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The Honors College Chronicles

Still Cool

“I’ve long been an admirer of the Cook Honors College. I am convinced there is no place like it in the United States at this time.”

Such is the esteem expressed by nationally known higher education and career expert Donald Asher, in an interview Asher had with Honors College founder Robert Cook ’64. The conversation is recounted in the second edition of Asher’s acclaimed college guidebook Cool Colleges: For the Hyper-Intelligent, Self-Directed, Late Blooming, and Just Plain Different.


A number of Robert E. Cook Honors College graduates were recognized at Commencement ceremonies in May. Pittsburgher Jessica DeSalvo, left, received both the Judith Ann Shoop Memorial Scholarship and the Zeta Lambda Undergraduate Scholarship Award, which was presented by Nursing and Allied Health Professions faculty member Annette Kostelnik, president of Zeta Lambda Chapter of Sigma Theta Tau, the international nursing honorary society. Photo: Michael Henninger

Asher showcases IUP’s Honors College throughout seven pages of Cool Colleges with special praise for its unique living-learning environment, outstanding faculty, and innovative curriculum. The Honors College, along with the University of Chicago and Swarthmore College, is in the section on “Schools Where Academics are Honored.”  

“It is the culture of an institution that determines the experience for students,” Asher said. “The culture of the Cook Honors College is one of reverence for academics, and a virtual worship of the skills of critical thinking.”

Cook’s historic donation—the largest single gift in the university’s history—helped  found the Honors College eleven years ago. Cook believes that “a liberal education, with critical thinking and good written and oral communications skills, is the most valuable thing that you can have.” 

“The qualities that Asher highlights are the ones alumni tell us mattered to them most,” Honors College Director Janet Goebel observed.  “I often hear from alumni thanking the faculty for the training in critical thinking that helps in everything they do every day of their lives.” 

“The Cook Honors College is a significant addition to IUP,” Asher said. “The way students are incubated in the Honors College and then spread out into the greater university in the later years is a benefit to both the honors students and the university as a whole.”

“This identifies a program at IUP that is regarded by an expert in the field as being the premier program in the nation. I think that speaks volumes about IUP,” Honors College Assistant Director Rick Kutz explained. “We are the only Honors College in the book and one among a very small number of public universities.”

The distinction accorded the Honors College by its appearance in the book is not something IUP takes lightly.

“There is something magical that is going on at the Honors College,” Asher said. “It’s like the tone you get by running your finger around the rim of fine crystal. The HC is fine crystal, and a lot of places that look similar are just glass.”

The full excerpt from Asher’s book about the Robert E. Cook Honors College is on line at www.iup.edu/honors.