Some of Geneseo’s innovative ideas came from students who saw a need and led the way.
By Kris Dreessen
As a first-year student, Allison Hoppe ’13 joined the Geneseo Environmental Organization. She found friends who shared an interest and then a calling: to build a community for like-minded students to learn about sustainability and adopt a more conscious lifestyle.
Dreaming, planning and effort by Hoppe and others opened Eco House in 2010. Nestled in Putnam Hall, the Living-Learning Community has grown in scope and mission — just as they envisioned.
“It’s literally what I dreamed of. It’s wild to see,” says Hoppe, now a lawyer with the Environmental Protection Agency.
Eco House is one of many diverse initiatives, programs and projects conceived, designed and led by students that so aptly fill a need that they have stuck and become part of Geneseo.
“There is a culture at Geneseo of giving back; students want to serve the community and come up with solutions to needs they see,” says Garth Freeman, director of student engagement and service. “We empower our students to take on leadership roles. We listen, hear what they are passionate about and do our best to support them in achieving their goals.”
Here is a look at just a few of the student-created and -led initiatives that continue to benefit generations of students at Geneseo.
This year in the Eco House Living-Learning Community, Molly Mattison ’21 and other members planned a vertical garden and set up an informal swap shop in the residence hall.
The swap shop lets students rehome unwanted clothing or exchange it for a piece they like. Come fall, they can pick cilantro or rosemary from the garden, built near the communal kitchen out of discarded wooden bleachers from the former Schrader pool. They made goals and met them, despite limitations of the pandemic, including transforming used yogurt and glass jars into painted plant pots to share with other students.
The clothing exchange’s popularity inspired a new goal: Make a permanent swap shop on campus. The next Eco House residents will continue with that goal.
One of the first Living-Learning Communities at Geneseo, Eco House is one of four Inquiry and Discovery LLCs with strong faculty and staff engagement, course focus, and community- and skill-building. Others include Tesla (first-year science), Entre (entrepreneurship) and the new Umoja House (students of diverse backgrounds celebrating their identities).
As with other student-led efforts, Eco House momentum changes with what students see and need. Mattison says the house also explores social and economic justice issues and, over time, has become a launching pad for projects and ideas that may expand campus wide.
The house also provides a foundation for action that stays with members, says Yael Massen ’13. After graduation, Massen earned a master’s degree in creative writing and is now in law school, focusing on civil rights.
“That interest doesn’t go away,” says Massen. “In many ways, I have integrated sustainable practices into my daily life. Eco House played a role in that.”
Geneseo Farmers’ Market Student Manager
In 2011, three Geneseo residents received approval from village trustees to start a farmers’ market to bring fresh food from regional farmers directly to shoppers.
During the market’s second summer on Center Street, Melissa Graham Kuberka ’13 served as assistant manager. As the first recipient of the Community Advocates Ambassadorship in Community Engagement, Kuberka chose to work with organizers to help promote and ultimately expand the market among local growers and community members.
“I had volunteered on an organic farm the summer before, and I loved it,” she remembers. “I was able to see the farmer’s perspective and experience as well as the consumers’. I wanted to help local agriculture.”
Kuberka led several improvements that summer, collaborating with market manager Cate Concannon and other market leaders. They successfully introduced EBT, WIC and nutrition checks as acceptable payment at all five farmers’ markets in Livingston County and helped develop special events to introduce new customers to the markets. In doing so, Kuberka says, farmers got more access to customers, more people benefited from farm produce, and people who used supplementary assistance programs had more access to fresh food.
“We were really proud,” says Kuberka, who was invited to become New York Sen. Patrick Galavan’s agricultural policy advisor after a Rotary Club presentation about her ambassadorship. She spent seven years in that role and is now the women’s basketball coach at St. John Fisher College.
Geneseo Farmers’ Market leaders hired several Geneseo student interns over subsequent seasons. Their ability to promote the market to students was important to market success, says Concannon.
“Overall, the student assistant managers contributed fresh ideas with regard to promoting the farmers’ market to the community,” says Concannon. “As the manager at that time, I found it invaluable to have an assistant manager to share responsibilities and discuss ideas with.”
