Category Archives: Centre College

Gen Z in the college classroom: how to best understand and teach the new generation of students?

I recently finished two books that offer some early evidence of the values and habits of the GenZ generation, those born in the late 1990s through the early 2010s. They are starting to enter college and for the first time my students will be of a different generation label than me. (Yes, it finally happened.)

These books are:

Some of the key take-aways about the Gen Zers from these two books include:

  • Coming of age during the global financial crisis of the late 2000s has often led them to be hyper-anxious about their future economic stability and security. “Getting a job” is the primary (if not exclusive) reason that most of them go to college.
    • “Happiness” tends to be equated with financial security and economic independence. That is the primary goal that they’re anxious and highly motivated to achieve before they reach 30.
    • They want practical, applicable knowledge and skills for job competitiveness.
    • The perceived need for college credentials has led to the accumulation of massive amounts of student debt, seeing it as a necessary step toward economic stability and self-sufficiency through a college degree, but has also been accompanied by widespread anxiety about the ability to ever pay the loans off.
    • Given these uncertainties, there is a general craving for predictability and order in an uncertain world. They are less likely to take risks than previous generations (fewer rates of drug use, teenage pregnancy, etc.) while simultaneously experiencing more anxiety about the future.
  • Digital natives — most have never known life without a smartphone. They are often constantly on their devices.
    • This has pros: easy and instant access to a world of information, being able to form social groups and find opportunities online, often becoming knowledge “specialists” rather than generalists.
    • It also has its cons: shorter attention spans, hyper-vigilance about online profiles, more difficult to foster interpersonal interaction skills, etc. It tends to produce rates of anxiety and depression at higher rates than previous generations.
  • Diversity is a given and to be celebrated, not a reality to be tolerated. About half identify as non-white.
    • Identity, including gender and sexuality, is considered fluid and self-determined.
    • To GenZers, the worst thing you can do is offend someone or make them think that you’re judging their self-selected values or identities.
  • Texting/instant messaging is the default communication method. Email is what adults do. Facebook is what they use to connect with older family and friends, but Twitter and Instagram are used to connect to peers.
  • They perceive effective leaders as those who can facilitate collective action and decision making to accomplish shared objectives, complex thinking, adaptability, interdependence. They want honesty and transparency in leadership instead of paternalistic information-shielding.
    • They do not tend to admire their bosses, religious leaders, celebrities, or political leaders.
  • They have grown up in a world where major institutions (economic, religious, political) have not produced many good results and have hurt the world in many ways, and so are skeptical of the virtue and effectiveness of institutions.


After reading these books, I am still ruminating on a series of questions regarding my vocation as a college professor:

  1. The culture of liberal arts colleges (and much of higher education in general) is to push back against the idea that a college education is merely an instrumental means to the ultimate goal of career preparation and economic security. We often explicitly remind students that becoming a well-educated person has its own intrinsic value as a step toward self-actualization and intellectual freedom, separate from whatever economic advantage it may give someone. But this research seems to indicate that economic security and “getting a job” is the top motivating concern and source of anxiety for the Gen Z generation. How should this inform the culture and values of our classrooms, syllabi, and institutions? Should it?
  2. To what extent is it the job of a college education to promote healthy technology skills and values? Should we be actively reminding students about how too much reliance on social media is associated with anxiety and depression? Should we be intentionally fostering healthier technology habits…? Or is that the job of some other institution (or at all)?
  3. How might we balance the very admirable values of inclusivity, mutual respect, and compassion that characterize the Gen Z generation with the need to teach and practice skills of argument, debate, and civil disagreement that are vital to democratic citizenship?
  4. Should college professors take the reality of shorter attention spans as a given and actively create lesson plans accordingly? Or should professors work to help students foster longer attention spans by designing lesson plans that require sustained focus for long periods of time?
  5. How should colleges and professors respond to increasing levels of anxiety and depression among Gen Z students that seem to be strongly related to cell phone use and social media? To what extent should our lesson plans and group discussion formats be designed to minimize student anxiety? Is anxiety management within the purview of college instructors? We often say that learning most often occurs when students get “outside their comfort zone.” How might this be effectively accomplished in a way that does not increase already-higher-than-average levels of anxiety and depression?


