HWS in Chronicle of Higher Ed – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

HWS in Chronicle of Higher Ed

The participation of members of the first-year classes in “Blitz Week” for the HWS Habitat House was featured in an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Students from the Classes of 2013 took part in the last week of the build as part of a Pre-Orientation Adventure Program and helped prepare the house for Sheetrocking before they started the Colleges’ Orientation weekend programs. They were accompanied by orientation leaders and other members of the Geneva and HWS communities.

“The genius of Habitat is that it’s so tangible for students,” the article quotes Mark D. Gearan, president of the colleges.

It goes on to explain, “Last spring Mr. Gearan, [Sarah B. Reiner, assistant director of the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning], and Amanda Hawley, president of the colleges’ Habitat for Humanity Club, signed an agreement to provide $20,000 to build the house. By adding the project to the pre-orientation offerings, Ms. Reiner says, she and others saw an opportunity ‘to kick it up a notch and coordinate with Habitat for ‘Blitz Week’ on the house.'”

The full article as it appeared on the Chronicle’s Web site follows.


The Chronicle of Higher Education
Carpentry, Not Camping, Brings Incoming Freshmen Together

Don Troop • Senior Editor, Short Subjects •September 7, 2009

Rugged outdoor pre-orientation trips and earnest volunteer work have long been staples of student life.

Hobart and William Smith Colleges are among a growing number of institutions where incoming freshmen can forgo the backpacks and kayaks and instead bond over claw hammers and framing squares. Last month 11 students at the Geneva, N.Y., colleges spent a week helping volunteers from Habitat for Humanity of Ontario County build a house for a family of five.

“The genius of Habitat is that it’s so tangible for students,” says Mark D. Gearan, president of the colleges.

The students-eight members of the Class of 2013 and three older students who served as guides-helped raise the house from a foundation to a structure consisting of walls, siding, windows, and doors. By the end of their week, “it was waiting for the Sheetrocking,” says Sarah B. Reiner, assistant director of the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning at the colleges.

Last spring Mr. Gearan, Ms. Reiner, and Amanda Hawley, president of the colleges’ Habitat for Humanity Club, signed an agreement to provide $20,000 to build the house. By adding the project to the pre-orientation offerings, Ms. Reiner says, she and others saw an opportunity “to kick it up a notch and coordinate with Habitat for ‘Blitz Week’ on the house.”

With 480 campus chapters in the United States, Habitat for Humanity has been part of collegiate pre-orientation activities for at least 15 years, officials say. But for Taylor Mockler, a sophomore at William Smith, her week as a student guide was entirely new and genuinely inspiring.

Among her fellow builders were the future owners of the house; Habitat families are obliged to contribute 400 hours of “sweat equity” to the projects. In addition to bonding with one another on the house, the students grew to know and enjoy the home owner, who would thank them each day for their work on his family’s future home.

One day he arrived to the job site scraped and bloodied after suffering a bicycle accident. He left the bent bike there overnight, and the next day it was gone.

That evening in the basement of the campus residence where the students were camped out for the week, Ms. Mockler says, everyone had the same idea at once: “Let’s buy him a new bike.” They purchased a lock and extended warranty as well, and the next day the students jubilantly presented their gift to the shocked but grateful homeowner.

President Gearan, who served as director of the Peace Corps under Bill Clinton, says this type of “pragmatic idealism” is what distinguishes today’s college students from earlier generations.

“They want to make a difference, and it gets localized,” he says. “They say, ‘I want to change the world. I’m going to change my part of the world.'”