The brightest generation

Friday, Feb. 2, 2024

Dedicated students, distinguished colleagues and dear friends,

Happy Friday!

It is fair to say that the common wisdom and our survival instincts have conditioned us to plan for the “just in case” scenario of life and business. Accordingly, most of us wisely develop plans b and c just in case things don’t go right. How often do we plan for things going so right that we could not have imagined at the start of our endeavors? Let me explain. Early in my career, as a technology consultant for a large manufacturing company, I was a mere participant in a meeting to address how to fulfill a totally unexpected huge new order for the company’s main product. You see, due to a steady decadal decline in customer demand, the company had mothballed many of their design and manufacturing facilities and so they had to resort to extreme measures to fulfill the new demand. As I recall, in response to a question from the most senior executive in the meeting who angrily inquired why the company was in such dire circumstances, a wise voice replied, “Well sir, for 10 years we have been planning for failure and now success has come our way and we don’t know how to handle it!” Which brings me to my point: we must plan for success, and not only for the just-in-case situation, but also just in case unexpected success comes our way as well. We must have our plan a+ as well.

After the COVID-19 pandemic, at the start of the return to in-person, on-campus classes, the literature was full of evidence that the new cohort of college freshmen were underprepared due to pandemic disruptions and the resulting lack of instructional rigor. Here at S&T, for example, we planned and implemented additional tutorial, counseling and advising support services in anticipation of “ill-prepared freshmen.” We developed and implemented plans b and c! I, for one, admit that we underestimated the abilities and savviness of our “Generation Z” cohorts and the fact that they are more concerned than older generations with academic performance and job prospects, and are better at delaying gratification than their counterparts, despite concerns to the contrary!

Further, a 2022 story on NPR followed five high school seniors and learned that they wanted to make their last year count and make up for all they missed during the pandemic, including focusing on their academics and using the last year to “make things right.”

This past year, as we enrolled our first post-COVID cohort, and as we braced for the “underprepared freshmen,” you can imagine my delightful surprise to realize that “The class of 2023, the first to experience the pandemic throughout most of their high school journey, had put a lot of thought into their college and career choices.” In fact, in preparation for our Scholar’s Day, which was held this past Saturday, I read the essays of our 50 Chancellor’s Scholarshipfinalists. Their essay prompt was: “As AI technologies become more powerful, questions about new regulations and codes of ethics will become more prominent. How is AI currently used in your field, and what ethical considerations do professionals need to make while using these technologies? What are the potential risks and benefits of these technologies, and how might regulation of AI affect your field moving forward?” I was impressed with the variety and depth of responses and pleased with the quality of writing, rigorous analysis, assessment of impact and elaboration of the ethical considerations of the disruptive AI technologies. Frankly, I learned a great deal from our incoming and supposedly “underprepared” students and was grateful that I was not competing with them!

More broadly, while post-COVID-19 research largely indicated a loss of learning for students, the success of our students at all levels and virtually across all our programs highlights the fact that our fears were unfounded, and digitally savvy students graduating now found ways to learn, succeed and thrive in high school despite the disruption in learning. And we continue to reward their efforts by offering many need and merit-based scholarships for undergraduate students, graduate students and international students. Of course, our Kummer Vanguard Scholarsprogram and our Kummer Innovation and Entrepreneurship Doctoral Fellows program offer special opportunities for our students to enhance their educational experiences. Given the great many scholarship opportunities, and to simplify the search process, I encourage our students and applicants to visit our new scholarship database to identify and apply for the scholarships of their interest.

It is with great optimism that I encourage our newest cohorts of students to continue to grow, learn and be a part of planning for success as you did when faced with disruption. Your resilience will carry you and your success will define you as the brightest generation of students who defied all odds, reset all expectations and, in the process, lifted the horizon for all of us.



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Mohammad Dehghani, PhD
Chancellor | 573-341-4116

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