Geneva and the Finger Lakes

When they moved to Geneva in 1999, President Mark D. Gearan and Mary Herlihy Gearan already believed that a responsibility of citizenship is community involvement. The Colleges’ engagement with Geneva and the Finger Lakes is not only a legacy of the Gearans, but also the culmination of core values that will endure for years to come.

"Soon after the Gearans arrived in Geneva, they had a gathering at their home. It was the first time many people in the community had been invited to the house. Of course, that would become a signature of the Gearans – everyone was always invited. Their girls were little and my granddaughter was with me. She went upstairs to play with Madeleine and Kathleen. When it was time to go, she didn’t want to leave. None of us ever did."

—Lucile Mallard L.H.D. ’15, president of the Geneva chapter of the NAACP, Member of the Steering Committee of Geneva 2020

  • The Corporation for National and Community Service selected HWS five times in a row for its Community Service Honor Roll, the highest federal recognition a college or university can receive for commitment to servicelearning and civic engagement.
  • In 2010, the Colleges received the Community Engagement Classification designation by the Carnegie Foundation.
  • HWS was named “Business of the Year” in 2012 by the Geneva Area Chamber of Commerce.

“When the City of Geneva was applying for the $10 million Downtown Revitalization grant, I asked Mark Gearan to help us; he sees the 50,000-foot view and everything he touches has a ridiculously high quality. There was nothing to benefit Mark in this – none of that $10 million is earmarked for the Colleges. Yet he spent hours coaching us on our submission, reviewing the document, and even participating in the presentation to the State. He helped because he believes that what is good for Geneva is good for the Colleges. He and Mary extended the hand of friendship and partnership to the City. They taught us that we can work together to make change happen.”

—Matt Horn, Geneva City Manager

Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning
The Public Service Office at HWS officially opened in 1995 but was reimagined after President Gearan arrived at the Colleges. Renamed in 2007, the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning has become a leader in promoting positive community change and enhanced student learning, deepening the relationship between the Colleges and the City of Geneva.

The HWS Day of Service, a tradition of nearly two decades, became Days of Service in 2008, with additional service days throughout the year, allowing more students and local organizations to participate. Today, all HWS students take part in service, contributing more than 90,000 hours annually to local, national and international communities, and generating more than $100,000 in fundraising efforts for non-profit organizations.

Geneva 2020
Geneva 2020 is a broad-based group of local citizens united with one goal – to support Geneva’s children by advancing the strategic objectives of the Geneva City School District (GCSD). Geneva 2020 was formed in 2011 when many of the challenges facing the education system nationally were reflected in Geneva: GCSD was under a New York State watch with fewer than three quarters of graduating high school seniors entering college. Graduation rates hovered around a disheartening 70%.

In response, President Gearan convened a group of community and school leaders around his dining room table to discuss a collective impact effort in Cincinnati that changed that city’s public school trajectory and the lives of thousands of children. In the past six years and by collaborating with other local efforts, Geneva 2020 has been able to address School District priorities, growing existing programs and creating new initiatives that give children opportunities and access.

One of the most important priorities tackled by Geneva 2020 is the high school graduation rate. With the collective efforts of Geneva 2020, the four-year completion rate has risen from 70% in 2011 to 85% in 2016.

Finger Lakes Institute
A key recommendation of President Gearan’s first 5-year strategic plan, Gearan led the effort to establish the Finger Lakes Institute. Promoting environmental research and education about the Finger Lakes and the region, the FLI opened in 2004 with initial funding from former State Senator Michael F. Nozzolio L.H.D.’07 and former U.S. Congressman James Walsh. Today, the FLI is the preeminent source of research, education and community outreach for the Finger Lakes region. The FLI collaborates with regional environmental partners and state and local government offices to foster environmentallysound development practices throughout the region and disseminate accumulated knowledge to the public.

Among other colleges and universities, Hobart and William Smith have become national pioneers in environmental sustainability, a core value under President Gearan’s leadership. In 2007, Gearan signed the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment, making HWS a charter member of a national effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Since then, the Colleges have cut energy consumption by more than 10% and created robust recycling and composting programs to reduce waste. Today, 100% of the Colleges’ electricity comes from wind.

Most recently, HWS took another meaningful step toward climate neutrality with the 2016 construction of a local solar farm on Route 14 in Geneva. In 2014, the Colleges acquired 35 acres of farmland from local agricultural innovator Carl W. Fribolin L.H.D.’14. The site has become an academic center hosting classes and seminars that promote environmental stewardship and sustainability. The Colleges continue to be named to Sierra magazine’s annual list of the greenest colleges and universities, climbing 63 spots since first appearing on the list in 2009.


Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.