Feature Stories

Student Novelist Explores Life's Small, Sweet Moments

by Kathy Roos

“Small moments are sweet,” says Yasir Shah ’03, and with that simple statement he seems to sum up not only his novel Shrine but his four years as an Allegheny student as well.

Shah, a communication arts major from Pakistan, published his first novel last year. Shrine is the story of three friends yasirwho gather each day at a shrine to share the small comforts of life and the incomparable joys of unconditional friendship. Although his three protagonists occupy the lowest ranks of Pakistani society-they are a prostitute, a eunuch, and a masseur who works the streets-Shah’s novel is about hope not despair. As Shrine explores street life in Shah’s native city of Karachi, the author takes his readers on a journey marked by twists and turns worthy of O. Henry.

“You Might Want to Go to Lahore …”

Although Shah hoped he would see his novel published, even he was surprised at how quickly it was picked up by Pakistan’s Jang Publishers. After he had submitted a synopsis and three chapters to several publishers-and been rejected-Shah says he was content to put his hopes for publication on hold for a year or two.

Last spring, however, when he was making plans to fly home to Karachi for the summer, his father casually said, “You might also want to go to Lahore.” When Shah asked why, his father responded, “A publisher there is picking up your book.”

That summer kept Shah very busy, with the whole process of publication truncated into a few short months. By the time he was ready to return to Allegheny for the fall term, his book had been published. In fact, just two days before his flight back to Pittsburgh, Shah was at a launching ceremony for Shrine.

Since then Shah’s book has received critical acclaim in Pakistan, where Dawn, the country’s leading newspaper, has hailed it as “a wonderful, unforgettable book.” The Internet edition of Dawn includes Shrine in an article on the best Pakistani literature published in English in 2002.

“A World So Close, Yet So Alien”

Shah says that the idea for Shrine came to him when he was a junior in high school in Karachi and spent some time in the area that he writes about.

“I was inspired to write Shrine when I still lived in Karachi and I decided to accompany my father for an early morning walk on the shore,” Shah writes in the book’s preface. “I saw people that I would usually stay away from … The more the days passed the more I was intrigued by a world so close to my house yet so alien to me … I wanted to learn about these people.”

Shah began researching in books and magazines to get more background into the world that had so intrigued him. “I knew readers in Pakistan would expect accuracy in the scenes I described,” he notes. But several years passed before he actually started writing Shrine.

“An idea will come to me, but I won’t write the story for a year or two or more,” he explains. “I’m a very visual writer. I plot it all in my head before I start writing anything down.”

Shah says he wrote the book sequentially, from Chapter 1 to the end, and then kept rewriting it. Much of the work was done in the fall of 2001, while he was in Washington, D.C., on an internship with NBC News. Because Shah didn’t have a laptop, he did much of his writing in computer labs at American University.

yasir2Small Moments

The “small moments” of life are not only what intrigue Shah as a writer, but the significance of these moments, he says, is what has made his life at Allegheny so full. “Four years seems like a long time,” he says, “but it isn’t. Even though Allegheny is a long way from my home, when I met the friends I have at Allegheny I knew I could never transfer. It doesn’t matter where you are, as long as you have people who make you laugh. What I noticed when I came here was that everyone smiled. I feel like I’m living in a small colony of friends.”

Although Shah says he believes that writing can’t be studied in the same way that other disciplines can, he is quick to credit his teachers and mentors at Allegheny with helping him develop as a writer. He especially credits Assistant Professor of English Judith Rose, Assistant Professor of Communication Arts/Theatre Ishita Sinha Roy, and the director of the College’s International Programs and Services, Danuta Majchrowicz. “They are always there to answer my ‘Where to from here?’ queries,” he says. “I owe them a lot.”

Shah says his sister read the book in its early stages and gave him a number of helpful suggestions. But Shah gives the lion’s share of credit to his parents for helping to make Shrine a reality. “They have always been so supportive of my work,” he says. “If it wasn’t for their encouragement, the book would still be a manuscript gathering dust on a shelf.” The dedication to Shrine reads, “Dedicated to my grandparents, for giving me the world’s best parents.”

