Hobart and William Smith Colleges President Mark D. Gearan was one of an impressive list of speakers to present at a national conference on public service titled “What’s Wrong with Public Service? A Challenge for Higher Education” held at Dickinson College in February. Gearan, former director of the Peace Corps and a member of the Board of Directors for the Corporation for National and Community Service, joined Dickinson College President William Durden and University of Maine President Robert Kennedy to open the daylong forum.
“The timing of this conference was especially critical since I believe we have a convergence of factors making this subject all the more compelling,” said Gearan. He noted the growing interest in service among undergraduates who have a deep desire to give back to community; President Obama’s administration that has captured the imagination of young Americans; and the demographic reality that one-third of the federal civil service workforce is expected to retire within the next five years.
Throughout the day, teams of scholars, college presidents and public service experts explored ways to use public service in the college curriculum and discussed how to call young people to action. Some of the 15 speakers included: Stanley Katz, professor in the Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University; Chris Myers Asch, the founder and advocate of a U.S. Public Service Academy who spoke at the Colleges last year; and Ambassador Nicholas Burns, professor at the Harvard Kennedy School who served in the U.S. Foreign Service for 27 years.
Gearan shared with the group recent surveys conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Service that found a growing interest among Americans to volunteer in their community. Of that, the largest growth was in young adults, age 16 -19, whose interest doubled from 1989 to 2006. That commitment has trickled over to college campuses where Campus Compact, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting community service in higher education, has more than 1,000 college and university presidents committed to service and civic engagement. The trend has also rejuvenated the national service corps such as Peace Corps, America Corps and Teach for America.
“Those of us in higher education have a great opportunity to contribute to the revitalization of our nation’s civic life. It is my hope that this important conference helped advance ideas to reinforce our progress and lay out an ambitious agenda for the future,” said Gearan.
Gearan has been president of Hobart and William Smith since 1999. He is the former director of the Peace Corps and deputy chief of staff and director of communications in the White House. Gearan serves on the boards of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, The Partnership of Public Service and as Chair of the Annapolis Group. He is a member of the Leadership Council of ServiceNation and is the past chair of National Campus Compact. A native of Gardner, Mass., Gearan earned his B.A. in government cum laude at Harvard University and his law degree at Georgetown University. He is also the recipient of 12 honorary degrees.