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Learn Like The Rocket Boys of NIH

Terence Boylan and Bruce Cook did something awesome.  The year was 1957, and the two neighbor boys were interested in model rockets.  Terence and Bruce knew what they wanted to do, but they didn’t have the financial resources to make it happen.

And what could have ended right then and there in disappointment turned into something amazing!

If you’re not familiar with their story, go watch this video and/or read this little book.  Then come back!

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FnsPOtRqz-c

Online Book (PDF): 

Click to access rockete1.pdf

Here are five important lessons we can learn from the true story of The Rocket Boys of NIH:

1) Kids of different ages and abilities can work and learn together.  Terence was a fairly typical nine-year-old, but Bruce was 14 and in a wheelchair.  In 1957, likely the only time these two boys would have had to pursue their common interest together was after school or in the summer.  Fortunately, they were neighbors, so it was easy for the boys to find time to be together.  Do students who have little more in common than their interests have the opportunity to pursue those interests together?

2) Asking an expert can be a good strategy.  Terence knew that his father got money to do what he did.  That is a gross oversimplification of the process, but it led Terence to ask his father, not for the money, but for some expertise.  Terence then applied his father’s answer to his own situation and made his own funding request!

3) Use failure as an opportunity to ask “How can we improve?”  When early versions of their rocket didn’t launch, or hit the car, or got stuck in the tree, Terence and Bruce were still so enthusiastic about their project that they didn’t let the setback stop them.  They learned from observing and analyzing their failed attempts, and tried again, and again.

Terence Boylan's letter to NIH.
Terence Boylan’s letter to NIH.

4) Don’t be afraid to ask.  They had no official form or insider contact at NIH for their request.  They just had an interest and an idea for a project. Then, most importantly, Terence wrote and mailed the letter.  Without that, none of the rest would have happened.

5) Support someone’s dream, even if it isn’t “your field”.  The NIH (National Institutes of Health) had nothing to do with funding experiments in space travel, either in 1957 or today!  The NIH couldn’t fund Terence and Bruce’s project, but the reviewers decided they could, privately.  In 1957, ten dollars would have bought about 32 gallons of gasoline.  Knowing that they had received a “grant” to work on this project gave Terence and Bruce even more urgency to see their project through to completion!

Do something awesome!