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SMC sociologists research Generation Z

Two Southwestern Michigan College students and Professor Dr. Barbara Karwacinski presented research on “Educational Expectations and School Experiences: What Makes Generation Z Students Happy” at the Michigan Sociological Association’s annual conference at Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids. SMC sent the only undergraduate presenters for the second year in a row. Kaitlynn Kendall, from Edwardsburg, returned joined by Olivia Ziemer, from Hartford.

“I loved going the first time,” Kendall said, “and I was absolutely ecstatic to go again! I did feel more relaxed. It was a relaxed environment, but still very professional.”

Kendall plans to continue at SMC spring semester, transferring next fall to pursue a radiology career.

“I’m still unsure where I want to go,” Kendall said. “It’s a hard decision.”

“Preparing a speech I taught myself a lot about what a student needs to be successful in the classroom,” said Ziemer, 18, a dual-enrolled Hartford High School senior with a 4.0 grade-point average that ranks first in her class. “A student needs to feel there is purpose and meaning to what they are learning. They want their learning to be applicable to their other classes and their future. Overall, a student needs purpose and to experience personal growth.”

“Being a high school student at a state sociology conference was at first very intimidating,” Ziemer said. “Everyone is older, smarter and been in the field longer, compared to me being in it for two months. I was the youngest one there!

“I felt I was a rookie, not knowing what to expect,” Ziemer said. “But I was excited for the opportunity I had to speak and to present my findings along with Kaitlynn and Dr. Karwacinski.”

Ziemer, who has a twin sister, Kendall, has applied to the University of Michigan.

“I really gained a new perspective of sociology,” she said. “I am so thankful I was given the opportunity to take my skills in the classroom and apply them at this conference. Before this college class I honestly didn’t know what sociology was! I learned a lot about myself on the trip. Research we did showed me the reason why I am so successful coming from a small town and being a farmer’s daughter.

“Through my schooling I formed a positive self-identity about myself, from my teachers encouraging me, understanding my uniqueness and my academic abilities. I also come from a stable home life, which gave me the foundation to succeed, but my teachers ultimately made me bloom.”

Ziemer listened to a Flint water crisis roundtable discussion with Dr. Paul Mohai, a U of M environmental sociologist, a former Grand Rapids mayor and a woman and her daughter who live in Flint.

“My eyes were opened to different viewpoints,” Ziemer said. “I felt mercy for the woman and her daughter explaining the difficulties. They almost lost a family member. And respect for the mayor explaining his argument. But overall I gained respect for how sociology ties into my life.”

Fall semester they created a survey instrument with open-ended questions: What would be your ideal learning environment? What characteristics would your ideal teacher possess? What do you expect from learning in this course?

Their sample consisted of 97 Generation Z sociology students born since the mid-’90s.

“Our hypothesis was ‘Generation Z students grow academically when their eudaimonic well-being needs are met,” Karwacinski said.

They found:

• Classroom environment — interactive, 84 percent; warm, welcoming, 72 percent; positive atmosphere, 71 percent; study groups, conversations, 69 percent; immediate feedback “so I know how I am doing,” 67 percent; and more doing and less “knowing,” 64 percent.

• Ideal teacher — partner in learning, 87 percent; caring attitude, 86 percent; spontaneity, 85 percent; enthusiasm, 82 percent; sense of humor, 80 percent; knowledge, 74 percent; and challenge, 72 percent.

• Student expectations for course outcomes — helps me understand myself and people around me, 84 percent; I can use course information in my next courses, 84 percent; allows me to form relationships with a teacher and other students, 72 percent; and gives me opportunity to learn for my future, 71 percent.

“We concluded,” Karwacinski said, “eudaimonic well-being of a student should be recognized and emphasized. Positive functioning in a social context is an important factor for students’ academic and social success. Our results indicate students feel happy if they experience purpose in learning the content and personal growth while forming positive partnership relationships with a teacher and classmates. By engaging students in the interactive teaching and learning process, eudaimonic well-being occurs as a byproduct of the development of individual strengths and virtues.”