The More Things Change...

Richard L. McCormick, President
As published in the Spring 2009 issue of Rutgers Magazine

With the recent conclusion of the Rutgers' commencement season, a celebration that coincided with four decades since my own college graduation, it is remarkable how much the college experience has changed over the years.

Students of past decades went off to Rutgers with not much more than a couple of suitcases and a radio; they kept in touch with home by letter or perhaps a weekly phone call from a dormitory hall phone. Today's undergraduates arrive in cars stuffed with many of the comforts of home, and it's not unusual for a student to call family between classes or on the way to lunch.

That's not to say students are tethered to home. To the contrary, today's students are committed to the college experience. On all of our campuses, more students are requesting on-campus living, so much so that we are adding 2,000 beds on the Busch and Livingston campuses, with more housing in the planning stages. In 2006, the Newark Campus opened its third residence hall in response to enormous demand. Fraternal life is also on the rise, with eight new sorority and fraternity chapters coming on board this year. Student involvement in campus lectures, social events, and volunteering is remarkably high. This year's charity Dance Marathon set new highs for participation and fundraising, despite a difficult economy. When 1,052 Rutgers students recently set a world record for the most people in one place dressed as "Where's Waldo?" reminiscent of bygone stunts such as stuffing a VW or a phone booth—they also donated more than 3,000 books as part of the fundraising effort.

Today's undergraduates have different learning styles. Static lectures are less welcome, and hands-on learning is becoming the norm. These young women and men have an easy familiarity with technology, from texting to "tweeting" to whatever communication device comes next. This challenges our faculty and administrators to master the same skills. Some professors require students to use electronic handheld clickers to answer questions in class, providing the instructor with instant feedback on whether students are getting the point. (There's no hiding in the back row with these devices!)

Perhaps most noteworthy, students come to Rutgers with a clear sense of purpose. Some have already made contact with faculty before they arrive. Many are working one or two jobs to help pay for school, and they want to make the most of their time at Rutgers. Those who are motivated know that the university has a lot to offer them, and they see it as a foundation for a career. Perhaps coincidentally, we have seen an increase in students in the sciences and business. And a growing number of undergraduates are connecting their coursework with real-world experience through internships, co-op programs, original research projects of exceptional quality, and other forms of experiential learning.

Do some of today's students still skip 8 a.m. classes, party more than the administration would like to admit, and put off their term papers until the 11th hour? Of course. But, having taught and worked alongside many of these undergraduates over the past few years, I can also say that Rutgers students are bright, curious, articulate, compassionate, and determined to make the world a better place. Just as important, Rutgers is offering them the depth and breadth of knowledge and experience to prepare them for successful lives and careers.

Congratulations, Class of 2009! Your fellow alumni are very proud of you.