Digital awareness among today’s graduates

Last year I wrote an article that defined student success at Ellsworth Community College. Learning is a lifelong journey, not a destination. The real definition of student success is to ensure that students are prepared to thrive in all phases of their lives. Success means our graduates will go on to flourish at a transfer university or establish a meaningful career.

Jeffery Selingo recently wrote a New York Times bestseller titled “There is Life After College.” The subtitle is “What Parents and Students Should Know About Navigating School to Prepare for the Jobs of Tomorrow.” Selingo is a regular contributing journalist to the Washington Post and has written about higher education for more than two decades. In his research, he has discovered six attributes that employers value the most when hiring graduates: curiosity, creativity, grit, digital awareness, contextual thinking and humility.

It is interesting to note that these top attributes are not technical skills. Many are what people call “soft skills.” While all of these attributes are extremely important, the one I would like to focus on is digital awareness.

Digital awareness is much more than just knowing how to use a computer. Digital awareness means that one is able to understand and utilize technology in an increasingly interconnected world. Graduates entering the workforce need to realize how their digital interactions (on social media, for example) can have a lasting impact on their personal and professional lives. This impact can be positive or negative. Negative examples are plentiful. Many employers will conduct online research for potential new employees to make sure there are no obvious red flags. Pictures of partying with friends or the use of offending and vulgar language on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram can highlight damaging or destructive behaviors.

There are positive examples, too. Kyle Taylor is the founder and CEO of The Penny Hoarder. Taylor, as a recent college graduate, began blogging in 2010 as a way to deal with the frustrations of having amassed massive student loan debt. Fast-forward seven years and he has obliterated his student loans and created a website that has more than 15 million readers a month. Taylor’s story is not unique. Many graduates accumulate debt. His story is unique in that he understood the potential power of digital media. He took advantage of this understanding and was able to develop a niche for himself.

Technical skills obtained in one’s major area of study are necessary, but developing soft skills like digital awareness are just as important. Technology has made the world much smaller and much more competitive. Graduates entering today’s workforce need to showcase and share their talents via digital media if they hope to be successful throughout their careers.


Dr. Martin Reimer is the provost at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls.