by PAT McSPARIN // Fall 2010

As the Class of 2011 begins its senior year this fall, the staff at Perspectives started wondering what the world looks like to these students. The average member of the Class of 2011 doesn’t remember the Berlin Wall or Johnny Carson hosting The Tonight Show. They’ve also never lived in a world without cell phones or Women’s Studies majors. This made us ask: What will UMKC and higher education be like when today’s infants walk on campus in 20 years? Given the enormity of this question and our close proximity to some of the brightest minds in Kansas City, we decided to find out. An eclectic mix of four well-known campus leaders joined us to debate and help answer our questions.

UMKCPerspectives: With the University having just completed its 2010-2020 strategic plan, we thought we’d take a leap even further into the future, to 2030. Paint us a picture.

Truman: There will be more dormitories. There will always be a certain number of non-traditional students who will commute, but for the University as a whole to move forward with quality research and educational programs, we’re going to have to have a certain number of full-time freshmen coming in every year who stay for the full four years.

Bonewald: Our culture is going to change dramatically because of all the advancing technology. Long-distance learning is probably going to be the norm. There will always be certain things that students have to physically attend, like the arts and the Conservatory. But I think the main reasons students will come together will be for social reasons. We’re going to have a lot of online learning that the University is going to have to prepare for.

Truman: There’s going to be a different way that we learn and teach. Online will be great for the type of content that is delivered, memorized and learned in that fashion, but we’ll have much more collaborative space where people come together and discuss; where people come together and work on projects together.

Witte: I think the differences between what’s online and offline is about our generation. That’s not a distinction that the class of 2030 will make. You’re right that there are things that online learning does well. It doesn’t do everything well. It’s great for pushing knowledge. It’s not great at strengthening skill. But knowledge isn’t everything. There’s a place in the world for skill.

Meyers: Information is going to be overly abundant, so the best functional people in 2030 are going to be the ones who can filter through that information and determine what’s important, and then act on it. The world of 2030 is going to be very global, because information will be very available globally, and how our students play in the global world and how they filter information is going to be very important.

Perspectives: Now that anyone can make a movie, publish work, be a journalist, etc., how will we know real talent and how will students find their niche?

Witte: We’ve rarely known talent in our own time.

Bonewald: You have to die first.

Witte: There are as many people who were missed in their lifetimes as were celebrated. It is also true that the people who were celebrated are not necessarily the people who lasted. It’s not a problem for a 14 year old who is working on his or her third film on a laptop to change. So instead of consuming culture, we make culture. That’s not a problem. It’s not a problem for the art form.

Bonewald: Do you think talent is taking any media and using it creatively?

Witte: Yes.

Meyers: But don’t you think it’s also just a different way of communicating? It used to be you could talk to each other. Then you could use a piece of paper and write to each other. Then you could pick up a phone and talk to each other. Now you can create a video and take a picture. So you might make movies, but it doesn’t mean you’ll be on the big screen. It just means that’s the way you share.

Witte: Right. And the notion that media mediate relationships does not necessarily mean that the most recent talent is superior talent. In 2030, we’ll still be reading Shakespeare. We’ll be listening to Bird. That’s the real puzzle for us — and it’s terrifying: How do we pull culture forward?

Bonewald: Do you think that the reason we still read Shakespeare and still talk about Galileo and Michelangelo is that these individuals came up with these incredible ideas in a very scarce environment? I think that’s the reason why we continue to teach that Pasteur had an open mind when he looked down a microscope. It’s a teaching tool with regards to being open to what’s around you when it comes to interpretation and being creative.

Meyers: Those are key innovations that occurred in history – key right turns that were made.

Bonewald: They say that we gain information by making incremental gains, or we can take a giant leap. Those were the leapers. Those are the ones we remember.

Witte: And punished them in their time.

Truman: I think how we view these people speaks to the fact that technology is changing. Things have become much more collaborative and much more incremental. You can think way outside the box, but quite honestly, people are taking minor steps to each one of those areas today. It’s different.

Perspectives: So, how will students in 2030 find their niche?

Witte: They’ll create it. Is there going to be a “job for life” in 2030? Is there one in 2010?

Bonewald: We’re seeing this change with every generation. When I was 18, you went to college, you got married and you got a job. You always knew what you were going to be. I think in 2030, students will be able to sample all kinds of potential careers before they finally decide what their niche is. They’ll be able to have remarkable experiences before making some kind of decision as to what to call themselves.

Meyers: The business world is going to change, too, jump-started by this recession that we’re in. We’re going to see more people develop their talent at something they love to do, and they’ll shop it out to many organizations as opposed to looking for any one organization. We’ll see more corporations hiring contract workers as opposed to hiring lots of full-time people. We’re seeing it already.

Truman: A portfolio career is not a stigma before the way it used to be. It’s actually a badge of honor. Today, it means everybody wants me. And this question hits on the fundamental premise: Is the purpose of education a meal ticket or to create one’s life? It’s the difference between education and vocation. And it’s difficult for me to imagine a world in which you can walk out of college and expect to have one job your entire career.

Bonewald: (laughing) Can I tell you about the dental school?

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