PSS Fall '09 - From Theory to Practice


Pragmatic Idealism

Part of the Pre-Orientation Program, first-year students worked on a local Habitat for Humanity project. They are pictured here with President Mark D. Gearan.

Part of the Pre-Orientation Program, first-year students worked
on a local Habitat for Humanity project. They are pictured here
with President Mark D. Gearan.

For the first time in its history, the Geneva City Council recently held its regular meeting on our campus. The Mayor and City Councilors left their traditional venue of the Council Chambers at City Hall and the Public Safety Building to conduct business in the Salisbury Center at Trinity Hall. They heard presentations from our students on research that directly affects the City. It was historic in terms of the venue, but it also signified our deepening partnership with Geneva - a city that has hosted the Colleges for nearly two centuries. Hobart and William Smith students worked with faculty mentors and community partners to conduct research on topics the City had identified as important for their needs - energy efficiency in City buildings, literacy indicators in kindergartners, and commerce growth in the downtown area, among other pressing public policy issues.

Geneva Major Stu Einstein told me that holding the City Council meeting on campus was an indication of the seriousness with which he and the rest of the Council considers HWS student research. "It's not just the passion they show in the work they do," he said. "It's the quality of the research they are performing. Hobart and William Smith students ge"uinely want to make a difference and by investing a piece of themselves in Geneva, they do."

Investing a piece of themselves was evident a month ago when a group of incoming first-year students spent the week before Orientation working on a local Habitat for Humanity project. The home, co-sponsored by Hobart and William Smith and the Ontario County Chapter of Habitat for Humanity, benefited from student-led fundraising efforts that contributed $20,000 to building materials. In just one week, first-year students, working with upperclass students, community volunteers and the future owners of the home, raised the structure from a bare foundation to a fully formed building with a roof, walls, windows and doors.

The goal of these kinds of programs is to encourage students to become active in community service during their four years at HWS and, hopefully, over the course of their lifetime. If students can see the tangible results of their contributions, they are more likely to volunteer again. When that volunteer work connects to their academics, as in community-based research, they become absorbed at a whole new level. From my prior experience as Director of the Peace Corps and in the course of my ten years at HWS, it is clear to me that this generation is imbued with a sense of pragmatic idealism. Like past generations, they share a keen desire to change the world. But they are especially motivated with pragmatic, hands-on efforts that clearly and visibly make a difference.

At Hobart and William Smith, we believe that students learn better when they are actively involved in their learning, and the community is also elevated by their work. Semester after semester, as generations of Hobart and William Smith students arrive in Geneva to be transformed, they are also transforming our community, making it a better place for all who live, work and study here.


Mark D. Gearan

Mark D. Gearan



Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.