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Making tomorrow better for Gen Z

News story

Curtin marketing and public relations double degree student David Castelanelli is proving that hard work, dedication and a passion for helping youth within the community is a recipe for success.

Man at podium
Curtin student David Castelanelli is representing the next generation of leaders.

Castelanelli is a wearer of many hats. On track to complete his degree at the end of 2018, he’s also the WA Youth Ambassador and a founder and co-founder of two youth-focused organisations, one which aims to build goal setting, presentation and networking skills, and another that concentrates on developing skills needed for the jobs of the future.

He began his professional journey straight out of high school, launching Alpha Motivation in 2016. A youth organisation run by young people, for young people, it offers self-development programs for primary and high school students, and is currently running in eight schools across Western Australia.

After investigating the competition, the Alpha Motivation team redesigned the way their programs were initially delivered.

“It’s an eight-week course that we run once a week after school, and is designed to be a consistent, long-term program that creates long-term change for students. Rather than doing these one-off ‘sugar-high’ presentations, it’s all about that consistent accountability,” Castelanelli explains.

The program features a diagnostic test which provides a personal analysis of each student’s life based on three different components: a motivation and goal-setting section, a mentor and support system area and a distraction section which measures the level of social media and technology distraction experienced by a student.

“Through those three areas we can calculate one collective score, the ‘tri score’, which is monitored and given to teachers and parents. In week eight that re-sit that same diagnostic test with the aim of increasing their ‘tri score’ and improved their performance.

In addition to Alpha Motivation, Castelanelli co-founded Futuristic Skills, a company with a focus on developing skills that are growing in demand now and in the future. A range of tailored workshops are offered to students, parents and industry.

“We’re talking skills like creative thinking, entrepreneurial ability, cross-cultural understanding, the ability to be adaptable and flexible. So, they’re not necessarily those life development skills that Alpha focuses on, they’re new employability skills that are needed.”

Castelanelli was also named WA Youth Ambassador after being nominated for the position by Curtin alumna Ashlee Harrison, CEO of zero2hero, a company dedicated to increasing the understanding of mental health issues among children and young people.

“My Youth Ambassador role involves being the lead ambassador of young people in WA, aged 12 to 25. It falls under the Department of Communities within the State government and I advise the Minister of Youth about youth issues that are currently occurring in WA.

The role has a number of key responsibilities including sitting on the Ministerial Youth Advisory Council, a committee of 16 young people who represent all of the young people from diverse cultural backgrounds.

“We have an LGBTIQ representative, regional a rural, indigenous, refugees, and it’s equal male and female representation, so it’s very diverse. We debate and advise the minister on any issues that come up. We meet on a quarterly basis,” says Castelanelli.

The role also involves being a Youth Week Committee and Young Peoples’ Planning Committee member, assisting with the planning of Youth Week WA, an annual event occurring in April.

“On top of that I have my own portfolio that I manage, so I’ve been to a few different camps to try understand more about the youth space. I went on an Edmund Rice camp at the start of the year, I work closely with zero2her,” Castelanelli says.

“I try and get my head around the different areas that concern youths, like unemployment, mental health, homelessness, education. I’m really trying to understand all of these aspects so that I can make the best recommendations to the minister regarding policy.”

The future for Castelanelli looks bright and busy indeed. Along with completing his degree, the Alpha team is looking to expand their programs to the eastern states. He’ll also be studying at Leadership & Public Speaking at Harvard University for four weeks in July this year, thanks to a Curtin scholarship.

“I’m passionate about the youth organisations I’ve helped create. Each offers something different and I see that growing. With my degree, I’ll be using that to form partnerships moving forward.”

Kids texting on cell phones.

Gen Zs addiction to technology is unlike any other generation.

The age of distraction

The generations preceding Gen Z can likely remember a time when we weren’t permanently attached to a silicon screen. A time when information was readily available from a text book and social interaction was usually face-to-face. However, Gen Z, born between 1996 and 2012, are a different breed. According recruitment agency Hays Australia & New Zealand, Gen Zs not only have advanced digital skills, they will also be the most connected generation in history. And probably the most distracted.

David Castelanelli’s Wolf Pack Program aims to address and tackle the issue of digital distraction experienced by high school students in an effort to prepare them for the competitive job market.

“The ‘distraction diagnostic testing’ aims to test how distracted students are by their mobile phones and social media notifications. Students are asked to rate themselves and decide upon a number between one and five to reflect the accuracy of a statement. For example, one statement was “the first thing I do when I wake up is check my phone and social media”. If a student strongly agrees with this, they would give themselves a five. If they do not check their phone first thing in the morning, they would rank themselves a number one,” Castelanelli explains.

Other statements within the diagnostic test measure the frequency of checking notifications, and reaction to and emotions experienced if notifications aren’t checked.

“These statements essentially measure a student’s urge or the level of addiction to their mobile devices,” says Castelanelli.

Having run the program in six high schools at the beginning of 2018, the data collected has already provided evidence to support the notion that distraction levels are much higher amongst Gen Z students.

“The average median score for distractions was 33 in week one (out of a possible 65) of the program. By the end of the program in term one, we had been able to slightly reduce the distraction score by nine per cent. This is a growing area of interest, and we have set a goal to reduce social media distractions by 25 to 30 per cent in our term two programs, which are currently taking place in eight WA high schools.

Castelanelli’s data also provided some revealing insights that go beyond measuring distraction, getting down to the nitty gritty of behaviours and trends.

“The most distracted group of students are students from Years 9 to 11 (ages 14 to 16). This is usually the time when students first purchase and begin using a mobile phone. The most popular apps that were being used were Snapchat, YouTube and Facebook Messenger,” Castelanelli reveals.

“Some students had been spending over 12 hours on Snapchat each week (measured by the battery tool on iPhone settings). We were able to reduce this considerably to three hours by the end of the program.”

Castelanelli and his ‘pack’ have a number of tactics to help combat distraction.

“Our best tactics are outlined in our resource ‘3 Tips to Beat Social Media Distractions’. This was a resource that was recently created with the help of students who participated in the Term One Wolf Pack Program. Many people are not aware that you can monitor the amount of time you are spending on specific apps with an iPhone. This can be eye opening for many people.”

The team also recommends turning off notifications when engaging in important tasks that require ‘laser focus’ and creativity.

“Many students choose to keep their phone off and put it in a completely separate room when they are studying to reduce temptation and stay focused. Constant interruptions from social media notifications causes a loss of concentration and creativity.”

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