Jacob’s Journey — Breaking millennial stereotype

I met Jacob during his freshmen year at Michigan Tech. In high school he played in many sports. Jacob was also heavily involved in his community, helping his mom teach Sunday school, volunteering to shovel the driveways of elderly neighbors (at no change) and helping out with camps for church youth groups. Jacob is a millennial but has proven elements of the stereotype wrong.

In his freshmen year Jake developed a close-knit group of new friends, fostered by residence hall counselor Rachel. Rachel noticed the strong philanthropic tendencies in the group and introduced them to the Mind Trekkers program, Tech’s traveling STEM outreach program. They engaged and thrived in the program, helping other students experience the excitement of leaning that they experienced in science and math.

The summer after his freshmen year as a chemical engineering student, Jake decided to be a counselor at his church’s youth summer camp, a position he thrived in. The summer after his sophomore year, Jake decided to try out the knowledge he acquired in class by earning an internship with Kimberly Clark in Wisconsin. The experience brought the realization of the value of what he was learning. He was meant to be a problem solving chemical engineer!

Jake then focused on a new experience that would take him out of his comfort zone. He worked though Tech’s international programs office to try a study abroad program at a New Zeeland University during the Spring of his junior year. The classes were rigorous, each scaffolding on the other in a constant web of lessons that crossed academic content boundaries of each class. He thrived in the challenges he was faced with alongside his Kiwi peers. Classes had a different focus, often working with formulas that mixed dairy products (New Zeeland’s major export) instead of only chemicals often found in U.S. curriculum.

Jake had begun exploring working abroad while at Kimberly Clark. Knowing he would be in New Zeeland in spring, he had begun applying for jobs at Kimberly Clark operations in neighboring Australia. After months of work with human resource leaders at KC in Australia and successfully securing a student work/tourist visa ($320), he landed the job. He began his job at KC in Australia last June once his study abroad concluded in New Zeeland.

His work in Australia proved of great value in experiencing a different culture. Working in consumer products, he cited the example in the production of Huggies Pull-Up brand. In the U.S. these are made with materials to make them slim, using less material, allowing more per box at a lesser cost. When these new designs were rolled out in Australia and East Asia, they were a flop. Aussies and Asian customers wanted comfort over slim fit. KC had to overhaul its product line, producing bulkier, softer absorbent briefs to meet this cultural value.

What next for the summer before Jakes senior year? A choice between a research abroad program through Tech and an international program that sends student teams to create a sustainable water filtration program for a community in a remote community in Africa.

Millennials often characterized by the negative traits of being “trophy kids” (everyone gets a trophy), needing immediate feedback, and being the Peter Pan generation (not wanting to grow up and take responsibility).

There are many students at Michigan Tech who dispel that millennial label. We are in good hands with the next generation of Jacobs.

Steve Patchin, Ph.D., is director of Career Services at Michigan Technological University.