The Geneseo Gene

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By President Denise A. Battles/ Photo by Udeshi Senevirante ’19

“Work hard, play hard.”
Without question, those four words define the unparalleled drive that fuels the determination of Geneseo students to succeed and have fun. Not surprisingly, the mere mention of that maxim invites alumni to recall their academic achievements, social activities and extracurricular passions that helped shape them into who they are today.
In a book published in 1827, “The Principles of Physical, Intellectual, Moral and Religious Education,” author W. Newnham exhorts, “Whatever is done should be habitually done with earnestness. In every pursuit, exertion should be employed. Work hard and play hard.” Our College was founded in 1871, so that exhortation may have inspired successive generations of Geneseo students through to present day.
Evidenced by Geneseo’s storied legacy for high expectations and achieving exceptional outcomes, our students have distinguished themselves through excellence in scholarship, research, athleticism, civic engagement, volunteerism and artistic creativity. Their focus, perseverance and relentless pursuit to excel in their studies and subsequent careers often manifest in an equally strong drive to enjoy life to the fullest through serious play, however that may be defined.
These pages of the Scene reveal Geneseo alumni striking a balance between work and play — and how each activity subtly yet powerfully complements the other to create an optimal experience. Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described the positive phenomena of joyful focus as “flow” — when “your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
In my personal and professional life, I can relate to such a “joyful focus.”
As a geologist, engaging in outdoor activities such as hiking and exploring our national parks re-energizes me. Closer to home, gardening is a passion, bolstering my connection to Geneseo by growing fruits and vegetables associated with this region. Gardening can be hard work, but also rewarding play, resulting in a harvest I can share with family and friends.
Likewise, as a scholar, administrator and now president, I derive immense satisfaction from my professional activities, especially with regard to implementing change initiatives and mentoring students. Whether it is fostering an initiative to increase opportunities for women in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, editing a scholarly article in a journal devoted to diversity in higher education, developing and co-teaching a course on the intersections of art and geology, or serving in leadership roles for national professional organizations, I find my work invigorating and inspiring.
Yet, our lives are not often distributed into tidy “this is work; this is pleasure” categories. There is particular value in looking at the intersection of work and play, which is part of the magic of Geneseo. The academic rigor that students expect from a Geneseo education is complemented by the many opportunities for play, which often incorporate service to others and foster lifelong connections that support their professional lives as well.
Call it the “Geneseo gene” if you will, but there is something in the DNA of our students and alumni that compels them to leave a legacy through their work and play. The sheer joy that they feel from these varied pursuits is both contagious and inspiring, and becomes a wonderful reflection of the enriched lives we seek to prepare students for through the unique liberal arts experience found at Geneseo.

Author: geneseoscene

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