Student-Led Honors Conference Focuses on Current and Future Challenges for Millennials


West Windsor, N.J. – In a conference that addressed the spiritual and emotional journeys of Mercer County Community College (MCCC) students, the Mercer Honors Club hosted a gathering on April 5 to explore “Millennials and the Future: What Issues Do We Face and What Should We Do?”

According to Professor of English Dr. Bettina Caluori, coordinator of the Mercer Honors Program, the club sponsored the student conference as its service project for the college community. “This year, club members chose a theme that truly resonates with their generation of young people, one that runs parallel to the cultivation of their academic gifts and career aspirations,” she said.

Caluori notes that faculty members served as mentors for the student-initiated presentations, but the students determined the topics according their own sense of need.

“The conference was open to everyone, and some of the students who attended aren't in the honors program," she said. "For the presenters, it’s a valuable leadership experience that fosters creativity, engagement, and a sense of their capacity for impact. This student-led event is one of the core visions of the Mercer Honors Program – allowing students to control the agenda by what they submit and derive their own sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, with no assignment or grade as an incentive.”

Three students rose to the challenge, presenting thought-provoking sessions in front of their classmates, along with faculty and staff members.

Caluori welcomed everyone and applauded the students who took the initiative to participate. “Normally professors lead students in pursuit of knowledge,” she said. “Today it’s our students’ turn,” she said.

Liberal Arts student Ayesha Sultana’s topic was “The Pursuit of Contentment: Re-evaluating Happiness.” A devout Muslim, Sultana is interested in psychology and its relationship to spirituality. During her presentation, she queried the audience. “Why are we not happy? Why are we anxious and stressed? Perhaps the answer lies in re-evaluating the meaning of happiness.”

She pointed to social media and consumerism as adding significantly to the problem. “Social media often shows people who appear to be living a perfect life. But the human experience includes sadness, stress, fear and anger. If you are comparing yourself to others, you are looking in the wrong place,” she said.

Instead, Sultana counseled seeking contentment. “Focus on what you have, not what you don’t have. Battle peer pressure. Avoid consumerism and find ways to be selfless and help others,” she advised.

Sultana is glad she decided to do the research and present at the conference. “Spring Break wasn’t a break for me,” she said. “But I got a lot out of it – different perspectives that have positively affected me.”

Nick Dolce, also studying Liberal Arts, is interested in spirituality as well, especially as it relates to mental health. “There are so many demands in life. We have to seek emotional balance and learn to let go of things that no longer work for you,” he told the group. “You must keep exploring yourself and the world around you. Otherwise you will stagnate.”

As part of his presentation, “Spirituality and Mental Health,” he led attendees in a two-minute meditation and mindfulness exercise and then the group discussed their experience of trying to maintain concentration.

Some admitted to having difficulty quieting their minds – even for just two minutes. In the discussion that followed, Professor of English Barbara Hamilton observed that millennials are particularly challenged in learning to balance all the demands in their lives. “Young people are rewarded for multitasking and overachievement,” she said.

Students quickly acknowledged the appeal, but also the down side, of being on overdrive, which has worsened as mobile phone use has become a 24/7 occurrence.

The third presenter, Romi Roman, focused on standards of beauty in her talk entitled “Hello Beautiful: Defying the Beauty Standards.”

“Unfortunately, the media, cultural pressure, and gender distinctions are largely responsible for young people’s approach to beauty,” she said. “But beauty is subjective. We should not let stereotypes affect the way we perceive ourselves.”

An Education major, Roman encouraged students to discover ways to be independent from standard definitions of beauty. “My hope is that when you look in the mirror, you will see what’s great about you and reinforce your sense of self in the process.”

The event concluded with a reception and a chance for students to talk informally with professors and other staff members.

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From left, presenters Romi Roman and Nick Dolce, faculty members Daniel Schermond (Sociology) and Bettina Caluorio (English), coordinator of the Honors Program. Not pictured: presenter Ayesha Sultana.

Professor Caluori welcomed the audience and commended the students who presented at the conference.

Nick Dolce discussed the balance he has achieved through meditation. He led audience members in a mindfulness exercise.

Students joined in a heartfelt discussion about their search for peace and community despite the challenges facing 21st century scholars.

Faculty and staff were activbe participants in the discussion.