Two alumni set out to uncover what motivates Generation Y
September 16, 2011
The post-graduation plans of Fynn Glover, ’09, and Russell Himelein, ’10, were pretty typical — get a job and settle in to the 9-to-5 pace. But when they felt there was more they could contribute, they didn't just accept the status quo. They abandoned convention and began traveling the country, trying to find out just what motivates Generation Y.
“It was a very liberating feeling, but at the same time, you’re definitely taking a leap of faith,” Glover says. “We really liked the idea of an unwritten future and what we [could] learn in the field experientially and how we can build our own careers based on our knowledge from a research expedition.”
Along with Ry Glover, a student at Appalachian State University, Himelein and Glover decided to build on their studies in environmental studies and business administration to found Expedition Y. They hit the road in June 2011, moving from Chattanooga, Tenn., to Maine to Michigan to Montana, before ending up in Sacramento. They canvassed fellow 20-somethings along the way to determine their academic and professional motivations, and find out what experiences they think will prepare them for a changing economy and an increasingly complex world.
“Generation Y is highly tapped in and connected in this viral, virtual world,” Glover says. “That presents a lot of opportunity, but at the same time, it presents a lot of challenges because people can kind of get caught up in the drama of other people’s lives — the drama of Facebook and reality TV, as opposed to the drama of their own lives.”
“The questions we ask center heavily around what factors would allow them to better reach their potential,” says Himelein, whose own experiences taught him that working long hours indoors negatively affected his productivity. “The underlying hypothesis was that increased outdoor participation may be one variable or solution in advancing intellectual and physical potential.”
While Expedition Y started with a lot of big ideas and assumptions, their initial hypotheses have generally been validated. Glover explains that 75 percent of interviewees felt their work experiences didn’t maximize their potential, and nearly 80 percent said that outdoor activities would increase their productivity.
Their quest grabbed the attention of both consumer insight and retail companies. They’ve blogged for The North Face, served as delegates at the Outdoor Nation Summit, and received a sponsorship from outdoor retailer Rock/Creek.
“There are a lot of people trying to find solutions to structural problems, like wellness and employee culture,” Glover says. “It’s a hot topic right now. [People want to know] what’s going to make employees healthier and more engaged.”
Despite outside interest, the three decided independently develop a Web-based application to increase outdoor participation. Currently in development, the application will connect people with others interested in the outdoors, help users identify local experiences, and build a marketplace to buy and sell outdoor gear.
“600 interviews and 14,000 miles later, we are going to try to launch a business to address some problems we found,” Himelein says. “[When we started Expedition Y], we didn't know how it would happen or what it would be, but Fynn and I knew step one was starting the trip.”