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Understanding Gen Z: The Key to Developing Successful Rutgers Student Leaders
The key to succeeding as Rutgers student leaders and advisors, SC&I faculty member Mark Beal told the Rutgers Residence Hall Association, lies in better understanding their own generation, Gen Z.

In a keynote address designed for Rutgers students who take on the complicated and demanding roles of residence hall leaders and advisors, SC&I faculty member Mark Beal, an expert on Gen Z, said, “understanding your own generation, Gen Z, will help you learn to collaborate with your fellow college students in a productive way that will make all of your college experiences the best they can be.”

Beal, assistant professor of professional practice, communication, delivered his keynote virtually to the Rutgers Residence Hall Association (RHA) at their annual Leadership Development Day. “It’s a day for RHA members to learn more about their positions and attend sessions about topics such as leadership, teamwork, and mental health,” Beal said. “This year’s theme was ‘Zen State of Mind’ with a focus on Generation Z.”

 Anne Pickstock, a SC&I student, and the Director of Leadership Development for the RHA,  invited Beal to present. Beal said Pickstock was a student in his class, Principles of Public Relations, held during the 2020 spring semester.

Beal has conducted extensive research on Gen Z, and is the author of several books focused on Gen Z, including 101 Lessons they never taught you in college: The essential guide for students and recent graduates to launch their career”;  “101 lessons they never taught you in high school about going to college: Practical advice for high schoolers crowdsourced from college students and recent graduated”; DECODING GEN Z: 101 lessons Generation Z will teach corporate America, marketers & media”; and “Engaging Gen Z: lessons to effectively engage Generation Z via marketing, social media, retail, work, and school.”

How do Beal’s findings translate into advice for Rutgers students in leadership and advising roles, and what are the most important points Beal shared with the students? Beal said, firstly, Gen Z students are different from every generation that came before them, primarily because “they have had technology in their hands since a young age, so technology is at the center of the way they live, work, and socialize, and they are most comfortable doing that within digital media and digital channels.”  

Beal said he calls Gen Z “the purpose generation,” because this generation defines its purpose as a group who is looking to contribute to society locally, nationally, and globally, in ways that make the world better now and in the future, and -- they are looking for companies to do the same.” For example, Beal said, “In my most recent national survey of Gen Zers, ages 13-23, exactly half, 50 percent, are looking for companies to conduct business in an environmentally friendly manner.”

Gen Z is also the most diverse generation ever, Beal said, and according to his research, 33 percent of Gen Zers said they would support companies who have a proven track record of diverse and inclusive hiring practices.

Gen Z is also the largest generation in the world, Beal said. “There are more Gen Zers than millennials, Gen X ,and boomers. They already have a spending power of nearly $150 billion, which is a result of the incredible influence they have on their parents and other family members.  Gen Z are future employees, parents, homeowners, and so much more that will influence every aspect of work and life for the next two decades and beyond.” 

This generation is also acutely aware of themselves as brands, Beal said. “Because of their reliance on social and digital media, combined with their entrepreneurial spirit, they are amplifying their personal brands and their brand values each and every day via their social media channels as well as platforms like podcasts and YouTube videos. I believe there are more Gen Zers who are younger than 23 who are CEOs of their own companies than any previous generation. That is a proof point that they recognize the power and potential of their personal brands.” 

 The coronavirus pandemic has also dramatically affected Gen Z in multiple ways, Beal said. “While COVID-19 has impacted all generations, it occurred during Gen Z’s most formative years – elementary school, high school, and college,” Beal said. “Despite missing out on many life milestones including internships, graduation, and that first job out of college, Gen Z has demonstrated tremendous resilience during the pandemic. As Tom Hanks said in a commencement speech in May, they, ‘have made it through this time of great sacrifice and great need, and no one will be more fresh to the task of restarting our measure of normalcy.’”  

Beal also offered residence hall advisors advice, based on his research, for how to best communicate with their fellow students. Beal said it’s best to avoid promoting and marketing to them and instead to “create proprietary Gen Z think tanks and collaborate side-by-side with each other.”

Beal said it’s also an effective strategy to “give Gen Z access and experiences that they can participate in and share on the social media channels they consume such as Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, TikTok, and Twitch,” because it is on these channels where Gen Zers are most influenced by their Gen Z friends, which is why Gen Z social media brand ambassador programs are so effective.

Finally, Beal said, “for Gen Z, it’s all about the digital experience, so any content that is intended for Gen Z needs to be delivered in a way that is accessible and convenient right on their mobile phones.”  

More information about the Communication Department is on the Rutgers School of Communication and Information website




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