Wofford students & primary school children on a scavenger hunt during a special outreach event at Hatcher Gardens (Fall '09)
She thought of everything. Balloons bobbed above bilingual signs at the campus entrance. Students manned posts to welcome visitors. The athletics program supplied posters, and soccer team members offered to greet kids after the game.
Unsettled by a reading in Advanced Spanish with Community-Based Learning, my student decided to do something about the high dropout rate among Latinos in our community. Inspired, she seized on a fun way to spark a dream about college: give young children and families positive experiences on campus, and motivate high aspirations. She listened, planned, recruited classmates. She distributed fliers at the site where she volunteered and paid attention to the details of set-up.
Saturday dawned beautiful for the kick-off event. And no one came. Not one child, not one family. Shortly after, she sat in my office, debriefing. What went wrong? We talked through potential gaps. Determined, she went out and listened more. She addressed a trust gap, a transportation gap. Seven years later, the program she founded flourishes, and one Friday each month, fifty first-graders laugh, run, and learn on our campus. An entire elementary school has spent special afternoons with college mentors, and college students have figured out ways to translate a passion for learning into shaving cream experiments and scavenger hunts. At our community partner program, the kids show off Wofford’s Twin Towers, which they’ve carefully constructed from Legos. And my student? She’s finishing a Ph.D. in microbiology, and she “likes” every Facebook status I post about our community work.
Fail faster, they say. The first time I submitted an article for publication, I mailed off two at once. I accidentally swapped the envelopes. I only found out when I got back a kind letter from an editor, a senior scholar in my field, advising me of the mistake. My first time whitewater kayaking, I asked for instructions from the environmental studies colleagues with me. “Easy peas-y, steer for the ‘V’s’,” they said. I hit every rock in the river before I realized … upside-down V’s. My paddling colleagues laughed, knowing I’d inadvertently aimed for every single one I hit.
Every time we risk our comfort to learn, to try something new, we risk failure. You can get hung up on the rocks, or you can keep paddling. My student risked, failed, and excelled. She gave our community a fabulous program and me a favorite story to share with students. Take risks, fail faster, learn. What do your stories tell? How much permission do you give yourself —and others— to fail en route to growth, innovation, success?