Bob Cook left Altoona in 1960 for Indiana State College, where he majored in Mathematics Education and graduated in 1964. When he compares today’s university with the school of a half-century ago, more than the name has changed.
“There was much less diversity then,” he said. “Only recently has it become a much more inclusive place. In the sixties, there was no effort, for example, to recruit top students.”
Cook Honors College Director Janet Goebel meets with Bob Cook in her office.
Today’s students are different, too. “Many are far more thoughtful and better able to communicate than any of us were,” he said. “They are more interested in scholarly work, and they are able to think critically. That ability is the biggest difference in kids between then and now.”
Cook came to campus this past spring to celebrate the tenth graduating class of the Robert E. Cook Honors College, founded in the early nineties with a gift from him that was then the largest ever received by IUP. His most recent gift of $2.5 million a few months ago brought his total giving to the university to more than $10 million.
“The Cook Honors College has exceeded my fondest expectations,” he said. “Much of that is because of Janet Goebel’s leadership.” Goebel has been director of the Cook Honors College since its inception.
In the Commencement address he delivered at IUP in May, Cook said Goebel “is a Fulbright Scholar and a superstar.” As a former Fulbright winner, Goebel has seen her achievement emulated by seven Cook Honors College students—along with twenty-nine other winners of Truman, Goldwater, and the other “top academic scholarships” Cook mentioned in his address.
Whitmyre Hall, home of the Cook Honors College
Cook believes the accumulated achievement of these honors will burnish the academic reputation of IUP and the Cook Honors College. He also believes that in order to win such honors, students need more than academics; they need experiences that broaden their perspectives.
“I had never planned for achievement money,” he said. “We found we needed, though, to start paying for ‘unpaid’ internships and for travel and study abroad. One of the first recipients was a math savant from Tucson who spent a summer in Hungary.”
In a news release issued by the Cook Honors College to announce its chief benefactor’s most recent gift, Director Janet Goebel said, “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 the top organizations across the nation that may later become their employers.”
His most recent gift of $2.5 million a few months ago brought his total giving to the university to more than $10 million.
Cook said he hopes IUP alumni and others will join him in providing achievement money. “We will,” he said, “give it to whoever deserves it the most.”
In turn, the achievement fund will help additional students win top academic prizes. And, as Cook told the May 2009 graduates in his address, “You will enjoy the reflected glory during your career, that growing reputation of IUP, as it helps you get jobs with its prestige and growing buzz.”
Cook’s career was as “a serial entrepreneur” in computer software. He lives in St. Helena, Calif., where he and his wife, Paula Brooks, planted and now manage the Dancing Hares Winery. In late August, he’ll be back in Altoona for a high school reunion and also plans to attend a reunion of his college fraternity, Delta Sigma Phi, in the fall.
More about Robert E. Cook and the Cook Honors College
Bob Cook Talks to Readers
IUP Magazine web exclusive on the Cook Honors College anniversary celebration: A Gift and an Anniversary
Bob Cook’s May Commencement address and more information about the Robert E. Cook Honors College