College Station, TX. The Prius my wife and I bought in 2003 is going to college. Its residency on the Texas A&M campus begins today. This is not the iconic Prius. It is what some might call ‘prius-toric’ because it predated the now classic body style. Granddaughter Shelby, now 18, is one of the thousands of new students arriving at the enormous campus today in cars stuffed with dormitory furnishings, personal computers, clothing and parents. We’ll be there, too.
The car, given as a birthday present, has survived her first two years of driving without incident. It arrives on campus with 123,000 miles and is ready to take her back and forth between the campus and her home in Lewisville, Texas. A rarity in 2003, today hybrids have proliferated to what may be 100 models when you include plug-ins and full electrics. And as I write this more people are worrying about a precipitous fall in oil prices than a rise.
The last time I wrote about Shelby was in 2005. Hers was the final segment of “American Generations,” a column series that examined four generations of family history against the backdrop of technological, economic and social change. Shelby was 8 then, a graceful blond gymnast.
Today she is tall and lovely, a graduate of Marcus High School in burgeoning Flower Mound. One of a class of about 750, she graduated as Captain of the varsity cheerleader’s squad— and with a collection of honor society memberships and credits for 9 Advanced Placement classes.
“I’m super excited and nervous,” she told me a few days ago, “but I can’t wait to be there.” If her high school class was large, it will seem tiny compared to A&M. Last year the College Station campus had 55,810 students, easily one of the 5 largest university campuses in the country. Of that number, over 10,000 will be arriving on campus for the first time. A bit more than one in four will be the first in their family to attend college.
To me, that’s almost incomprehensible. I thought M.I.T— known to some as “the grey pile on the Charles”— was enormous, but it was one-tenth the enrollment at the College Station campus.
Will she and the other new students be overwhelmed? Maybe, but probably not. Shelby’s roommate will be her best friend from church. Both young women want to be teachers. Shelby is quite specific, saying she hopes to be a middle school math teacher.
Size not withstanding, my sense is that A&M isn’t a “look to your left, look to your right, one of you isn’t going to be here next year” kind of school. “Fish Camp” helps the kids get their bearings. There is a new Aggie website. And social media is alive and well with a class of 2019 Twitter account.
This class will be an all-digital, 24/7 crew. Since birth their lives have been digitally recorded in photos and videos by parents and friends. Their communication, by texting, is virtually unlimited. Many ignore their voicemail and emails, pressed by the immediacy of texting. They are so comfortable with electronic communication that some didn’t feel an immediate need to drive, making one of the big rites of passage merely optional.
Ten years ago it was just starting to be noticed that the enrollment of women undergraduates was exceeding the number of men undergraduates at many schools. Women were also taking a larger percentage of places for higher degrees and professional degrees, but were still a minority in those areas. There was much hand wringing about why more women weren’t enrolling in STEM courses— science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Today, 47 percent of all medical students and 46 percent of all medical residents are women. Ten years ago a woman was president of MIT. Today, two women, one from each party, are active candidates for President of the United States. And if you visit the Twitter hashtag “I look like an engineer” you’ll see thousands of photos of young women, all engineers, all cheerfully working to overcome the stereotype that only men are engineers.
Things change. They change more slowly than we would like. Then, suddenly, the change is done. Shelby and middle school math are part of that change.