When 17-year-old Shaylah Cooper walks across the stage at her high school graduation in May, she will not only receive her high school diploma but also an associate’s degree that will classify her as a junior when she enters college in the fall.
The Houston teen, who has earned a 3.9 GPA, has taken advanced placement (AP) classes throughout high school, and began taking college courses during her sophomore year in high school and during the summers, to help her achieve her goals.
“As a dual credit student, you don’t have summers off like an average high schooler. You have more homework, and sometimes holidays don’t line up on the high school and college sides so you have to come to class on one side when you’re on break on the other. However, when you know the value of the opportunity, you just keep going,” said Cooper of her sacrifices.
A student at Challenge Early College High School in the Houston Independent School District, Cooper is weighing scholarship offers from the University of Houston, Howard University and Georgia State University and has been accepted at Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga.
The talented teen also was recently selected from more than 10,000 applicants across the country to attend the Disney Dreamers Academy in early March.
At her mother’s urging, Cooper pushed past her initial reluctance to submit an application to the innovative Academy.
“I thought it seemed like an interesting opportunity, but honestly, I didn’t think I would get in. My mom was adamant about me trying it anyway. She saw what I didn’t, and I applied even though I had doubts,” said Cooper.
The experience allowed Ross to receive invaluable mentoring from some of the country’s most successful professionals, including Steve Harvey, Yolanda Adams, Sonia Jackson Myles, Lisa Nichols, Michael Strahan, Bishop TD Jakes, Terrance J, Dr. Steve Perry, and George Kalogridis, president of Walt Disney World.
“It goes without saying this was a life-changing, once in a lifetime dream come true,” said her mother, Debra Ross.
Cooper valued the insights of all of the participating panelists, but credited Steve Harvey and Chef Jeff Henderson with leaving the biggest impression on her.
“Steve Harvey was very genuine and gave some of the best advice. His personal anecdotes and comedic delivery paired with the wisdom really made his words resonate with me. Chef Jeff was interesting and inspiring, and shared one of my favorite quotes of the weekend, ‘Hustlerpreneurs don’t sleep; we rest and nap,'” shared Cooper.
Disney Dreamers Academy, launched in 2008 in collaboration with Steve Harvey and Essence Magazine, invites a select group of 100 high school students to the Walt Disney Resorts in Orlando, Fla. for four days filled with interactive career workshops, networking and interviewing opportunities and motivational talks with a range of business professionals, community leaders and celebrities.
“I learned about the importance of networking, dreaming big, and following my dreams no matter how ludicrous someone else may think they are. Many of the greatest innovators were ridiculed or written off as having crazy or unrealistic goals,” said Cooper of the experience.
When asked who has had the greatest impact in her life, Cooper answers without hesitation.
“Without question, my mother. She was always there for me even when no one else was. She never accepted less than my best and challenged me to do more than I thought was possible in most cases. This helped me to become the person I am today,” said Cooper.
As graduation nears, she looks forward to a future of limitless possibilities.
“I plan to have my MBA by the age of 23 and to start my own marketing firm,” said Cooper “Anything is possible if you’re willing to work for it.”