Don Asher Visits Robert E Cook Honors College at Indiana University of Pennsylvania

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The atmosphere and curriculum rendered the Robert E. Cook Honors College at Indiana University of Pennsylvania the sole selection of honors colleges named in Donald Asher's Cool Colleges for the Hyper-Intelligent, Self-Directed, Late Blooming, and Just Plain Different (2nd Ed, 2007).

I've visited the RECHC many times over the past seven years. IUP, as a whole, is an interesting place, and it is unusual in that it serves its constituents. It's quaint. It's a more noble school. The RECHC has reached a national audience, and it is gaining more attention.

"The Robert E. Cook Honors College has features that make it an exemplar of an honors college," said Donald Asher, a San Francisco and Gerlach, Nevada-based career consultant, business writer and nationally recognized speaker on careers and higher education.

Asher, who has visited hundreds of campuses annually during the past 15 years, said that the RECHC, established in 2000, cultivates student development in a profound way.

"There is something delicate, a confluence of very good things," he said of the honors college at IUP. "It's a student immersion program. The residential component means they talk outside the classroom and the ideas keep flowing."

Asher said it is a strong program because of its dedicated residential building, which allows students to build a culture of inquiry, a thoughtful curriculum that builds academic skills, and its hand-picked faculty dedicated to teaching honors classes.

"There is something magic that is going on at RECHC," he said. "It's like the tone you get by running your finger around the rim of fine crystal. A lot of wineglasses look like crystal, but then there's not that rich and satisfying tone. RECHC is fine crystal, and a lot of places that look similar are just glass."

Asher recommends students consider the RECHC because "It is about as close to a perfect educational institution as you can get in the real world," he said. "The curriculum really matters. The dividing line is students participating in their education. They learn to think better than students at other colleges."

Students are passive at most schools, Asher said. What is appealing, he said, is that instead of "empty vessel" students mechanically taking lecture notes, he found students here engaged in questioning.

"Quite frankly, most institutions, even those of very high caliber, don't succeed at creating original thinkers," Asher said. "The RECHC does a particularly good job."

Students develop critical thinking skills through the curriculum and that can be utilized on any job and will result in better job performance.

"Almost every one of my books has a quote, a story or a letter from a RECHC student," said Asher, who has written nine other books. "One example in Cool Colleges is an intern who spoke at a meeting in front of company officers, and she had the confidence and eloquence to succeed at that while still an undergraduate."

The student had utilized critical thinking skills developed in honors core classes to help render a decision that executives could agree on.

"It's the ability to speak up and make a difference," Asher said. "There are schools taking excellent students, graduating them and taking credit for that. Yet many of them cannot think like the RECHC students."

Asher believes the RECHC is an excellent place to nurture and develop intellectuals.

"They like to say 'Your student will be comfortable here' and I believe that's true," Asher said. "If you drop a young scholar into an elite school with fourth-generation elite students and that young scholar, no matter how bright, is not used to dealing with that elitism, they're going to have trouble fitting in. That's not the case at the RECHC. This was the most genuine, unpretentious place I visited."

Outside of the honors core classes, students may pursue any major offered at IUP. Asher noted that students need to feel just as comfortable with the university as the honors college.

"I've been going to IUP for 10 years," Asher said. "I've visited the RECHC many times over the past seven years. IUP, as a whole, is an interesting place, and it is unusual in that it serves its constituents. It's quaint. It's a more noble school. The RECHC has reached a national audience, and it is gaining more attention."

Buy your own copy of Donald Asher's Cool Colleges for the Hyper-Intelligent, Self-Directed, Late Blooming, and Just Plain Different (2nd Ed, 2007).

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