“After I learned about the kind of life led by people such as the characters in my book,” Shah explains, “I wanted to thank my parents for shielding me from that kind of life.”

Next Steps

What’s ahead for this published novelist who’s still an undergraduate? His short story “The Cab Driver” has recently been published on the Web. And he says he’d like to work in the Jackson Heights section of New York City-or “Little India” as it is called-to research and write the stories of the people who live there. “I like to jump into a world before I write about it,” he explains.

There’s also talk of translating Shrine into Urdu, though Shah says he’s not in a hurry to have it done and wouldn’t want to do the translating himself. “I would like to revise the book further, though, and get it published in the States,” he says.

In the meantime, however, there’s a little writing project called the Senior Comp to be completed. When asked if he considered turning Shrine into a comp, he laughs. “I tell people that if Shrine were my comp or an assignment for an academic class, I never would have finished it.”

This article was featured in the Spring 2003 Issue of Allegheny College Magazine.

Secret Lives of Faculty, or Professorial Passions

What Allegheny Teachers Are Doing When They’re Not in Front of the Classroom

By Kathy Roos

There’s no disputing that the faculty of Allegheny College are an exceptional group. Their books break new scholarly ground, their articles in professional journals reveal new directions for research, their creative endeavors explore the outside world and the inner workings of our minds and spirits.

Their work as teachers and as mentors is every bit as remarkable-the stuff of which campus legends are made. But what do these paragons of academic virtue do when they’re not at the lectern or their desks? We talked to seven Allegheny professors to find out about their hobbies, pursuits, and passions-and discovered that the College’s faculty isn’t just a collection of interesting teachers. It’s a collection of interesting people as well.

Sue Buck
Associate Professor of Art

It started as so many grand passions start: one look at that face and Sue Buck was a goner. The fact that the face was framed by diaphanous ruffles of gills and topped a body that Buck describes as “looking like a paisley necktie” only added to the charm. “I knew I had to have one,” she says with the fervor of true love.

Anthony Lo Bello
Professor of Mathematics

Tony Lo Bello can’t remember not loving books. Even as a small child, he knew what books he wanted to own, and as he grew in years, so did the list of books that he wanted for his library. In high school he purchased a copy of Prescott’s Life of Philip II for $20-an extremely sound investment, though he didn’t know it at the time. It was only later that he discovered the value of the signed first edition that he owned.

Rachel O’Brien
Assistant Professor of Geology

Standing on the edge of a configuration of dancers that constantly expands and contracts, like some kind of colorful multicellular organism with forty rapidly moving feet, Rachel O’Brien is intent on the task at hand-calling out the steps that keep these contra dancers moving in unison. 

Jeff Cross ’73
Professor of Psychology

Jeff Cross doesn’t refer to decoys-he refers to birds-and that simple detail is telling. As he talks about his collection, there’s no doubt that Cross is passionate about the decoys themselves-their aesthetic value as folk art and as sculpture-but he’s just as passionate about what the decoys represent: a window on another time and another culture and a connection to the wild that is becoming increasingly tenuous for most of us.

Jennifer Hellwarth
Assistant Professor of English

For most of the 1980s, Jennifer Hellwarth was a rock musician, playing guitar and bass and singing in clubs in Los Angeles, part of the movement in music that became known as the Psychedelic Underground. Today she’s teaching courses on Chaucer and the practice of everyday life in medieval and early modern Europe. What a long strange trip it’s been.

Tom Nonnenmacher ’90
Assistant Professor of Economics

Tom Nonnenmacher admits that part of fencing’s attraction for him, as an eighth-grader in New Jersey, was “the romantic notions of what it meant to be a fencer.” It wasn’t difficult to pursue an interest in the sport: New Jersey has one of the largest number of fencing programs in the nation, and Nonnenmacher’s high school even had a varsity fencing team, on which he eventually played.

Courtenay Dodge
Professor of Modern Languages

When Courtenay Dodge’s daughter, Hannah, began taking riding lessons ten years ago, Dodge felt all those emotions that parents feel on such occasions: pride, excitement at seeing a child try something new, jealousy.

This article was featured in the Spring 2003 Issue of Allegheny College Magazine.


