Visit report for Robert E. Cook Honors College Open House

<p>As promised, we've returned from our visit to IUP and the Robert E. Cook Honors College open house and here are the collected impressions and opinions from me, my wife, and our son.</p>

<p>The open house program involved an overnight stay at the Cook Honors College dorm with additional sessions, including a mock Honors core class, scheduled for today. There was also a campus-wide open house event taking place today which allowed the Honors College attendees to also explore the offerings of the university at large. We all came away from the event impressed by the Honors College and pleasantly surprised by IUP in general. I'll provide details in the text that follows, starting with the Honors College.</p>

<p>I won't repeat the basic information about the Honors College that is available on the IUP website. I will say that what appears on the website and in the very nice booklet they send to prospective students appears to be very accurate. The Honors dorm (Whitmyre Hall, an old-style hall bath residence hall building) has been configured to house both Honors students and their classes and provides outstanding common spaces designed to bring the community together. It's a unique place filled with art and populated by bright, friendly students who uniformly love the program. During the student panel session on Friday evening several of the students expressed that living in Whitmyre was one of the best aspects of the Honors College. I have to say that I too can see the value of bringing the students together in one place in the old style dorms that foster more togetherness via the shared bathrooms and open door policy that seems to exist on the residence floors. The students said that life in the suites can be rather insulating since there's very little need to leave your suite or interact with your floormates. Putting the Honors students into the melting pot of Whitmyre Hall seems like a very good way to build the community and help form social relationships from day one. That said, I can see the lure of the more luxurious suites pulling students away from Whitmyre as their college years progress.</p>

<p>With regard to the curriculum, it's really quite different from the typical honors programs we've encountered at other schools. The Cook Honors College does not offer more intensive sections of regular courses. Instead, they replace a portion of IUP's "liberal studies"... what they call gen ed... with a sequence of Honors classes built around the examination of great questions of humanity. "What do we know? What do we believe?" and "How do we discern the good from the bad?" are examples of the questions explored in the Honors Core all leading to answer "What, therefore, should I do?" The intent of this program is to develop critical thinking skills and to give the students a strong background in writing, presenting, and thinking. While the "great questions" philosophical bent of the Honors Core might not appeal to every student it was certainly a hit with our son given his interest in philosophy, human behavior, and current events. I think he would be very happy to replace a large portion of his gen ed requirements with the Honors Core! The classes are spread out across the first three years of the student's time at IUP and culminate in a "senior synthesis" course that allows them to apply all they've learned to a single topic studied over the course of the year. Again, this may not be for everybody, especially not those who feel that every course should have direct applicability to a major or future employment. Keep in mind though that the process they're teaching is applicable to every major and is intended to make people better critical thinkers and problem solvers. As such we feel it's a great addition to the standard curriculum. </p>

<p>And that brings up another point. The Honors Core applies to all Honors College students regardless of major. Some majors at IUP also have their own honors track that is delivered outside the Cook Honors College. Still other majors have no honors track and depend on individual interaction between the student and their major department for enrichment and additional experiences. It's important to read the catalog and departmental materials carefully to fully understand what "honors" really entails at IUP.</p>

<p>The open house event included an opportunity for our son and the other attendees to participate in a mock class discussing and debating a previously assigned reading. Our son came back from this session energized by the experience stating that it was great to have so many perspectives being brought to the table by such intelligent people. Quite a difference from his typical experiences in our local high school! This has made him even more eager to move on to college and whether he eventually attends IUP or not I think this was a great way for him to see how different life will be for him and how much better he'll fit in.</p>

<p>We also found the place of the Honors College within the IUP community very interesting. The total enrollment of the school is approximately 15,000 but there are only 400 students of all levels within the Honors College. They attempt to enroll about 100 students per year so it's a very selective program for a state school.</p>

<p>Perhaps the most surprising aspect of our visit was the campus in general. It's obvious that the state is pouring a huge amount of money into the physical plant of the state universities in the form of new dorms, new classroom buildings, ancillary structures (i.e. a new convocation center), and a revamped campus environment (i.e. more greenspace, wider walkways, fewer streets bisecting the campus). Almost all of the on-campus housing is new in the form of suite-style residences. The mix of suite types is staggering with everything from two person semi-suites (shared bedroom and bath) up to four person private suites (4 private bedrooms, two baths, kitchen area, living room). Several such buildings have been completed and there are more on the way. The campus also included the usual amenities i.e. fitness center, student union with food court, etc. Walking around it seemed like a very pleasant if somewhat compact campus with a nice college town a block or two away. Our son said he could see himself spending four years at IUP, first in Whitmyre with the Honors program and then possibly in the Social Justice living/learning community in one of the suites.</p>

