Community Partners & Gen Z

Ashley Farmer-Hanson and Tawney Schreier, Buena Vista University

December 6, 2018

In academia, Gen Z’s is the topic buzzing around. The discussion is often centered on Gen Z’s impact on higher education, but there have been few discussions how academia is having these conversations with community partners. Community partners are vital to the success of our programs, student learning and community goals being accomplished. At Buena Vista University (BVU) we took this dialogue to heart. We wanted to hear from our community partners, develop ways to meet their needs, share information and find ways to build community. To do this our Civic Action Implementation team identified the need to create these opportunities, and this is where the Civic Engagement Initiative Series started. The series provides opportunity to discuss, collaborate between staff, community partners and students and learn from each other. Topics range from student development, volunteer skill matching, evaluating needs and improving results. The first session was devoted to, “Navigating the Student Volunteer: Current Trends and Characteristics.”

Each session is a brown bag lunch with the opportunity to network and view a presentation with heavy discussion included. When discussing the general college student and how much they have changed it wasn’t a surprise but many of the community partners in the room had already seen a shift in student volunteers. Many of them had interactions with high school students and through those experience saw shifts in their abilities and skills. They have already seen that shift among the college students they are working with. Gen-Z students possess new digital skills, they are innovative thinkers when it comes to digital learning, and they are multi-screen users. Gen-Z students are curious, they’re willing to ask questions and want to see how the opportunity they’re pursuing can benefit their professional growth in the long run (Forbes, 2017).  In our discussion we tried to identify the different abilities and skills Gen Z brings to community partners with them and identify how we might use those skills differently than we have in the past. Below are a few examples:

Social Learning Environments: Gen Z students want to be in on the action and collaborate with others to build their professional skills. Gen Z wants to see the finish line, working with others that can help them build the skills necessary to reach their goal is important to them. With community partners this may look different in the past because they will want to do things with their peers.

Customization and Shareability: Students want the control of their work or the ability to lead it in a direction, if provided that direction. Their projects and skills must be something they feel they can share. Growing up in a digital age they feel compelled to share their successes. Our community partners discussed how this can be difficult to give step by step direction but know that early on when working with the student it is incredibly important. The student needs to feel comfortable completing the project on their own eventually.

Entrepreneurial Spirit: This is evident in Gen Z, more than 72% of these students would like to start their own business (Forbes, 2017). The tools they need to do so are at their fingertips and they’re willing to use their creative and innovative ideas to do so. In community agencies this is the perfect way to update processes and approach challenges in different and new ways. Once a student is dialed in, they are going to absorb everything they are being taught so they can apply it again in a different way.

Authenticity and Inclusiveness: Gen Z strives toward security and authenticity. They need to feel like their leaders are invested in them and they care about their needs. While Gen Z has great work ethic, leaders will only see this if they can get their Gen Z’s invested in their work- which comes from building an authentic relationship. With an inclusive and authentic relationship Gen Z is less likely to leave, but they have no problem doing so if they feel unappreciated. It is vital for community partners to invest the time early on in the relationship so that students feel a relationship developing.

Gen Z’s want experiential learning where they can apply concepts in the moment that they are learning (Selingo, 2018). Therefore, universities relationships with community partners are intracule to the success of student learning. As our community partners pointed out, we must adapt and change to meet this generation’s needs. These students have a strong work ethic just as the generations preceding them, allowing them to grow as young professionals and utilize their broad skill sets is a vital part of their experience. They are committed to their work and projects if they feel like they are building meaningful skills and relationships. Additionally, we have a responsibility to develop them in areas that they may not be skilled and we can help them work with others from different generations than them. Our approach may be different, but collectively we have an opportunity to solve community needs in ways that we haven’t been able to accomplish before.


Patel, D. (2017, September 22). 8 Ways Generation Z Will Differ From Millennials In The Workplace. Retrieved from

Selingo, J. J. (2018). The new generation of students: How colleges can recruit, teach, and serve Gen Z. Washington, D.C.: Chronicle of Higher Education.


  • Ashley Farmer-Hanson Ed.D., Interim Vice President of Student Success and Dean of Students and Director of Civic Engagement, Buena Vista University
  • Tawney Schreier, AmeriCorps Civic Engagement Coordinator, Buena Vista University

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