Not Politics As Usual

Associate Professor of Political Science Daniel M. Shea knows that for many Americans, and especially for young people, politics is a dirty word. But for Shea it’s not just a disheartening fact of modern life it’s a challenge, one that the College’s new Center for Political Participation (CPP) is designed to meet head-on. The center, which Shea directs, opened in the fall term as part of the College’s New Initiative Program. “Our goal,” says Shea, “is to foster engagement in politics and to remind students, members of the community, and scholars of the importance of getting involved the significance for the citizen and the significance for the system.”

As it works toward that goal, the nonpartisan center will not only under-take an array of programs designed to draw citizens into the political process, but it will also involve Allegheny students in a number of ways, including the day-to-day workings of the center.

“Allegheny students are key players in the entire process,” Shea says. Student Fellows will conduct programs on campus and in the community, as well as develop a CPP Web site, newsletter, and other publications. Outreach internships will enable students to work closely with local political organizations and candidates. And a scholar/student collaborative program will provide opportunities for students to conduct research with faculty members.

In many ways, the CPP will build on the College’s involvement in Project Pericles, which was launched by the Eugene Lang Foundation to create national models for citizenship education. Allegheny was one of only ten colleges invited to be charter members of Project Pericles, which promotes the idea that the college experience should include education for citizenship in a participatory democracy.

The CPP also complements a number of other Allegheny initiatives, including the Values, Ethics and Social Action (VESA) minor, leadership and service learning programs, internships in Washington, D.C., and the Center for Economic and Environmental Development (CEED). Although the CPP originated in the political science department, Shea says he hopes to make the program as interdisciplinary as possible.

Democracy Begins at Home

All politics is local, as Tip O’Neill liked to remind us, and the CPP will begin its own campaign to rejuvenate the democratic process at the grassroots level, among communities in the region. The center will offer summer programs, such as a governor’s school for high school students interested in political science, as well as in-service training sessions and an advanced placement certification program for high school teachers.

Angie Jack ’04, one of six initial Student Fellows, says that she finds the center’s outreach aspect especially appealing. “Not only am I excited about the chance to help others better appreciate the importance of politics,” she says, “but I’m psyched about immersing myself in real-world politics. It’s a wonderful opportunity to merge theory with practice.”

Allegheny students like Jack will take what they have learned in their coursework and collaborate with civics teachers in the region to prepare classroom presentations and on-campus programs. During presidential election years, for example, Shea plans to hold a mock nominating convention on campus. Other day-long workshops will bring high school students to campus to explore various avenues through which citizens can connect with government.

The CPP will also host political debates, forums, and civic events on campus in order to stimulate interest in politics and to give the public an opportunity to meet candidates and understand their positions on the issues.

“We’re quite ambitious about our educational outreach programs,” says CPP program coordinator Christine Norwood. “We’ve dubbed our plans Democracy in Action.’ The details and scope of our efforts will unfold in the months and years ahead, but we expect to make a real difference through our work with high school students and teachers.”

Strong Scholarly Component

Democracy Begins at Home The CPP will also have a significant scholarly component. Among Allegheny’s graduates are a number of distinguished political scientists, and in October, when the CPP was officially inaugurated, one of those scholars Morris Fiorina ’68, professor of political science at Stanford University returned to campus for a panel discussion titled “Why Bother? Political Participation and Democracy in America.” Fiorina was joined by Irwin Gertzog, professor emeritus of political science at Allegheny, and John Kessel, former Allegheny professor and emeritus professor of political science at Ohio State University. Gertzog and Kessel each held the Arthur E. Braun Chair of Political Science during his tenure at Allegheny.

In addition, following each presidential election, the center will host a conference to discuss the issues that arose during the campaigns and to spur innovative research projects. “We are particularly interested in changing modes of participation, as well as increasing levels of involvement among subgroups in the population such as African Americans, Latinos, and younger voters,” says Shea. “We expect our research to confront a diversity of topics.”

