GENEVA — Mr. President, say hello to Mr. President.
Mark Gearan, president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, was at the White House yesterday for a higher education summit featuring President Barack Obama — an opportunity Gearan used to give a local program a national spotlight.
“It was a really rich and interesting discussion,” Gearan said by phone last night.
The summit included remarks by Obama, the first lady and other administration officials, who announced several initiatives. Eighty-five college presidents attended and participated in panel discussions, with the goal of highlighting the administration’s plan to increase educational opportunities for low-income and disadvantaged students, as well as their own efforts.
“I think it’s really a national issue that we have so much talent in our country that’s being under realized,” Gearan said. “It should not be a matter of where you were born or what ZIP code you live in, or particular financial circumstances. But if you demonstrate the hard work, the commitment to go on to college and receive a degree, the pathways should be there.”
Part of the discussion focused on higher education’s role in making those pathways accessible. And that’s where Gearan came in.
Gearan discussed the Colleges’ Geneva 2020 project, which tries to help local low-income high school students gain the skills they need to graduate and subsequently succeed at college.
In addition, the Colleges offer several programs and scholarships for low-income and disadvantaged students.
Gearan did not get to speak directly with Obama. But he said administration officials seemed receptive to and interested in what he and the other college presidents had to offer.
“I was excited to be able to talk about what Geneva has done:.. They’re very interested about this notion of collaborative impact,” Gearan said, referring to the way Geneva 2020 brings different community groups together to achieve its goals.
Gearan is no stranger to Washington, D.C., or public policy. Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo tapped him to head the state’s Gaming Commission. He formerly served as director of the Peace Corps and held several posts in the Clinton White House.
Gearan said he has been back there “from time to time” in the years since. Thursday night, he attended a reception in the same White House room where he was sworn in when he held office.
“It’s always a privilege to be there, certainly,” Gearan said. “One never tires of the building that’s really a museum of historical events.”