Centre College convocation with Julia Azari and Dara Lind

On October 6, 2016 Centre College was pleased to host a convocation featuring Dr. Julia Azari of Marquette University and Dara Lind of They spoke for a little over an hour on the 2016 presidential election. Topics included:

  • What explains Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination?
  • What are common misperceptions about the election and what are more accurate ways to think about them?
  • Does this election teach us anything about the politics of gender and/or ethnicity that we didn’t already know?
  • What is the likely direction of both the Democratic and Republican parties going forward after the election is over?

Interested parties can listen to an audio recording of the convocation by CLICKING HERE.

We are grateful for their visit!

My students’ choices for American electoral reform

This semester my POL 330 “Parties, Campaigns, and Elections” class at Centre College has been examining a variety of proposed electoral reforms. At the end of each discussion, we held a vote on whether or not to stick with the status quo on a particular issue (e.g. campaign finance, primary electoral systems, direct democracy, etc.) or go with a proposed alternative. I recorded the plurality winner for each electoral domain, and then the last week of class I presented the batch of reform choices to my class as a single up-or-down “package” of reforms. By a 2-1 margin, my students voted to recommend the following slate of electoral reforms:

  • Abolish direct elections to state judicial offices
  • Promote more state-level direct democracy (initiative, referendum, recall) throughout the country
  • Limit legislative redistricting to once per decade
  • Maximize the number of uncompetitive elections
  • Replace open/closed primaries with a Top-2 primary system
  • Eliminate the current presidential nomination process with a single national popular Top-2 primary vote
  • Eliminate the Electoral College and replace with a direct popular vote
  • Retain the current campaign financing system with the exception of reversing Citizens United

“Flameside Chat”: Debriefing the 2014 midterm election

On the evening of Wednesday, November 5th, Dr. Dan Stroup, Dr. Lia Rohr, and myself sat down to participate in an hour-long “Flameside Chat” debriefing the results from Tuesday’s midterm election. Enjoy!

Publicly opposing Centre College can potentially be smart politics

In Sunday’s Advocate-Messenger, Danville Mayor and Republican candidate for county Judge-Executive Bernie Hunstad identified Centre College among several groups in the community politically opposed to his candidacy: 

 “I believe I am the underdog in the primary, and I believe I will be the underdog in November,” Hunstad said. “I’m running against Lynn, the EDP (Danville-Boyle County Economic Development Partnership), Centre College, the McKinney supporters and the newspaper.” (Page A01 and A08 of April 2oth’s edition; not yet available online.)

As I interpret this comment, Mayor Hunstad was listing groups in the community that he believes are opposed to his candidacy for Judge-Executive. It occurred to me, though, that perhaps by publicly aligning against each of those groups (including Centre College), it may serve to elicit support from potential Republican primary voters who also view those groups unfavorably.

In the 2011 Boyle County Exit Poll, we asked voters whether they agreed or disagreed that “Centre College gets too many unfair advantages within the city of Danville.” This is a measure of implicit “resentment” toward the College, and 26.5% of respondents indicated that they “agree.” It’s possible that by publicly claiming that the Centre College community is opposed to his candidacy, he may increase his support with the quarter of the community that also harbors unfavorable attitudes toward the college. Given that more than a quarter of Danville harbors implicitly resentful attitudes toward Centre, that’s not a bad political strategy. 

(I should note, though, that there doesn’t seem to be a political relationship with feelings of Centre resentment as 26.6% of Democrats compared to 25.6% of Republicans said that they thought that Centre had unfair advantages in the community – a statistically insignificant difference. So there’s no clear advantage for winning a Republican vs. a Democratic primary by aligning against the College.)

Finally, the 2012 Boyle County Exit Poll showed that about 58% of Boyle County had a favorable view of Judge-Executive Democratic incumbent Harold McKinney while only 14% had an unfavorable opinion (28% DK/no opinion). The same survey showed Mayor Hunstad with a 32% approve/46% disapprove (22% DK/no opinion). Clearly whoever emerges from the Republican primary will face an uphill battle to unseat Judge McKinney in November.