The new center will enhance the visibility and scholarly reputation of Allegheny’s already strong political science department, notes department chair Robert Seddig. “For a relatively small liberal arts college, we have one of the most highly regarded and professionally active departments in the United States,” he says. “In the coming years, I look to the center to complement the research and intellectual vitality long associated with political science at Allegheny. Without question, Dan Shea can make this happen.”

Bucking the Trend

Shea believes that engaging students in the political process isn’t a matter of overcoming apathy, but of convincing them that they can make a difference through politics in the same way that they already make a difference in other aspects of their communities.

politics1“Younger Americans no longer see politics as a viable outlet for their involvement, but as part of the problem,” says Shea. “Many people assume that younger Americans are apathetic and self-centered. It’s not true. They give their time, energy, and money to their schools, community, and nation. This is the activist generation. Somehow, however, their energy hasn’t extended to government and politics and that’s a problem.”

Nikki Morton ’03 became active with the CPP in fall 2002 as the center’s voter registration coordinator. She says that when young people decline to participate in the political process, they miss an opportunity to effect changes in policies and programs that affect their own lives. “Because most young adults my age are not voting,” she says, “our issues are not being heard.”

Shea says that the answer is to make politics personal again. “As the electoral system becomes more remote, more one-directional,” he says, “our affinity for ‘politics’ is shaken. Cynicism and distrust are rampant because government has become remote. Americans hate politics because they no longer do politics.”

Dan Shea, who likes to quote Thomas Dewey “The cure for the ailments of democracy is more democracy” believes it’s time for a change.

This article was featured in the Winter 2002 Issue of Allegheny College Magazine.

Reflecting the Light

By Jennifer Delahunty Britz

Allegheny’s 20th President Is Resourceful, Rooted, and Relentless in His Quest to Take Allegheny to the Next Level

Any attempt to single out Richard Cook makes him want to run for cover.

If there’s anything the twentieth president of Allegheny dislikes, it’s calling attention to himself. “I can’t wait until this interview is over and I can go back to work,” he says with a laugh. Anyone who knows him recognizes that this is not posturing: It is precisely how he feels.

Cook’s Midwestern roots account for a good deal of his retiring nature. He was raised in northern Michigan on an 80-acre wooded homestead that originally belonged to his great-grandparents. During his first seven years as a student, he attended a one-room schoolhouse, eventually heading off to the University of Michigan for his undergraduate degree and Princeton for his Ph.D.

His style to take learning and work seriously without taking himself too seriously, to be driven but not to distraction dovetails with Allegheny’s culture. “I don’t cherish the spotlight,” he admits. “Reflected light is the most satisfying for me.”

Cook’s academic right arm agrees. “Richard is kind of like Johnny Carson,” says Lloyd Michaels, dean of the College. “He does everything he can to make the person sharing the stage with him shine. Only later do you realize how brilliant he was at directing the spotlight away from himself and onto you.”

The Chemistry of Collegiality

Before Richard Cook was a college president, as he has been at Allegheny for the past six years, or before he served as provost at Kalamazoo College, as he did for seven years, he was a chemistry professor. Is it any surprise then that one of his key successes to date has been to create a remarkable chemistry on campus?

“The sum of the changes he has effected in six short years is tremendous,” asserts Dean Michaels. How has he accomplished so much? “Through open communication and decision by consensus,” Michaels posits.

Associate Professor of Biology Ann Kleinschmidt, who has served on the College’s Faculty Council and the Administrative Executive Committee, has watched Cook in action over several years. “He seems reserved at first, but you can see that he’s taking in all the voices, all the opinions,” she says. “It seems to me he is attempting to make decision-making at the College as open as possible.”

Cook is described as having a light touch when it comes to academic initiatives. “Richard is a strong and quiet leader,” says Rich Bowden, associate professor of environmental science. Cook’s posture is to let ideas such as the Center for Economic and Environmental Development rise out of the faculty and then help bring them into reality, Bowden says. “He encourages faculty to take the initiative, and then as things proceed he asks very good questions and makes sure we’ve done our homework.”

When asked about his greatest accomplishment after six years at the College, Cook quips: “That I still have a job!” He enjoys his joke briefly, then turns serious. “People tell me that the sense of community, trust, and morale both on and off campus is the highest level in memory. If I played some part in that, I would consider it the single most important thing I have done. If that isn’t there, then none of the other institutional accomplishments would be possible or would matter much.”

