Engagement Revisited: Updating Student Engagement for a New Generation
Duration: One hour
Facilitator: Dr. Adam Peck
In the fall of 2017, a video created by Cornell University freshman Emery Bergmann for a class project
went viral. Her project vividly described the feelings of isolation she felt in her first year of college. She
explains: “I guess I just assumed that I was going to have a million friends and I was just going to party all
the time. But it’s not really like that.” To make matters worse, to Bergmann her contact with friends
back home served as a constant reminder of the relationships she was missing. “The phone, sucks. You
have this constant reminder of all my friends back home, how close we were and all the fun stuff we did
together, so I guess that distance can really get to you,” she said.
Recently the New York Times followed up with Emery Bergmann to see how she was doing. She wrote
an opinion piece in which she looked back on her experiences in her first year. She wrote: “A year after
making the film, I’ve settled in to college a lot better.” Among the lessons she learned was that, “Social
media reinforces the notion that you should always be enjoying yourself, that it’s strange to not be
happy, and that life is a constant stream of good experiences and photo-worthy moments. I taught
myself that everyone’s college experience is different, and slowly, I started to embrace the uniqueness
of my own.” Adapting to a new environment often takes time, and many students have similar stories
of feeling isolated and alone in the early days of their college years. Institutions would do well to pay
attention to this issue. Lack of engagement with the institution is a significant cause for attrition.
Students who leave one institution are less likely to complete a degree than those who stay.
Engagement in college looks quite different today than it did even twenty years ago. Back then, staying
connected with high school friends as well as family was significantly harder as there was no texting, cell
phones, or even widespread use of email. Long distance calls to old friends and family members were
expensive and rare. In not being able to connect as readily with those off campus, creating meaningful
connections on campus was vital. If a student didn’t find ways to get involved, they would likely be
without friends. For today’s Generation Z college students, this isn’t necessarily the case. Transitioning
to college while holding on to deep and sustaining relationships of the past as they struggle to form
new, tentative ones can make it easy to retreat in to the relative safety of their digital communication.
So while they may be connected to the past, at the same time, they may be disconnected from their
In this light of how differently today’s students experience college and seek engagement, it’s troubling
how little many institutions have done to understand or address these changing needs. Even major
innovations that are injected with technology are simply digitized versions of the previous iteration. We
may not be as likely to promote major events with posters, opting instead for social media posts – but
the mechanics are the same. However, have we really looked at the fundamental ways that engagement
needs to adapt and change to better align with this new generation? This session poses a number of critical questions as well as recommendations to rethink student engagement for today’s Generation Z
- Participants will be able to differentiate the characteristics of Generation Z with
previous generations such as Millennials.
- Participants will be able to evaluate common means of promoting student engagement
and adapt them for the preferences of contemporary students.
- Participants will be able to apply what they learn to develop effective engagement
strategies on their own campuses.
Who Should Attend:
- Mid-level Student Affairs Professionals
- Chief Student Affairs Officers
- Entry-level Student Affairs Professionals
- Faculty/Academic Affairs Staff
Dr. Adam Peck serves as Assistant Vice President and Dean of Student Affairs at Stephen F.
Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Peck is also President and CEO of APEX
Educational Programs, LLC, an educational consulting company that assists universities in
engaging students and measuring the impact of that engagement. A former stand-up and
improvisational comedian, Peck is a dynamic speaker who infuses his presentations with
creativity and humor. He has presented at numerous national conferences, provided keynotes
for a wide variety of groups and conducted more than 100 national webinars. He was the co-
author/editor of “Engagement & Employability: Integrating Career Learning Through
Cocurricular Experiences in Postsecondary Education” published by NASPA.
Peck earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre from Lewis University, a Master of Arts in
Communication Studies from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville and a Doctor of
Philosophy from The University of Texas at Austin.