenty-somethings become octogenarians.

And on page 20, Kelley Lindberg introduces us to the Center for Interdisciplinary Art and Technology (CIDAT), new to the College of Fine Arts, through which artists collaborate with scientists, computer experts, and others. By bringing together these minds that have traditionally often worked in completely separate spheres, CIDAT aims to see what happens when artists assist with scientific endeavors, and when scientists dip their toes into the artistic pool.

Innovative new programs like this are likely to prove powerfully attractive to Millennials. But it is important to remember that Millennials are not a faceless mass, thinking and acting with one mind. They are as diverse as any generation, and interacting with these dynamic young scholars in an educational setting is destined to yield plenty of surprises. To that end, sociologist and professor Teresa Martinez offers an essay on her experiences teaching Millennials.

This issue also features a reunion of alumni folk musicians; a celebration of 100 years of Utah basketball; a profile of 2007’s Rosenblatt Prize recipient, Huntsman Cancer Institute Director Mary Beckerle; and a conversation with noted author and U of U alumnus Ron Carlson. Enjoy!

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