Phil Geier `66 is one of our country’s preeminent leaders in international education, and his vision for the 21st century led to the creation of what has since become the largest privately funded international scholarship program in the world—the Davis United World College Scholars Program.
Phil teamed with philanthropist Shelby M. C. Davis to support over 13,500 students (and growing!) from over 165 countries to pursue their undergraduate degrees at nearly 100 colleges and universities across the United States.
“I am committed to fostering citizen diplomacy and international understanding through education because I believe we all need to build cross-cultural skills and attitudes of mutual respect—here in the U.S. and around the world,” says Geier. “In the most profound sense, my education at Country Day and thereafter created opportunities, partially through academics but mostly through experiential learning — by that I mean learning through unpredictable circumstances and relationships that open your eyes and shape your character and career.”
Phil also created “Projects for Peace” – an initiative also funded by Davis’s philanthropy – to incentivize college students to design and implement projects anywhere in the world, as building blocks for improving the world. Since 2007, Projects for Peace has awarded $10,000 in grants to more than 1,950 student projects in 154 countries. Both the Davis United World College Scholars Program and Projects for Peace are ongoing with no end in sight.
Phil’s passion for a career in international work grew out of a year he spent in France in 1977-1978 teaching at the Sorbonne in Paris as a Fulbright lecturer and giving talks on American culture throughout France on behalf of the American embassy. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Williams College and both a master’s degree and Ph.D. from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.
“My educational highlight at Country Day was Mr. [Lee] Pattison’s history class and in particular his two-year research paper. I had no clue then (about anything really!) but that project unconsciously lit my fire for both teaching and 20th century diplomatic history,” says Geier. “It inspired me to get a Ph.D. and start my career teaching at a small liberal arts college, which surprisingly led to being awarded a Fulbright lectureship to teach for a year at the Sorbonne in Paris. That Fulbright pivoted my career aspirations toward how best to foster better mutual understanding between people who are different from one another.”
In recognition of his dedication and achievements, Phil has been awarded 12 honorary degrees. His career spans university teaching and leadership positions at foundations, non-profits, and educational institutions.
“My migration from leadership positions in non-profit education to giving shape to transformative philanthropy was a realization that the greatest impact comes from fostering synergies between meritorious causes and creative philanthropy,” continues Geier. “As a consequence, I’ve had the privilege of creating the world’s largest international scholarship program for undergraduates from all over the world while helping make American college and university campuses into more global communities.”
When asked if he had any advice for today’s students, his response was to “be adventuresome, explore. It’s far more important to listen than to talk. Once you latch onto some appealing pursuit, be persistent and stay focused. The best thing about your education is not what you are learning but that you are learning to learn. With that foundation, you can be a lifelong learner. I would be remiss if I also didn’t say that each of you should try to make a positive difference in the world, each in your own way.”