Getting Back to Business

Back to school

The start of this school year is the same as it’s always been.

Sure, the cars that parents drive to drop their kids at college change over time. The music blasting from open dormitory windows changes, hairstyles and fashions change. For the most part, though, the annual migration of college students back to campus remains fundamentally unchanged.

Back-to-school season is and always has been about anticipation. About potential. Before bare shoulders are covered by sweaters and quads covered in fallen leaves, the end-of-summer air is rich with possibility, and the same questions ignite the imaginations of students everywhere: What am I going to learn this year? Who am I going to meet? Who might I become?

That universal sense of wonder is why freshmen at Elon College are presented, at the end of new-student convocation ceremonies, an acorn, a gift small in size but huge in symbolism, bestowed upon them by the school president himself. The acorn represents the start of the journey they are about to undertake (fittingly, at the end of their undergraduate journey, the same students will receive a unique graduation present: an oak sapling, celebrating the growth they enjoyed during their time at Elon).

Sometimes, those of us who have graduated on to life in the business world tend to forget what it means to be at college, and particularly what it means at back-to-school time. In our relentless quest to reach college students, we occasionally forget to relate to them.

We see them in terms of trends, a generation of tech-savvy high-potentials, whose backpacks double as charging stations for their smart phones and tablets, whose conversations sometimes unfold exclusively in the language of texted emoji. We track them as consumers who spend their downtime on Netflix instead of networks, and we wonder what they’re thinking. Truth be told, it’s the same way our parents wondered what we were thinking with all that hair in the ‘80s or all that flannel in the ‘90s.

We should never lose sight of the fact that campuses from Orono to Oregon aren’t inhabited by demographics. They are home to individuals – 20.2 million college-bound individuals this fall, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Before we can hope to reach them, we have to remember that. We have to remember what life was like when we were in their Birkenstocks.

Yes, times change. A year ago, who would have imagined returning to campus at the start of the 2015-16 school year in a world without a Daily dose of Jon Stewart and the ubiquitous prospect of a President Trump? A year ago, such a world would have seemed unimaginable to anyone beyond the walls of the SNL writers room.

But do times really change that much? College kids still want the same things they always have. They want to learn and be challenged, to explore and experience, to aspire and to be inspired. They still are going to call home to ask their parents for money, only now they’ll do it in a flurry of texting acronyms instead of calling collect from the pay phone at the end of the dormitory hallway.

At Newbridge, we like to take a moment at this time of year to remind ourselves that college students essentially are no different today than they were in our days on campus. All students still want to make the most of what they are told may be the best four years of their lives. And they all still want to set themselves up for success afterwards.

The essence of the college student remains the same. And as we go about our business of connecting companies to the cherished college-aged consumer, creating experiences for this next wave of millennials, we must focus not just on the changing world around them but on some of those constants of the campus worlds in which they live. And we ask ourselves, What role can we play in enhancing this vital time in their lives? What can we do to encourage their exploration and inspire their curiosity?

Every one of the 20.2 million is on a journey that many of us have already taken. They are all, right now, somewhere between the acorn and the oak.

dave_blogphotoDavid Seigerman’s latest book, Take Your Eye Off The Ball 2.0 (Triumph Books)
will be released this fall. Follow him at @dseigs18.

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