Dr. Tony Atwater, president of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, announced today that the university has received a $2.5 million gift from Robert E. Cook in support of the Robert E. Cook Honors College.
Cook, a 1964 graduate of IUP, previously presented the largest gift in university history to establish an honors college at IUP in 1993. Today’s gift brings his total giving to the university to more than $10 million.
Cook’s latest gift coincides with a five-year plan for institutional support for the Cook Honors College (CHC), the first endowed honors college in the state of Pennsylvania, and a celebration of the Cook Honors College’s tenth graduating class.
“The Robert E. Cook Honors College, its students, and its graduates continue to enjoy extraordinary success,” Atwater said. “We sincerely appreciate Mr. Cook’s generosity and applaud his vision for the Cook Honors College at IUP.
“Dr. Janet Goebel, its director, and the IUP faculty of the Cook Honors College have created an outstanding learning environment that has enabled students to compete very well in the worldwide arena of academics, often exceeding greatly their own expectations.”
Part of the CHC approach is the encouragement and funding of CHC student exposure to the world beyond IUP and western Pennsylvania, through study abroad, internships, and other broadening experiences,Cook said.
“The CHC attracts students of modest means. Our student body struggles just to pay for their university experience at the CHC; many students have jobs, and there is little money for extras such as study abroad.
“With this gift, I hope to initiate full financial support for this extra effort and to motivate others to pitch in.”
IUP’s Cook Honors College enrolls one hundred freshmen annually in a residential, four-year program. The average SAT score has ranged from 1260 to 1320 since the first entering class in 1996. The CHC mission is to provide a first-class education to “blue-collar scholars” who have the ability but lack the funds, and sometimes the social confidence, to attend an Ivy League college or university.
Ten years of senior exit interviews provide both quantitative and qualitative evidence that CHC’s four-semester interdisciplinary core curriculum is extraordinarily successful in teaching critical thinking.
Critical thinking skills, combined with the excellent training and mentoring provided by IUP faculty, make CHC students highly competitive upon graduation.
“No one thinks it’s unusual to give a scholarship to a student who can jump higher, hit harder, and run faster than others,” Cook said. “I think a student who can match wits with Rousseau deserves a scholarship, too.
“It doesn’t matter what he or she does after graduation. If you can master the thinking of Rousseau or Locke or Plato, you’ll be a better businessperson, a better artist, or a better bureaucrat, for that matter. And we’re investing in these kids beyond what happens within the curriculum. We’re going to expand on what we’re doing.”
Goebel attributes much of the students’ success to the generous donations of Cook and other supporters.
“We are able to offer all students a chance to study abroad or intern through an achievement fund. This is a life-transforming experience for college students of modest means, one which has allowed many of them such broadening possibilities as spending a junior year at Oxford or interning with a the top organizations across the nation that may later become their employers.
“That extra confidence and external credential makes all the difference in their ability to compete in life and to achieve whatever goals they have set. For a relatively modest amount of money, the impact of our graduates on their endeavors and communities is tremendous. There is bang for the buck in the concept of the achievement fund,” Goebel said.
“Dr. Goebel and the IUP faculty have done a marvelous job at defining, initiating, and refining this way of teaching,” Cook said. “I think that having students argue modern morality with Voltaire, Rousseau, and Descartes gives them an invaluable launch into adult life. For that earlier argument, the written and spoken word is the medium. Your peers judge you. Your faculty shows you how to do it, gently.”
IUP’s Cook Honors College was featured in the Chronicle of Higher Education and is one of the very few public university programs discussed in both editions of Donald Asher’s Cool Colleges for the Hyper-Intelligent, Self-Directed, Late Blooming, and Just Plain Different.
Asher said in his book: “There is something magical that is going on at Cook Honors College. It’s like the tone you get by running your finger around the rim of fine crystal. A lot of wine glasses look like crystal, but then there is not that rich and satisfying tone. The Robert E. Cook Honors College is fine crystal, and a lot of places that look similar are just glass.”
The Cook Honors College offers an innovative, four-semester core curriculum. These core courses are designed to hone critical thinking skills while providing a survey of the most important writings in several disciplines. In a traditional sense, the curriculum fulfills a classic goal of the university experience: a “moral education” designed to discover and develop each student’s intellect.
“For the past several years, IUP’s CHC students have averaged a Goldwater and a Fulbright every year, and CHC has had several Marshall, Truman and Rhodes finalists,” Cook said.
“Solid evidence shows that all of the CHC students are winners, not just the ones that win the biggies. They compete well for jobs, and most of them attend top graduate schools in their fields on full scholarships, or are admitted to solid professional schools, including Georgetown Law, Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, the University of Michigan, Boston College Medical, NYU, and Dartmouth.”