Even pre-COVID–19, Press, who came to SCU in 2020 after 28 years at UC Santa Cruz, says Santa Clara stood apart for its student-first focus, at least on the part of faculty. “They’re thrilled by their students. They’re impressed by their students. They believe in their students … and having that predisposition, that bond, it was strengthened, not weakened during COVID,” he says.
Kumbaya as that may be, it doesn’t fully explain the value-add of attending college, let alone a small, liberal arts school like Santa Clara. After all, an estimated 65% of Generation Z (those born between 1995 and 2015) could end up in jobs that don’t even exist yet due to exponentially evolving technology, according to the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning initiative. It seems Sisyphean to attempt to calculate the value of a degree against the backdrop of an unknowable future.
“What does it mean to prepare students today for tomorrow? It means adaptation, resilience. It means suppleness and civility,” Press says.
We could be cowed by the idea we’re preparing for battle against an unknown enemy, but why does there have to be an enemy at all? It’s hard to see the forest for the trees, but this is the way it’s always been—society changes and evolves, humans adapt and continue pushing the needle.
“When I started off teaching environmental studies in the early ’90s, parents would say, ‘What’s that? What is my kid going to be able to do?’” Press gives as an example. “And I would tell them, look, there’s no shortage of work to do on the environment. It’s only going to become more important.” As with any job in the history of humankind, sustainability and environmentalist jobs didn’t exist until people curious about oceans and solar energy and concerned about their carbon footprints created them. “There’s a certain kind of hustle that we are trying to prepare students for. Be the agent yourself, it’s not all going to be given to you,” Press says. “Be the person who identifies the need for improvement, change, innovation, revelation.”