It’s not surprising, then, that Cook has taped to his computer a quotation by Margaret Mead, with whom he dined once as a Princeton student: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

A Penchant for Planning

Credit chemistry also for Cook’s commitment to planning. “When chemists synthesize compounds, they have to look ahead and anticipate the steps. I’m not smart enough not to plan,” Cook says, laughing.

When he came on board in 1996, some tough decisions had to be made to recover the institution’s financial footing. In 1997 he convened what he called the Summer Working Group, a cross-campus committee charged with reevaluating the College’s direction and priorities.

“He gave us a charge, asked us some questions, and stepped back,” recalls Dave McInally, who was then dean of students and is now secretary of the College. “When it was time to finalize the plan, he put in some great ideas. He has an amazing ability to make us think about what is possible. Richard is the right combination of practical and visionary.”Richard Cook

light2The final plan, New Century Connections, established institutional priorities and spelled out a five-year plan for the College that was achieved ahead of schedule. “It succeeded because everyone felt ownership in the plan,” McInally reflects. The plan altered some departments, a predictably unpopular move. “It was a painful decision, but it was the correct decision,” says Dean Michaels. “Most new presidents come in and try to raise political capital. This president came in and made a painful decision and is now regarded as a popular president. In fact, the College is in the strongest position it has been in for thirty years. The faculty is the best we’ve had. The sense of collegiality is the highest it’s ever been. The involvement of the trustees is the strongest. There’s a sense of confidence that we’re moving in the right direction.”

To keep the College moving in that direction, a two-week, cross-campus planning workshop was held in the summer of 2002, and a new five-year plan, Tradition and Transformation, has just been released.

Rooted in Reality

Richard Cook is having lunch with a group of five students. He knows their achievements, some of their parents, their majors, and even their hometowns. He jokes with Melissa McCrimmon, a senior from his home state. “Sault Ste. Marie is the plane stop right after Alpena,” he kids. “It’s the big city.”

McCrimmon has asked Cook to write her a recommendation for a Rhodes Scholarship, a request that thrills him. “So tell me more. What did you do during your semester in Russia?” he asks, taking notes for his letter. He is forced to draw her out on her many accomplishments in a manner that mirrors his own reluctance to boast.

Walking across campus after lunch, he comments: “Our students are so capable and so hardworking.”

He gets similar praise from Allegheny students. “I was coming back from the library one night at midnight and I met the president leaving his office,” recalls Brian Dulski, a senior from Bethel Park, Pennsylvania. “He was about the last person I expected to meet that time of night. He stopped to say hi.”

Cook’s legendary work habits began at home. He planted 8,000 trees with his father on his family’s property. When his father passed away, he asked that memorial gifts be used to plant three oaks within view of his Bentley Hall office window. Across the sidewalk from his father’s small grove is the pin oak given in his honor by the class of 2000 in recognition of the fact that they enrolled the same year he became president. They presented him with the tree at Commencement and then rose to their feet to acknowledge him with thunderous applause. When asked about the event, he asks, “Did they really stand? I must have been in shock.”

Strolling the campus sidewalks, the 6′ lanky president unselfconsciously picks up trash and tosses it into a garbage can. He easily greets students. He shouts at a group of maintenance men in a truck, “Another joy ride?” They wave and laugh. “He’s a great guy,” says Bill Geiger, one of the supposed joy riders. “He talks to everyone throughout the College. He’s never too busy to stop and say ‘How’s it going?'”

“He has great range,” says Tom Ponto, Kalamazoo College’s vice president for business and finance, who knew Cook for most of his nearly two dozen years on that campus. “He truly cares about people, and he develops relationships as easily with CEOs as custodians.”

According to Ponto, Cook’s range is both personal and intellectual. “He can talk about anything, whether it’s the environmental problems at Love Canal or how to fix the rust on your car.” Cook provided expert testimony in one of the nation’s most notorious pollution cases.

Michaels agrees. “He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. He doesn’t demonstrate his intelligence, he exercises it.”