<p>In summary, we were greatly impressed with the Robert E. Cook Honors College. Everyone from the current students to the staff to the dean of the college seemed truly concerned with creating an intellectual community of young people committed to learning and service. And they seemed very willing and able to facilitate that learning and service for the students in the Honors College. And that is, I think, our overwhelming impression of the people, program, and its unique facility... nurturing and facilitating. The fact that such a program is offered by one of our state universities and is thus a tremendous value for us is an added benefit. If you are a PA resident seeking an educational program that is unique and offers a remarkable set of opportunities then you really should investigate the Robert E. Cook Honors College at IUP.</p>

<p>I hope you find this information useful. If I can answer any questions or provide any other insight based on our visit or investigation of IUP and the Robert E. Cook Honors College please feel free to write or post to this thread.</p>

<p>I found this article very helpful. Thanks! My son is considering IUP, and the Cook Honors College appears very different from other Honors programs we have encountered. It appears centered on making students better people and better thinkers. Thanks again.</p>

<p>Great information, thank you. I’m writing as both a high school teacher who is sending three 11th grade students to the IUP Summer Honors program and a dad whose 10th grade daughter is doing the same. The process has made us consider IUP as a college destination as well. So, if you don’t mind, may I ask a few follow-up questions?</p>

<p>(1) Did your son end up enrolling at IUP?</p>

<p>(2) Was there ever a discussion of financial aid for members of the Cook honors program; e.g., are they automatically participants in some special scholarship program? I figure that surely they must be because this summer they are ponying up a $1000 scholarship for each student in their $1300 program . . . that’s awfully generous!</p>

<p>(3) Above and beyond their own press releases and promotional materials, may I ask you what the college’s true reputation is “on the streets” of Pennsylvania? As an out-of-stater I have to plead ignorance here and would be grateful to hear your thoughts.</p>

<p>Until then, though, many thanks!!</p>


<p>Sorry but one more question . . . </p>

<p>Have you ever come across anything else like IUP’s Cook honors program? It almost seems to good to be true but, surely, it’s not the only one in the country like this, right?</p>


<p>Hello. Eager to hear what you learn about the Cook Honors College. My son was accepted there. He recently attended their Honors College weekend, which was the overnight and mock core class that was described above. We were both impressed with the program. He had a great, lively “debate” within the core class and appreciated how respectful everyone was of various points of view. The professor mentioned after the class that he was very impressed with the contributions my son made during the discussion (which of course thrilled my son!) We too are wondering how this compares to others Honors Colleges. By now seems both of the previous posts have chosen and enrolled in a college, so would appreciate hearing updates. We visited the other PA Honors Colleges. Seems Millersville is similar to Cooks–a warm shared living community and liberal arts approach to Honors courses. Could anyone describe the differences between either the offerings of IUP Cook Honors and Millersville Honors College–or the climate/culture comparison between the two. My son also sat in a LockHaven Honors Class. Seems the big disadvantage at Lock Haven is the students don’t live in an Honors dorm and could end up with a “partying roommate” who isn’t as academically driven. Any insights would be appreciated. Thanks</p>

<p>To answer question 3, if you still care, IUP is thought of as one of the better state schools around here. It has many well established programs held in much higher regard than any other state schools that come to mind. Also, I have gone there as part of a high school physics competition for two years now, and it seemed like a very nice environment. The only somewhat negative thing I can think of were the huge party they throw on St Patrick’s day that they call IUPatties. But if your kid doesn’t want to do that they can just avoid it if they wanted to.</p>

Thanks Hudsonators. My son just sent in his confirmation to Cook Honors College at IUP and is looking forward to joining their community. After another visit to the other PA state schools Honors Colleges, he felt IUP had the strongest sense of community and Liberal Arts approach.

I am a senior business major at IUP. The Honors College is a very valuable resource for students who choose to enroll, providing opportunities to its students comparable to much more expensive universities. IUP in general is a very good value for your tuition dollar, owing to the quality faculty that we employ. Students get 1-1 time with their professors in class and office hours, and classes are taught by Ph.D. level faculty or the equivalent in their field. Undergraduates also have ample opportunity to get involved in research. (Shameless plug: the Eberly College of Business at IUP carries AACSB accreditation, which represents the top 10% of business schools in the nation).

Ultimately, I chose not to enroll in the Honors College, because I felt that the Liberal Studies program (aka “gen. ed”) that all other studies take offered greater flexibility. You have your choice of political science, music/art history, etc. instead of the standard Core that you get with the Honors College (and highly abstract and theoretical topics like philosophy just don’t ring my bell.) But that’s just me. If your son has a knack for that kind of thing, then by all means go for it.

Can you be a musical theatre major AND in the honors college?