“Generation Z very well could be the generation to change the world.”

The youngest generation in the world today is already exceeding expectations.

Christi Hopkins, vice president for enrollment at McPherson College, says that Generation Z, those born after 1997 and reaching adulthood now, have a very promising future ahead of them.

“Generation Z very well could be the generation to change the world,” Hopkins said. “Their main focus is to make a difference in the world and that’s very encouraging to me. The negative look at their use of technology is definitely outweighed by their hope to make a positive impact.”

As the upper bracket of this age group enters college, Hopkins has learned a lot about what makes Generation Z tick in her recruitment efforts for McPherson College. She gave a presentation about the group at The Cedars last week.

Generations are grouped and studied so businesses and marketing services can tailor to their new audiences. External events, such as wars, civil unrest and natural disasters, tend to shape the ideals of these groups — The G.I. Generation was affected by World War I, Baby Boomers by World War II and Millennials by the rise of technology in the early 2000s.

Generation Z is characterized by an eight-second attention span, strong knowledge of technology, multi-tasking and empathy. Hopkins explained that Generation Z gathers the best of the generations before them: the work ethic of the Baby Boomers, the responsibility of Generation X and the tech knowledge of Millennials. A number of events occurring around the turn of the century, like Sept. 11, 2001 the BP oil spill and economic crisis, could have influenced how the group looks at the world.

“Because of all these events, 80 percent of the Millennial generation was optimistic about the future and 60 percent of Generation Z were optimistic,” Hopkins said, citing the book “Generation Z Goes to College” by Corey Seemiller and Meghan Grace.

Though the group has less optimism, members of Generation Z have a growing concern for the people around them. This is a strong contrast from the preceding generation, Millennials, who focus on themselves and rebelling against “helicopter parents” or other authoritarian figures.

Hopkins interviewed a group of five freshmen at McPherson College about their use of technology and communication. A majority of the group said that their parents are like co-pilots, and they appreciate their insight instead of pushing them away.

“I would say my mom is my role model,” said freshman Danielle Chapman. “I grew up in a single parent home and I saw all the sacrifices my mom made. I really look up to her.”

Generation Z was also born into technology, while Millennials grew up alongside advancements, so young people don’t know a world without connectivity.

“The good news is that this technology has taught them to be problem solvers. They’re multiple, multi-taskers,” Hopkins said. “They can Google anything and solve a problem immediately. They’re also used to having about five devices at their disposal, all while getting their schoolwork done.”

Though their eight-second attention span sounds concerning at first glance, the shortness reflects the quickened transfer of information in a connected world. Hopkins listed off forms of social media members of Generation Z uses — many can convey an idea in a six-second video or by using less than 140 characters.

Changing methods of communication create challenges for Hopkins as she recruits new students, but Hopkins quickly learned that no matter the technology, Generation Z prefers speaking face-to-face.

“They like that contact. Yes, texting is convenient, but they’d rather be face-to-face for conversations. In the admissions office when we’re recruiting, its hard for us to get a hold of students,” Hopkins said. “At a college fair, they love talking to us face-to-face but we can’t reach them on the phone.”

As the generation grows into adulthood, members of Generation Z will take on problems currently at hand, like social and global issues. Over 75 percent of Generation Z believes climate change is a greater threat to society than war. The group is also 55 percent Caucasian, Hopkins said, so this is likely to be the last generation where Caucasians are a majority. Perhaps because of this, members of Generation Z believe racial equality is the right thing to do and don’t understand why there is still racism in the world.

“Making a difference is one of the most important things for Generation Z,” Hopkins said. “They’re much more socially minded and they don’t want to let people down.”