Dr. Caleb Finegan, an Indiana University of Pennsylvania history professor, has been appointed the new Robert E. Cook Honors College director.
Finegan has taught for the Honors College’s required HNRC 101 and 102 classes since 2010.
But his first experience with the Honors College came long before that, 13 years ago, when he first came to IUP.
A senior Honors College student who was writing a thesis on Cuban history – which falls into Finegan’s specialization of Latin American history – approached him on his very first day at the university, excited to work with him on her paper.
He said it wasn’t until that he started teaching HNRC 101 and 102 classes, collectively called “Core” or “Freshman Core” by students, that he really became connected to Honors College students.
“I just fell in love with the place,” he said.
IUP’s Robert E. Cook Honors College, a mixture of an honors program and a living-learning community, is based out of Whitmyre Hall. Finegan is one of a number of professors from various disciplines that teach the Honors College’s required classes.
So when the previous director of the Honors College, Dr. Janet Goebel, resigned from the position, Finegan was one of those who applied to fill it.
The selection process took two and a half months, Finegan said, starting with the sending out to faculty of a notice that the position was open for application. He, along with other candidates, had to submit a written application and go through an interview process before the decision was made.
The director of the Honors College is tasked with promoting the college to prospective students as well as encouraging students in the Honors College to pursue internships, study abroad experiences, community service, leadership experiences and other opportunities, he said.
“With one less staff member, there was a lot to do,” said Kevin Berezansky, who served as interim director for the Honors College during the transition period and is normally the Honors College’s associate director. “That that staff member was a director made it difficult to move forward with solutions to evolving needs.”
Finegan is coming in at the beginning of the spring semester rather than at the start of a year, but for the Honors College, which typically does most of its recruitment in the spring, that’s a good thing.
“Coming in the spring means he’s at the beginning of some processes,” Berezansky said. “It’s a good time for him to come.”
As part of his new position, Finegan said that he is establishing an open-door policy for students. He wants students to be able to come and speak with him whenever he is in his office.
Finegan said he is also interested in creating better relationships between the Honors College and a broader range of departments across the university. While the Honors College has a good relationship with those departments that contribute instructors to their classes, it lacks strong connections to those departments it doesn’t work with. Finegan wants to change that, he said.
“It’s all about creating new relationships and renewing existing relationships,” he said.
Along those same lines, he also said he wants to “diversify the curriculum” of the Honors College, which currently encompasses literature, history, philosophy, the arts and science, in order to become more integrated with IUP.
He said he’s interested in finding new strategies to support the Honors College financially, he said.
As the name suggests, the Robert E. Cook Honors College was established by IUP alumnus Robert E. Cook and, up until not too long ago, had been receiving ongoing funding from him. This is no longer the case.
“We’re operating in a different era,” he said.
He wants to reach out to other honors colleges and other PASSHE schools in order to find new strategies for marketing and recruiting, he said.
He wants to keep traditions alive, but also to learn from other universities, he said.
“I’m seeking to lay a foundation which makes the Honors College relevant for past, present and future students,” Finegan said.