October 9-11, 2013
Chicago, Illinois



Did the Valedictorian Succeed? That is the Question
John Hagen, Ph.D. v. Thomas G. West

Friday, October 11th, 2013
4:30-6:00 pm
Westin North Shore
Room: TBD

Over the past decade the theory of emerging adulthood has offered a new lens for thinking about normative development during the transition from adolescence through adulthood. As proposed, emerging adulthood is a life stage, spanning approximately ages 18 to 25, during which young people are more likely than younger and older individuals to view their futures as full of possibilities and to spend time exploring various roles and commitments before settling into full adulthood. Acceptance of the developmental norms, parameters of normative variation, and a model of “successful” adjustment that are implicit in this theory will have widespread, multidisciplinary consequences that have yet to be addressed.

The changing landscape of the transition to adulthood is reflected in the new pathways young people take into adulthood, and in the ways organizations and institutions have been challenged to adjust. Over the past decade we have witnessed institutions—colleges and universities, employers, families, health care—rushing to respond to the unique needs and characteristics of the current generation of emerging adults. An overarching issue facing administrators and employers is how to respond to increased diversity along several dimensions (i.e., race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and differences in learning styles or capabilities).

Currently, a number of standard best practices commonly used in educational and occupational decision-making are in question with respect to their sensitivity and appropriateness to diversity (e.g., standardized testing, hiring policies). In the past, design and implementation of such practices have been primarily the domain of administrators and have not been based on research. Now, developmentalists are in a strong position to contribute theoretically-grounded, empirically-informed ideas about educational and occupational approaches that support and optimize successful transitions to adulthood for diverse populations. 

In this debate, the presenters will discuss issues including diversity in college admissions, accommodations granted in college, and special talents and contributions that can be made by students representing a range of diverse characteristics.

Debate questions:

1. Do we have an adequate and sufficient definition of a “successful” transition to adulthood? What is it? What are its assumptions? What are the implications for the way young people are prepared for the transition to adulthood? How do assumptions about “success” in the transition to adulthood impact and influence the pathways and adjustment of emerging adults?

2. Are current models for assessing potential for achievement and success in the school-to-work transition doing what is needed? Should we “throw the baby out with the bath water” and then design new, more effective measures of achievement and aptitude for admissions and hiring?

Are we doing the best we can to identify the best and the brightest? Are we really helping young people achieve “fit?”

3. Colleges and universities and employers are well aware of the growing diversity of the labor force with respect to race and ethnicity. Diversity in terms of individual differences in learning styles, including learning disabilities, is also a concern of administrators and employers. Is the response to growing diversity along all dimensions increasing in a way that addresses the best interest of emerging adults? In the best interest of the institutions that train and hire them?


John Hagen, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus of Psychology
Department of Psychology
University of Michigan

John Hagen, Ph.D. John Hagen, Ph.D. past Professor and current Professor Emeritus of Psychology (University of Michigan) has made professional contributions as a developmental psychologist for over 4 decades. Hagen served in numerous administrative positions throughout his career including, but not limited to, Executive Director of the Society for the Study of Child Development (1989-2007) and Director of the Reading and Learning Skills Center at The University of Michigan. His cumulative professional experience and expert knowledge in early childhood cognitive development, trajectories of adjustment and achievement, and strengths-based models put him in a unique position to comment on the contemporary assumptions underlying our working definition of "successful" adjustment in emerging adulthood. Through his work as an applied developmentalist, Dr. Hagen has acquired specialized knowledge about diversity in student learning styles and the role of sociocontextual factors in predicting successful transitions through school and into emerging adulthood. Dr. Hagen has been the recipient of many awards including the 2010 APA Award for Distinguished Service to Psychological Science.


Thomas West
Writer, Lecturer, Consultant
Washington, DC

Thomas G. WestThomas G. West is the author of In the Mind’s Eye (1991 and 1997) and Thinking Like Einstein (2004). A second edition of In the Mind’s Eye was released September 4, 2009, with a new Introduction from Oliver Sacks, MD. The book has had 17 printings, been selected as one of the “best of the best” for the year by the American Library Association and has been translated into both Japanese (1994) and Chinese (2004). A Korean translation became available in late 2011. In connection with In the Mind's Eye and his second book, Thinking Like Einstein, West has been invited to give talks for scientific, medical, art, design, computer and business groups in the U.S. and overseas, including groups in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Dubai-UAE and 12 European countries. He is now working on a third book with the working title Seeing What Others Do Not See or Cannot See. It will focus on high-level creativity and brain diversity -- dealing with dyslexia and Asperger syndrome along with other alternative modes of learning and thinking -- often having individuals tell their own stories in their own way.