What does failure mean to Cory Cooper?
“I think that if you fail you should not quit, that’s what my mom said.”
That’s how Cory answered the question in a recent essay which helped earn him a scholarship to Space Camp.
“If you fail, don’t let it get in your way,” Cory’s essay goes on to say. “I have failed a lot, but my mom says to never quit.”
Cory’s mom sounds like a pretty smart woman.
So what about Aubrielle Williams, the young lady who will be Cory’s partner in crime at Space Camp next summer? What does failure mean to her?
“I have learned from my failure because I can always try,” Aubrielle’s essay says. “It is okay to fail sometimes because I can always try again and help others learn from my mistakes and show them it’s okay to fail. I learn from my mistakes because I look back at my failure and see what I have messed up on. Nobodys perfect so you can always try more.”
Aubrielle and Cory, both fifth graders at Meadow Bridge Elementary School in Fayette County, are recipients of the 2022 “Failure Is Not An Option” Space Camp Scholarship. For six days beginning on Sunday, July 3, Aubrielle and Cory will join more than 500 children from around the world in Huntsville, Alabama for a week full of interstellar excitement.
Founded as a non-profit organization in 2015, the Failure Is Not An Option Space Camp Scholarship sponsors one girl and one boy from Meadow Bridge each year to attend the camp. This year’s winners were announced at a special assembly at the school on Friday, November 19.
The following Wednesday, November 24, The West Virginia Daily News had the opportunity to speak with Russ Dunford, the primary progenitor of the scholarship. While speaking, Dunford made it clear that the scholarship is designed to foster the passion, creativity and desire to learn that young people have.
“We’ve done this since 2015,” Dunford said. “Our first student, Connor Mullins, is now a junior at Meadow Bridge. He, as well as all the other recipients came back, and they all spoke a little bit. [ ] It’s far cheaper to invest on the front end and get kid’s minds engaged than it is to try to rehabilitate on the back end. Whether it’s juvenile delinquency, rehab or whatever when kids go down the wrong road. As Robert Frost said, ‘I came to a fork in the road.’ That’s the biggest thing we hope to accomplish here.”
For the 2022 scholarship, Dunford told WVDN that the team at Failure Is Not An Option did something they haven’t done before. Kami Walker, a teacher at Meadow Bridge Elementary, is the school’s first staff member to receive a scholarship to join Aubrielle and Cory in Huntsville next July.
“(The teachers at Meadow Bridge Elementary) are basically the vanguard,” Dunford said. “They’re the boots on the ground. They do all the coordination, they work with the students, and they interface with them. [ ] I was driving home one time, and I’ve got eight-and-a-half hours to ponder and pontificate, and I just thought we really ought to send a teacher, because if you send a teacher then they meet with other teachers from all across the planet and they build a network. And we get to bring that network back to Meadow Bridge.”
Dunford went on to explain how he wants teachers to be rewarded for their hard work and dedication.
“They do all of this for no extra pay,” Dunford said. “They do it because it’s the right thing to do. They’re educators and they want the best for the kids. [ ] Now when Ms. Walker comes back and we do Space Camp next year, she can say ‘I know what the facility is like.’ So if a parent has a question, she can advocate and articulate what it’s truly like.”
When we asked Dunford how Walker took the news of her selection, he responded with a laugh.
“She was over the moon,” he said. “No pun intended.”
Dunford then took a moment to explain the scholarship application process. Each applicant is required to write an essay, the theme of which is “Failure Is Not An Option.”
“We give them that theme because, as the old saying goes, overnight success usually takes about 20-years,” Dunford said. “We use that to get the kids to think in terms of ‘failure is not a bad thing.’ We often look at the bad instead of looking at the positive.”
Once the essays are submitted, they are scored based on a rubric suitable for fifth graders. After scoring, applicants participate in a face-to-face interview, similar to what they will experience in years to come when applying to college. Dunford then spoke briefly about the two student scholarship recipients.
“With her (Aubrielle) what stood out were the questions that she asked at the end of the interview,” Dunford explained. “She was one of two that had questions, and she really had some thought provoking questions. That’s what stood out with her.”
When we asked Dunford if his experience with Cory was similar to Aubrielle, he responded by saying, “Yes and no.”
Dunford then elaborated.
“The thing that stood out about Cory, bar none, was the enthusiasm that he conveyed in his writing, but even more importantly, in the interview. [ ] Cory was all in. In fact, when we called his name at the ceremony on Friday, he had a Nasa shirt on. He was all in. If I would have told him ‘hey the launch pad is ready, let’s get on a bus and go right now,’ he would have said ‘okay are we gonna size my helmet and suit en route, or are we gonna wait until we get there?’ [ ] The motivation piece from his interview, and what he wrote were large factors with him.”
Any schools which may be interested in establishing their own Failure Is Not An Option Space Camp Scholarship program should contact Russ Dunford directly. He can be reached through the Failure Is Not An Option Space Camp Scholarship Facebook page, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.