Allegheny’s VP for finance, Marcus Buckley, concurs. “I’ve worked for eight or nine presidents and he gets it,” asserts Buckley. “He’s the best at seeing the whole financial picture of anyone I’ve ever known.”

Cook’s fiscal acumen may come out of his scientific training, but his conservative way with a buck comes from northern Michigan. “My parents never had a mortgage or car payment,” he recalls. “My dad and mom took several jobs to support us and to ensure that my brother and I would receive a college education. They certainly taught us the value of hard work and perseverance.”

Under Cook’s leadership the fiscal health of Allegheny has improved steadily, says Buckley. “We are being very prudent and are not overly dependent on endowment to sustain the budget. But we could use more resources to offer everything students and faculty need to be a first-tier college.”

Cook is critical of the college rankings that established the notorious “tiers,” saying emphatically, “There is no demonstrated correlation between most of the measures used by popular ratings and educational effectiveness.” Still, Cook is a realist. “We do know that for Allegheny to make our mark on the national scene, it is essential that we dramatically increase our endowment to include student and faculty support and that we raise funds to improve our buildings and equipment.”

In October Allegheny launched a $105 million fund-raising campaign, the first under Cook’s leadership. The trustees have offered him their unqualified support. “Richard has transformed Allegheny,” says Marty Pfinsgraff ’77, chief operating officer of iJET Travel Intelligence, Inc. “He has re-energized the faculty, reshaped the curriculum, reconnected with the local community, and now is about to embark on the most ambitious capital campaign in the College’s history to ensure that Allegheny continues to fulfill its mission in the future. He’s the right person at the right time for Allegheny.”

Building Cross-Town Bridges

One day last winter, Cook decided to join some Meadville friends who had formed a cigar club. He loves the camaraderie and conversation but not the smoke. He was talking with his administrative assistant, Sandy Duchene, about this when they had a telepathic moment. “I knew exactly what he wanted,” laughs Duchene. “I went to the theatre department and got it.” Cook walked into the cigar bar wearing a gas mask, a move that sent everyone into hysterics.

This wasn’t an isolated antic. He’s driven a Harley in the homecoming parade. He’s worn a Rolling Stones T-shirt and led a conga line through Dean Michaels’s backyard. He let a magician make him disappear at a staff holiday party. “He has a wonderful sense of humor,” says Duchene, whom Cook affectionately calls “Lucy” because of her Lucille Ball­like mishaps.

His approachability has been a boon to relations with he town of Meadville. He’s taken faculty and administrators on tours of the area’s tool and die shops, and he’s invited Meadville residents to use campus facilities and attend campus events.

“The College and town weren’t at odds, but they didn’t have much to do with each other either,” observes Gus Rylander ’49, who returned to Meadville after his retirement from the steel industry. “Meadville knows him. He’s involved in organizations around town. I think Richard’s the best thing that’s happened to the College in fifty years.”

Indeed, Cook is often seen in Meadville. In addition to being a member of the Chamber of Commerce and other organizations, he’s been known to put in fifteen miles walking around town on the weekends.

“A Difference Maker”

You might think that someone with such positive press hasn’t ruffled any feathers in his time on campus. Not so. “His style is not confrontational, but he’s not afraid to enter a situation that will cause some conflict if he feels that the conflict is worth the end result for the institution,” comments Kleinschmidt.

His willingness to jump into the fray when necessary was well known at Kalamazoo. “He’s a difference maker,” notes his former colleague Ponto. At “K” College, Provost Cook revamped a year-round calendar that had been in place for more than thirty years. “From recruitment to retention, the change has had a positive impact on campus in every way. Richard made that happen,” says Ponto.

Cook has worn his difference-maker hat from day one at Allegheny.

