Photograph of Mark and Mary Gearan indoors, wearing business atrire.

Questions and Answers with Mark and Mary Gearan

By Paul Janes ‘24, Caitlin Carr ‘23, and Aidan Grieff ‘25
Editor-in-Chief, Copy Editor, and Staff Writer


How does it feel to be back and what drew you back? 

“It feels great to be back we are very honored and excited for this next chapter, this is a special place, Hobart and William Smith. We were here for 18 years, and then our daughter came here in the interim when we are away, so we saw through the lens as parents. So to be a part of this next chapter in history of the colleges is a very welcomed but unexpected honor.” – President Gearan 

“I’ve loved this place ever since I first came here. When Mark was first interviewing in August of 1999, he suggested I come up for his second interview when he was coming for his second interview. And I said ‘you think so?’ and he said yes, ‘I think you will like it, I think you need to see it because I like. So I’ll never forget arriving in Geneva, I toured the Geneva Historical Society, and got a sense of the history here the background, met great people on campus, and then I went to see the schools. And I remember saying to Mark, ‘I don’t know if it will happen and you’ll get this job, but it’s exactly the kind of place I would love to raise Madeline and Kathleen.’ – Mrs. Gearan 

How do you both plan on fostering a sense of community here and building on what President Jacobson did? 

“I’ve admired what President Jacobson did during very stressful times, COVID and so forth, she’ll be great for HWS in the Economics Department bringing her teaching excellence and scholarship. For me it was interesting, last year while I was at Harvard, I read a book called “Relationship Rich Education how Human Connections foster Student Success”. But I thought at the time relationship rich education, that is HWS. The relationships students have with faculty members, with staff, with coaches, whether its Laura in the Dining Room or coaches, or faculty. This is a place where it’s a relationship rich education, and that’s what I think is the kind of tight knit community that we would like to enhance and foster… It really came to me a few Fridays ago when we were first here at the Smith Opera House because there was a documentary about Ukraine. So we just went because supporting Ukraine, and then there was a Hobart Student, a junior whose on the hockey team whose from Ukraine. The second largest city there. He spoke powerfully, beautifully, about what’s happening in that country. His mother and brother are in Switzerland, his father is in Ukraine. The entire hockey team was in the first two rows support him, so was Coach Taylor and the assistant coach. The WS Soccer team was there in solidarity with him and Ukraine, and the William Smith Coach Allison Wilbur and her assistants. Faculty members were there and the Geneva community. And we sat there and I thought this a relationship rich education, this is HWS faculty, staff, coaches, students, Geneva community, at our best. In support of this young man and his journey and his families journey and his countryman’s journey, but also kind of the opportunity to exist and deepen that connection.” -President Gearan 

“Once we’re all settled, I used to have an open house every Friday. And I realized, sometimes it’d be too hard to pick different days. So I got into a habit of saying it’s Fridays, at five, you don’t need a reservation, please come, come for five minutes, come for as long as you’d like. I often thought of it as a way for students to meet someone that they didn’t know through their classes or their housing, and hopefully that was the case for many students. And so we will start doing that again. And I also, one of the special parts about this campus is not just getting our students into the community, but I think it is also great to get kids, especially high school students to campus. We used to have the Geneva Heroes program, where every Saturday in the spring, there would be high school and middle school students who would come to campus. They would have a service activity and then they would have lunch on campus either in Scandling or at one of the houses. But that was a great program and I’m hoping that with COVID being eased up that we’ll be able to recreate that as well. And then getting high school students to come to some of the cultural club activities they would like Caribbean Student Association, international students, Asian students Association, LAO, that would always be fun having like some high school students come to either their events or come to hear lectures go to Vandervort, you know, events. So I think also it’s, it’s a great chance for kids to see what it’s like to be here with what opportunities they would have.” Mary Gearan  

How do you think HWS will bring social life back, and is now the time or are we still waiting for a green light? 

“Right, right, right now that I regret what we saw that last year because last year Harvard was in session, but there were massive restrictions. I mean, obviously, you know, the most important thing is safety and health. We will be guided by those decisions and the protocols that will keep the community safe. I think that’s central, and the most important thing, and then from there, I am encouraged by what HWS has done. I think this has been a pretty responsible community, meeting students as well, you know, people have really risen to the disappointing realities of what the pandemic meant for social life. And so I regret that and saw that lens as a parent with our daughter here. So I think it’s constant evaluation, you know, this is an uncertain pandemic/virus. But I think we’ve learned a lot. We know a lot. And I think, to date, the classes and opening up and monitoring cases, I think it’s been a reasonable, a very good start to the year in that sense. So but guided by science, it’s really a public health question. But I wouldn’t like to think that with continued progress, we can’t have the kind of normal college experience that everyone prizes. I mean, this is why we’re all here to see each other face to face. Engage, I think it has to be respectful of everyone’s decision. And we need to be mindful of people like we have, you know. In this space, and in the spirit of this place, individual inclusion has to be understood and respected as well. And I think I see nothing that contradicts that here.” President Gearan 

And I wanted to know what kinds of things we as students could do to help you guys connect with the community? 

“Well, I come to this from the lens of we’re coming up to our Bicentennial 200 years. And for 200 years, Geneva has been a remarkable host to the college’s they literally built dorms. They literally endowed scholarships for Geneva kids to come here. They work here, you know, and then the engagement with students. So it’s been a phenomenal host to HWS for two centuries. And you know, as for where we are a nonprofit entity, we sit on some of the best real estate in the community, and have that advantage as a nonprofit, tax wise. So on so many levels, our engagement with Geneva is important. But centrally as an educational matter to the scale here is such a great advantage. It’s a wonderfully diverse community. The school system has been a majority-minority district, since our girls were in it. It has challenges. And in many ways, a lot of the challenges we see nationally are played out here, locally. So if you want to study food scarcity, or environmental issues, or learning loss from COVID, this is a definable academic area. And then the need of community service. You know, I think it was pretty intentional one of the things I first worked on when I got here is that orientation, first or second day, let’s go into community service. And I think Katie said it’s the 23rd year which must be when we started, and I think that’s an intentional signal to everyone, to students to say, Welcome to College. Welcome to HWS. Welcome to Geneva you’re citizen here, right. And that’s a value that we think is important, and to the community as we welcome students here, we are partners in service. So I think there’s a lot of things I need to get up to speed I’ve written to the city council, the school board, the board of supervisors, the mayor, just reintroduce, or in some case, introduce myself, I’m going to be meeting with them. Geneva 2030, its predecessor was Geneva 2020. This group, we started because I had served on an Obama Task Force on community solutions. And I read this piece about collective impact. The Stanford Journal of Social Innovation, where it’s kind of a simple theory, but it’s proof that if organizations all unite together, it was modeled on Cincinnati, in common metrics, common goals, properly communicated, change can really happen. And it started here at Geneva 2020 because the school was under state watch. Risking accreditation, like this campaign we have so many great people here.  So we had the bankers, the faith community, private sector,  he colleges and community all united. Say, here’s what we want to do in Geneva by 2020 At that point, Common metrics, communicated by a backbone organization which was HWS. And I think it met some of the goals towards it to get off to the school. So I think in the first incident for students for the students grew as academic, or I think it’s a rich opportunity to understand issues and think about or regulate to engage with conversations, internships, volunteer experience, and then the service which is real, I mean, it really honored the mission to say, we want to prepare you for life of consequence. The brilliance of that phrase to me is that it’s highly individualized. Your definition may all be different, appropriately. So what is a consequential life. But through the curriculum and these experiences, you get to reflect and inquire what is a consequential life, for me.” – President Gearan 

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