Ideas Worth Spreading
If you’re seeking insight on anything from the climate crisis to overcoming personal challenges, TED Talks has a video for you. The Ideas Worth Spreading series is one of the most popular speaker series in the world, with presentations translated into 101 languages.
Talks by Bill Gates, James Cameron and Stephen Hawking are sprinkled in among hundreds of experts and individuals who present on a range of topics covering technology, education and design.
Hannah Loo ’17 brought TED to Geneseo in 2015, creating a recurring TEDx event on campus that hosts speakers from around the region. TEDx events are independently run but associated with the TED mission.
“Education should require students to think creatively about how they can push boundaries and shape their community, beyond classroom learning,” says Loo. “TEDx creates a place where people who are influencing their community in positive ways can share their ideas with everyone.”
Loo based Geneseo’s TEDx annual event on the TED framework. Speakers have exactly 18 minutes to present. Geneseo team members curate talks based on a specific theme from submitted proposals, work with speakers on their outlines and delivery and manage every aspect of the hours-long, live event, including activities, marketing and recording.
In 2017, Loo earned the John A. ’87 and Mary Grace ’84 Gleason Ambassadorship in Student Affairs award. She used it to attend a TEDWomen conference in San Francisco to connect with fellow organizers and gather ideas to improve Geneseo’s event. As an alum, she spoke about glia, cells that can help scientists understand neurological diseases. She is earning a doctorate in neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania in the Orthmann-Murphy Lab and is the founder and director of Project SHORT, a pro-bono mentoring organization for underrepresented applicants to medical and graduate school.
TEDx Geneseo was recently led by organizer Madeline Dunn ’21; Raj Patel ’22 will lead the 2021–2022 event. TEDx is a unique student organization, says Dunn, because members follow rules set by the College and TEDx.
“This ultimately culminates in a rigorous experience, in which team members have true, hands-on experience working in a role similar to that of an internship,” says Dunn.
In the six years since its inception, Loo’s vision of expanded learning has remained strong.
“TEDx is a place where a group of individuals can come together to spark innovation and cultivate academic thought in ways a classroom can’t quite fulfill,” says Dunn. “Ideas and individuals that are different or new can be given the opportunity to spread.” That includes, she says, those of current students, who are “entrepreneurs, activists, and academics within our very own campus.”
Pathways: Geneseo Peer Advocate Program
One night per week, Thomas Griffin ’23 is on call to take phone calls from fellow students who may be anxious, worried, dealing with relationship or family issues — or in need of an open ear. He listens and refers callers to campus resources if appropriate.
Griffin and fellow members of the Geneseo Peer Advocate Program staff an overnight hotline, 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., to fill the gap when other campus services are closed. They are trained to listen without judgment and not give advice.
“We are the support,” says Griffin, “that they need in that moment.”
Professor of Psychology Jennifer Katz created Pathways in 2011 with input from students after she led a campus teach-in about sexual assault. Students said they needed a safe, confidential outlet.
Katz leads volunteers in 10 weeks of intensive training — including weekly supervisor meetings, weekly three-hour group and evaluation sessions, and practice calls — after which volunteers become call-ready advocates. Participants are then invited to enroll in the psychology department’s Peer Advocacy course and go on to present on-campus educational programs.
“Our advocates learn what it means to be helpful, which is not to fix the problem,” says Katz. “We emphasize being with people in difficult moments without pushing the person forward. We accept and provide space for people to be sad, anxious, frustrated or worried, and not rush them out of that. Our mentors learn what it means to be with someone, so they are not alone.”
“I remember my first call and how anxious I felt that someone was counting on me,” Griffin says. “But that training takes over as second nature, and afterward I felt even more confident. On a phone call, I can hear it’s making a difference and the student is leaving the phone call in a different place than when they reached out.”
Through Pathways, Griffin has learned he likes to help others, and it has inspired him to pursue a career in mental health. Katz has a list of Pathways alumni who have undertaken graduate psychology studies, pursued careers in the field, or used their skills in other related ways.
Pathways alumna Tacianna Oliver Indovina ’12 is now a psychologist, working with young adults, college students, adults and new parents. She is teaching a clinical psychology course at Geneseo this summer. She says she uses the skills learned as a peer advocate in her personal and professional lives. She’s glad the program is still active.