Analysis of Road Diets on businesses in Georgetown and Elizabethtown

This semester students in my POL 210 “Introduction to American Politics” course have been working on a policy analysis investigating the effect of the “Road Diets” implemented in Georgetown, KY and Elizabethtown, KY in 2012. This was done as part of a “service-learning” component of the course. Centre College emphasizes engaged and experiential learning and often partners with community members to give students a chance to engage in “real world” learning experiences. As such, the students in my course took responsibility for this project and were almost exclusively responsible for all the data gathering, analysis, and writing of the final report, with some minor supervision from their instructor.

In this case, our report was produced at the request of Danville City Manager Ron Scott who asked for assistance in gathering data about how other Road Diets have affected downtown businesses in two Kentucky cities that implemented Road Diets in 2012: Georgetown and Elizabethtown. It is anticipated that this report will contribute to the ongoing conversation about whether or not the City of Danville should recommend to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet whether or not to implement a Road Diet when Main Street in Danville is repaved in the summer of 2014. (See background on this issue here as well as the local EDP’s website on the issue here.) 

The full report is available for download by clicking HERE.

The Executive Summary is as follows:

This policy analysis reports the results of a study of both Elizabethtown and Georgetown related to the effects of a Road Diet system implemented in each community in 2012. The study took into account various economic indicators such as unemployment rates and tax revenues. This study also gathered information from business owners/managers whose businesses are located adjacent to streets where a Road Diet was put into place in 2012. This input was gathered via a telephone survey covering the owners’ perceptions on the effects of the Road Diet in the community on his or her own business.

The key findings of this study are:

  1. There is little evidence that the Road Diet had a detrimental effect on businesses in terms of their customer volume, revenue, and livelihood.
  2. After the Road Diet was implemented, business owners perceived their customers to have safe access to the business front and reported little difficulties in truck deliveries to their stores and little difficulty in customer parking and access.
  3. The Road Diet did not seem to affect either unemployment rates or tax revenues in either community.
  4. The Road Diet seemed to negatively affect the two communities studied in terms of a perceived increase in traffic on the part of business owners.
  5. Overall, business owners think that the Road Diet had a negative impact on the community as a whole, but for reasons other than its economic consequences. 

Nativism and opposition to health care reform

Centre College undergraduate student Jordan Shewmaker and I recently co-authored a blog post for Huffington Post that summarizes the results of our research article that was recently published in Political Behavior. The summary article at Huffington Post is available here:

The full Political Behavior article is available online here (gated):

Here’s a teaser:

After statistically controlling for the effect of partisanship, political ideology, racial attitudes, income, age, education, etc., nativism was shown to exert a stronger influence than every other variable in the model [on support for the Affordable Care Act] with the exception of partisanship. Among Republicans, individual nativist attitudes tended to decrease support for the ACA by a factor of about 35% while among Democrats, nativist attitudes decreased support for the ACA by about 12%. … These results imply that the 20th century New Deal model of the expansion of the welfare state is increasingly becoming associated with “foreign” political values and practices in the minds of many Americans, especially Republican partisans. In other words, not only are Republicans seeing the welfare state model as obsolete, but now possibly antithetical to American identity as well.

Click here to learn more about opportunities for student-faculty research collaboration at Centre College.

Results published from 2011 Boyle County Exit Poll

To all my GOV 110 and GOV 336 Centre College students who helped design and field Boyle County exit polls on Election Day in 2011: some of the results from this project were finally published in an academic journal! I used the social desirability and immigration attitudes questions from the 2011 exit poll as part of the empirical analysis in an article that was published online today in Social Science Research. And I made sure to include a “shout out” to you all in the Acknowledgements section of the article.

Thank you to my students who have been participating in this project over the last two years. The Exit Poll project simply can’t run without you! In addition to providing valuable information to the community, these surveys gather valuable data that can eventually become part of the world of scholarly knowledge.

For those who participated in the Fall 2012 exit poll, I’ll be presenting a paper that discusses the results from this survey next spring and hopefully sometime in late 2014 or 2015 it will see the light of day in an academic article. (The peer review process is agonizingly slow sometimes!)

So thank you all again for your assistance with these exit polling projects. Slowly but surely, your efforts definitely pay off!

