President Cook Explains “Why Allegheny?”

The high school junior who sends an e-mail to a college president saying, “Please tell me about your institution” may be simply naïve about the demands on a president’s time or may be taking a few minutes out from the stressful college selection process to have a little fun. Either way she’s probably surprised to get a thoughtful, extended reply from a president who sits down at his computer at the end of a long day to tell her why, depending on what she wants from her education, Allegheny may be the right place for her. Here’s one response that President Cook sent in answer to a prospective student’s “Why Allegheny?”

Thanks for your message, and congratulations on your acceptance to Allegheny College. Selection of a college is important, so I understand why you want to get it right. I will be glad to give you some heartfelt observations about Allegheny that may be helpful to you.

Allegheny is an unusually open and friendly place. People here are genuine, there is no “better-than-you” attitude, and faculty, staff, and students are all included in that characterization. There is a culture of modesty and respect that I also see in our alumni, no matter how accomplished they are or how important their positions. For example, we have corporate chief executives, famous physicians (including the one who performed the first totally implantable heart transplant), multi-millionaires, schoolteachers, preachers, social workers, and Peace Corps volunteers. I have met hundreds upon hundreds, and they all share a level of modesty, courtesy, and human caring that I find remarkable. That speaks very well for the values this College espouses and practices.
But Allegheny also has high standards and expectations. The faculty are superbly educated, very accomplished, and hard working—they win awards and research grants, are master teachers, and are active in the life of the College. They expect a lot of their students yet they are also there to inspire and aid students. The development of students at Allegheny over their four years here is amazing. Graduates and their parents often comment about how much they progressed in their years at Allegheny and how they were prepared for a life of challenge, learning, and enjoyment. I keep a file of letters and e-mails I get about this, and the file has become very thick over the years!

Lifelong friendships are formed at Allegheny, evident from the visits I make to cities around the country and from the reunions that occur on campus every spring—friendships between and among students and friendships between faculty and students that are lasting and meaningful. This is a campus where relationships form in countless ways—in classrooms, labs, and studios, on the athletics fields and in the theater, in the residence halls, in student organizations, and many other ways. Dozens of student organizations provide many opportunities for not only participation but also leadership, even for newer students. The student affairs staff work closely and in cooperation with students on activities, performances, residence life, and governance. Students are taken seriously—from the Allegheny Student Government and others meeting with our Board of Trustees to our student-run Honor System to the administration listening to student concerns and recommendations. (I suppose I could add here that the president responds to student e-mails, but that may sound self-serving!)

Allegheny is highly respected by the outside world as a place where one can get a first-rate education. One of the reasons is our senior project (“comp”) for every student. What a great way to learn with a faculty mentor or two! Personalized projects that are student-driven and often turn out to be of graduate school quality—yes, you too can and will be able to perform such a project here. Our students learn to think, write, and speak effectively and persuasively, and they become leaders in their professions and in their communities. The recent National Study of Student Engagement (NSSE) shows Allegheny to be among the very top colleges in academics and faculty-student interaction. We are very gratified that this independently conducted and highly respected study has confirmed the quality of the educational experience we provide.

I hope my spontaneous ramblings might provide some additional insight into what type of place Allegheny College is. I wish you my very best as you make your choice. Whatever your decision, I know you have a bright future, and maybe Allegheny will play a role in it.

This issue was featured in the Winter/Spring 2008 issue of Allegheny Magazine.