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Archive for Thursday, August 29, 2002

Mindset List’ helps college faculty bridge generation gap

August 29, 2002

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— Students entering college this fall have always had weather reports available 24 hours a day on television. To them, George Foreman is famous only for selling barbecue grills.

Feeling old yet? Here's more.


Today's college freshmen were born in 1984 and know "Big Brother" only as a TV show. They think hair bands are always fashion accessories. And they can't remember a time when GM Saturns weren't on the roads.

"For these students, there's a different frame of reference," said Ron Nief, who for five years has helped compile 50 defining characteristics such as these for a list given to faculty and staff at Beloit College in Beloit.

Employees received this year's "Mindset List" on Wednesday.

The purpose of the list is not to make people feel old, but rather, to help professors and other employees better relate to their younger students.

If a professor knows who Eminem is in today's climate, he might be able to use him while teaching Shakespeare and Milton, said Tom McBride, a professor of English at the college who also helped to compile this year's list.

Students today can't remember a time when a non-Southerner was the U.S. president, have always drunk Cherry Coke in cans, and have always known the drug Ecstasy to be around, the list says.

For them, cars have always had air bags, Richard Burton, Ricky Nelson and Truman Capote have always been dead and Vanessa Williams and Madonna are considered aging singers.

"I have to be aware of what they know. And to some extent they have to know what I know as well," McBride said.

The list began five years ago with a focus mostly on Beloit College students. In earlier years, students took offense, saying it made young people look stupid or ignorant. But it was never intended to be read that way, and its authors are now especially careful about wording, Nief said.

"We're not trying to say 'They don't know,' it's more 'Where are they coming from? What's their frame of mind?' " Nief said.

The Mindset List has become somewhat of a national resource. Beloit officials have received calls from the Pentagon and MTV. The Pentagon wanted help training young recruits; MTV hoped to influence advertisers. Last year, after the list was released, Beloit College received 1,200 e-mails in 24 hours, Nief said.

No doubt that after today, college freshmen will be scanning some version the list, also.

This is, after all, the generation for which cyberspace has always existed and Fox has always been a television network choice, the list says.

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