“Online learning” and higher education

A nation-wide conversation is currently taking place about the efficacy and value of “online learning” and “MOOCs” in higher education, a conversation that permeates to us here at Centre College where we value personal, “transformative” educational experiences. There are lots of people who know a lot more about these topics than myself, so I’m not going to try to “pick a side” one way or another or to offer a brilliant new perspective on the issue. I’m merely going to describe a recent experience with online learning.

I’ve spent the last several months participating in an online course offered by “Open Yale Courses.” I picked a class based on a topic I was interested in and wanted to know more about. I downloaded 24 separate MP3 files, each an hour long, that contained recordings of the class lectures given by the professor from the first day of class to the end. I did not do any of the assigned readings and I certainly didn’t bother doing any of the assignments. But over the course of several months I listened to the recorded lectures on my MP3 player while out jogging in the mornings.

On balance, I found it to be a positive experience. The lectures were interesting and kept my attention. The professor presented the material in an engaging way that challenged how I thought about the topic. Some of the things that I learned sparked me to go online and search out additional information. I learned about the approaches and methodologies of an academic discipline different from my own. 

On the other hand, I didn’t have a thorough experience with the subject. I didn’t learn the material as well as I would have if I had been required to take an exam on the subject. The professor often cited material from the readings (that I hadn’t done) so I didn’t follow the details of the lecture as well as I could have. And sometimes it was boring so I skipped to the next topic. If pressed, I probably could regurgitate maybe 10%-20% of the actual “pieces of knowledge” that the professor presented throughout those 24 lectures. 

I can also say, however, that I have a more comprehensive understanding of the subject now. While I don’t recall 100% of the facts and pieces of evidence presented, I feel like I have a good handle on the major paradigms and the overall “narrative” and key “take away” points of the class. Listening to the lectures over a series of weeks has definitely changed my perspective on the subject matter and the way I interact with it. It challenged some of my very strongly-held assumptions about how the world works. And I know where to go if I want to learn more about the topic and I will understand it better given that I can now think within the “paradigms” of the scholarly approach of the topic. Given all that, I think it’s fair to say that I experienced a “transformative” learning experience.

I can compare that experience to another that I had while an undergraduate student. I took an online course that countered toward one of my minors. It was a topic I was interested in and so I was motivated to learn the material. The course, however, was perhaps one of the absolute worst I have ever taken, speaking from a pedagogical perspective. The method of delivery was ineffective and the assessment tools were, at best, a joke. I learned very little and felt that it was a complete waste of my time and inefficient use of resources. 

So from my very limited experience (N=2), I can offer the following observation: Some online learning experiences are good and others aren’t. It’s not that different from in-class experiences. Some professors are better than others. Therefore, we shouldn’t automatically dismiss the usefulness of an educational experience simply because it’s presented electronically. 

Rep. Guthrie’s take on Congressional dysfunction

As I reported in my last post, U.S. Congressman Brett Guthrie (R-KY2) visited my U.S. Congress class here at Centre College on Friday afternoon. Rep. Guthrie spoke to my students for about fifteen minutes and then fielded questions for the remainder of the hour. 

Rep. Guthrie began by addressing a topic that he said tends to be on everyone’s mind when he meets with constituents: “why can’t Congress get anything done?” He gave a short and concise answer: there aren’t a lot of cross-party mutual interests that form the foundation of bipartisan solutions. He explained that a few generations ago, there were several liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats, and that with a few exceptions, they’re all gone now. So now there are no conservative Democrats for the Republicans to reach out to, and conversely, no liberal Republicans for the Democrats to reach out to. Hence a great deal of partisanship and inability to compromise and find common ground.

What impressed me most about this is that this is the same basic answer agreed upon by most academics and political scientists. It’s often the case that academics spend their time combating “conventional wisdom” popularized by both politicians and the media. In this instance, Congressman Guthrie’s answer was right on the mark in line with what I teach my students.

How should we fix the problem? He offered: “We haven’t figured that out yet.” It was an honest answer, which I appreciated. The most effective way of “fixing” it immediately would require substantially shifting the ideological constituencies that make up today’s partisan coalitions, and then having them elect representatives accordingly. That’s not something that’s going to happen any time soon.

I very much appreciate Rep. Guthrie visiting my students and we look forward to future visits here on Centre’s campus.