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Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015

World without the Internet? News to college freshmen

Friday, August 17, 2012

Consider this: As you are reading this, a new generation of college students is arriving on campuses all over the country.

At DePauw University, new students are due to arrive by Saturday when orientation is scheduled. So you'll have to forgive us if we're feeling a little disoriented ourselves.

For at the Greencastle City Council meeting earlier this week, Council President Adam Cohen, the DePauw swim coach by trade, shared a startling observation: The traditional student coming into town as a freshman to go to DePauw or Ivy Tech has never known a day without the Internet or Amazon.com.

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That's not to mention GPS systems, the Hubble Telescope and karaoke machines.

With each year that passes it becomes more and more interesting to engage the current crop of college students in conversation to gauge not only their IQ but their interest in things outside their bubble as well.

Not too many years ago, I, of course, was one of them, descending upon Columbia, Mo., not knowing a soul on the University of Missouri campus. Hell-bent on a career in sports journalism, I admittedly knew more about baseball and football than economics, physics and politics.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the press box, I learned how to learn, and managed to put up some pretty good grades in classes that seemed rather imposing from the syllabus on down. I absorbed, as my stepdaughter Emily likes to say, "so much useless information."

Like realizing what college students don't know is always a fascinating topic. And I can offer firsthand knowledge.

About 20 years ago, I got my first and only taste of teaching when the professor who taught the Newswriting and Editing class at DePauw was on sabbatical, and about a week before school started his replacement left the university. I was coerced into being the emergency fill-in and managed to work two classes a week into an already-crazy schedule.

One particular class assignment will always stand out. Creating that session from the facts of a legendary local event, I had students ask questions as they would in a press conference, making them draw out the facts of the incident from the news source (me).

Students in my class (I hedged a bit on actually writing that phrase) probably ranged from age 18 to 20 and showed excellent writing skills (of course, this was well before email, Twitter and texting began to erode basic communications abilities).

What we used for the elements of the faux press conference were the facts of the John Dillinger robbery of Central National Bank on Oct. 23, 1933.

Anyone who has lived in this area any real length of time knows most of the specifics: The heist was the 31-year-old Hoosier bank robber's largest as the gang made off with nearly $75,000 in cash and negotiable bonds from the bank on the southwest corner of the courthouse square. Accompanying Dillinger that day in Greencastle were gang members Harry Pierpont, Charles Makley and Harry Copeland.

Students asked all the routine questions, eventually learning the incident was a bank robbery and how much was taken.

"Do they have any suspects?" one young lady finally thought to ask.

"Why, yes," I said, trying to hold back a smile. "The suspect is John Dillinger."

The response among the 20 students that day varied from a haughty "No way" to a confused "Who's that?"

It amazed me that someone could be at least 18 and be in college and never have heard of Public Enemy No. 1, the most infamous bank robber of all time.

But each year about this time, the faculty at Beloit (Wis.) College reminds us how fast time flies as it releases what has become known as the Beloit College Mindset List. The list offers a glimpse at the cultural touchstones connected with the latest crop of college students, most of whom were born in 1994 in order to be 2012 freshmen.

For example, people in China might be starving -- as mothers certainly have suggested at many a dinner table -- but to today's freshmen, they've always had Big Macs available.

According to Beloit professor Tom McBride and Public Affairs director Ron Nief, for these new students:

-- Gas stations have never fixed flats, but most serve cappuccino.

-- IBM has never made typewriters.

-- Sammy Davis Jr., Jim Henson, Ryan White, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Freddy Krueger have always been dead.

-- Harry Potter could be a classmate, playing on their Quidditch team.

-- Caller ID has always been available on phones.

-- They have never known life without "Seinfeld" references.

-- "The Tonight Show" has always been hosted by Jay Leno.

-- Macaulay Culkin has always been "Home Alone."

-- They have always been looking for Carmen Sandiego.

And, you might tell them -- not unlike John Dillinger -- you can take all that to the bank.