“Many people feel alone in their problems, and talking to someone experiencing a similar situation can be healing in and of itself,” says Indovina. “Learning how to be an active listener seems really easy and straightforward, but it is extremely challenging. Being able to nonjudgmentally listen with the goal of understanding instead of responding takes practice and patience.”
Creating a Culture of Giving Back
In 1974, Geneseo students concerned about the Vietnam War and other issues asked for space to meet and share ideas. Tom Matthews, former longtime associate dean of leadership and service, remembers that administration and staff supported the students’ request.
Student activism and a wish for space to discuss how they may create change more than 40 years ago is part of the foundation of what leadership and volunteering at Geneseo is today. Geneseo’s offerings now include the Center for Community, an office with many outreach efforts within, including student volunteerism, community engagement, leadership opportunities, and multicultural and LGBTQ+ programs and services.
“The College continues to provide that space for students, empowering our students to be leaders,” says Garth Freeman, director of student volunteerism and community engagement. “They are the ones identifying needs in our local community and developing responses.”
Students are introduced to it during their first days at Geneseo. Students paint and perform other community projects during the Knights First Day of Service, now held during orientation.
“This builds a spirit of service among our students,” Freeman says, which is demonstrated over and over.
The Higher Education Resource Opportunities in School (HEROS) program and Food Security Advocates (FSA) are two programs that resulted from students committed to community engagement.
While HEROS was a 2007 AmeriCorps Vista program made permanent, it floundered during recent years, says Freeman. Jose Romero ’22 gave it new life.
HEROS pairs Geneseo student mentors with young adults, providing insight and encouragement to attend college. They met locally until the pandemic. Romero saw more potential for the program when he had to re-envision how to run it virtually.
“I truly think of Romero as a colleague,” says Freeman. “He reimagined HEROS for the 21st century, and it has been awesome to see the transformation.”
Romero spearheaded a transition to technology that expanded the program across New York and to more schools with students of the greatest need, who often have lower test scores and come from low-income families. Members realized that a virtual HEROS program offered an important benefit: More students from all over New York could participate.
HEROS members identified and partnered with a number of new schools, including nine in New York City, and expanded the program’s scope to support students in any path, including trade schools. Romero concentrated on curriculum for Geneseo student mentors in an INTD 395 course and the 36 Geneseo student mentors.
“Mentors also benefit from my course by receiving field work and leadership experience in preparation for their careers,” says Romero. “It is extremely rewarding to see how mentors grow as professionals and experience an internship role by helping others. Sustainability of HEROS is extremely important as we further our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in America and ensure there is equitable access to the resources high school students need to be successful.”
Romero hopes HEROS can partner with more schools and mentors in the future.
Several years ago, students created the Food Security Advocates (FSA) to help local families that may not have enough food. They hold awareness events and provide staples for public school students when school is out. The College Senate recently approved the idea of opening a permanent food pantry on campus.
“It feels great they approved our proposal,” says Fleurian Filkins ’21, who led the initiative with Robbie Economou ’21. “We saw a need and advocated for a lasting change.”
Economou and Filkins saw more on- and off-campus Geneseo students struggling with food insecurity, especially during the pandemic. Some were worried about shopping in person; some lacked resources. FSA created a food delivery service, picking up food from the
Geneseo Groveland Emergency Food Pantry and delivering it to any student in need, no questions asked.
FSA members, including co-chair Corinne Scanlon ’22, delivered more than 375 bags of food to students through May. Ninety-one students were served during the academic year.
Filkins and Economou also received a unique opportunity for their roles: They were both selected as Bill Emerson Hunger Fellows at the Congressional Hunger Center this fall.
“The most important lesson I’ve learned is that when there’s a need in your community, you have a responsibility to do whatever you can to address it,” says Economou. “We need to do our best to leave our communities better than we found them. Geneseo has a lot of passionate people, and there are a lot of opportunities for them to make positive change.”
Read about more student-created and inspired programs:
Setting theTone/ (student-athlete mentoring program)
Home Away From Home respite progrram (day program for senior citizens and their families, affected by memory loss illnesses)
Memories campaign (documenting the life stories of local senior citizens)
Geneseo First Response (on campus emergency service)