Bob Cook '64 calls education a tool of civilization-and his passion.
Over three decades, Cook, who found his fortune in software development, has sought ways to propel education's progress.
His earliest efforts included supporting the use of Direct Instruction-“a way to educate the poor and their progeny”-at a Baltimore elementary school. The school's experience with the program was chronicled in the documentary The Battle of City Springs, a production Cook underwrote. He remains impressed with the results of the program, illustrated by a lasting spike in student test scores, but not with the lack of attention and concern, what he calls a “resounding silence,” from the public on the quality of K-12 education.
Cook then turned his attention to higher education and IUP by endowing the Cook Honors College in the mid-1990s. His quest was to facilitate an Ivy League-style education that focuses on critical thinking for academically talented students, many of them first-generation college students who aren't able to afford private education. With Cook's investment, students enrolled in the honors college have earned numerous prestigious academic prizes-from Fulbright Scholarships to Goldwater Awards-ultimately raising the bar for all IUP students.
Today, he publishes novels to heighten awareness about the benefits of a well-educated society.
“I want to cause folks to dig in, to think about the longer term,” he said.
His first three novels-Cooch, Patriot and Assassin, and Pulse-are thrillers whose protagonist is CIA agent Alejandro Mohammed Cuchulain.
“The strong, recurring backstory in each is the need to educate the world's poor,” Cook said.
In his latest work, a young-adult novel called Bairdston, now available through Amazon, Cook has written a tale wrapped around soccer, bigotry, and racism as told through a 13-year-old Moroccan orphan. Learn more at robertcooknovels.com. The book also features Cuchulain. Cook's hope is to foster family discussions on important topics.
“The thriller readers might buy a young-adult novel for their grandchildren, then buy and read another of the thrillers to be able to pursue their own informed thinking with their progeny,” he said. “A young-adult novel lends depth to that discussion; it's connected to the thrillers. It's about educating our young to take over the world, with tiny steps first.”
Cook believes that awareness of how education can benefit society is key.
“Public education is broken, demonstrably. We must at least start a thoughtful conversation about why it is broken and find the best path to help regain student success,” he said.
Yet, he concedes that what IUP has to offer in the form of the Cook Honors College is a bright spot in the entire education spectrum, providing talented students with a challenging environment full of rich experiences in research, study abroad, and other cultural and out-of-classroom opportunities-the type that otherwise may be out of reach.
“Cook Honors College students in particular are pushed hard because, in the coming decades, they will be pressed into service to solve very real problems,” he said. “A big part of what makes them so good is their access to Achievement Funds, which enable them to see the world. IUP is already producing stars, but more are ready. More achievement money given means more stars created.”
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