On his watch, the College introduced the Allegheny College Center for Experiential Learning (ACCEL), a program focused on learning through internships, service earning, leadership development, and international programs. The College has been active in the Annapolis Group, a consortium of the nation’s leading liberal arts colleges. Plus, Allegheny has launched several new academic programs, including managerial economics, biochemistry, professional writing, and applied computing.

light3Cook has also supported the College’s longstanding commitment to civic engagement by joining Project Pericles as one of ten founding members nationally. Project Pericles is an initiative to stimulate colleges and universities to make Richard Cook preparation for a life of social responsibility central to an undergraduate education. (Eugene Lang, founder of the “I Have a Dream Program,” holds Allegheny up as the prototype institution for Project Pericles.) Supporting that initiative academically is Allegheny’s new Values, Ethics and Social Action (VESA) program, an interdisciplinary minor that draws on courses in social sciences and philosophy and religion. This fall the College opened a new Center for Political Participation, an innovative program of study, research, and action that is already attracting national attention and acclaim.

Add to these accomplishments the fact that it was on Cook’s watch that the College received the largest gift in its 185-year history, a donation from Dr. Robert A. Vukovich ’65 and Laura J. DiMichele-Vukovich. A portion of that gift will help to support the development and construction of a new theatre and communication arts complex.

“Dr. Cook was influential in our decision to make our recent donation to Allegheny,” says Vukovich. Dr. Vukovich, who founded Wellspring, a pharmaceutical company, says he feared that in the 1990s Allegheny was not connecting the liberal arts with contemporary challenges. He says that under Cook’s leadership, he’s seen many positive changes. “His energies and leadership have prompted me and other members of the board of trustees to invest together to create an institution of enduring quality,” he reflects. Vukovich says he and his wife, Laura, are pleased to spearhead the College’s new fund-raising campaign with their gift. “We have the capability to make the commitment, and Allegheny deserves no less than our best effort,” he concludes.

A Believer in the Liberal Arts

While several programmatic changes have been made at the College, Cook hasn’t veered a millimeter from his commitment to the liberal arts. Earl Adams, Andrew Wells Robertson Professor of Economics, was on the search committee that hired Cook. “We were attracted to Richard early on because he represented the liberal arts perspective that we hoped we would find,” says Adams. “He’s a true believer in the kind of liberal arts education in which Allegheny has a comparative advantage.”

As an economist, Adams understands the market forces bearing down on liberal arts colleges to make their programs more appealing. He applauds Cook for staying the liberal arts course, and for good marketing, not pandering.

To underscore his commitment to Allegheny’s approach to learning, Cook has launched a “Liberal Arts Initiative,” drafting a manifesto to increase public understanding of why the liberal arts are individually and collectively important. He’s in the process of asking the nation’s business leaders to sign the document.

“We are enlisting the help of prominent business leaders and others to make the case that a liberal arts education serves one well for making a living and for living a life,” asserts Cook.

Cook’s own undergraduate education included an opportunity to work one-on-one with a faculty member doing chemistry research at the University of Michigan. “What happened to me was largely accidental,” he recalls. “That kind of interaction between students and faculty is intentional at places like Allegheny.”

A Teacher Above All

One Allegheny faculty member enjoys a rare perspective on Cook. Assistant Professor of Computer Science Andrew Thall enrolled in Cook’s chemistry class as an undergraduate when they were both at Kalamazoo College. “Richard was personable and a good lecturer. We knew he was hip because he worked in a tie-dyed lab coat,” jokes Thall. As a professor, Cook won one of Kalamazoo’s highest faculty honors the Lucasse Fellowship for excellence in scholarship.

Does Cook miss teaching? “I’d like to have all the answers again,” he says with a laugh.

But more than the answers, it’s the questions that intrigue Cook. How can Allegheny become better known? How can the Allegheny story be told in a way that appeals to more alumni and prospective students? While he doesn’t know all the answers, he does have a very specific goal. “Allegheny deserves to be more widely recognized nationally as one of the best places to get a great undergraduate education,” he says with conviction.

When asked the tough question, “What do you want your legacy at Allegheny to be?” he fires back, “That’s a Barbara Walters question! No fair.”

Then he stops to ponder. “I read a farewell speech by one president who simply said, ‘I love this place. I always gave it my very best.’ I doubt I could be that succinct, but that’s exactly what I would want to say about my time at Allegheny.”

Jennifer Delahunty Britz is a writer and editor of The Lawlor Review, an education marketing journal.

This article was featured in the Winter 2002 Issue of Allegheny College Magazine.