Fail Fearlessly: An Interview with Bradley J. Cook, President, American University Of Bahrain


Behind every successful education innovation is a problem-solving leader. From supporting their staff and inspiring a positive culture to envisioning the best outcomes for students – education leaders are at the core of creating enriching learning experiences. As part of Gulf Insider’s Excellence in Education Leadership series, we converse with Bahrain’s leading educators, highlighting their stories, their impact, and the steps they have taken to improve the quality of education for students in the Kingdom.

How would you describe the role of an educational leader? 

In my opinion, an education leader starts out with a vision so that they can guide the institution, and stay on top of trends, especially with science and technologies. An educational leader has to be able to build teams and faculty that are student-centric. If you’ve got the right kind of team and vision, then it’s about execution.

What, in your opinion, is the key to providing an enriching learning experience to students at AUBH?

Students need to be engaged and this is where we need a strong faculty that really knows how to engage them. Whether it’s through project-based learning, group activities, technologies or a variety of other pedagogical practices that yield high impact – engagement is a crucial strand. Higher education has to find a way to integrate technology into the learning process and I believe the best universities find a way to introduce hybrid learning and even use AI in ways that can tailor and personalise education. 

What are some of the innovations at AUBH that promote quality education?

Flipped classrooms have become increasingly powerful and we’ve seen how they promote higher-order thinking among students. We’re also paying close attention to the cost of education for families and students. To that end, we’ve shifted to digital textbooks that are more affordable and accessible to students. Our students are engaging in more project-based learning and internships to develop their interests in various subjects and career fields. 

Technology and AI are changing the world. How are they changing education?

AI provides an opportunity to personalise education for students and enable institutions in terms of student retention, outreach, and enrollment. However, we need to balance the potential of AI by placing a qualified and talented educator at the centre of the learning process. When the internet was first introduced, educators were nervous that it would ruin the learning process. But it turned out to be a great facilitator of learning. I believe AI will get there too. In the meantime, some concerns surrounding AI have to do with students replicating work that’s already been published instead of authoring their own work. It’s necessary to establish barriers and avoid the misuse of AI in the learning process. 

Can you describe a recent student success story from AUBH? 

One that comes to mind is the story of Adnan Hashem, a bright student who was vying for the Crown Prince’s Scholarship. Unfortunately, for Adnan, he didn’t make the cut. However, he arranged for himself to study in the United States. Due to his financial situation, he eventually came back to Bahrain and enrolled in AUBH. We worked with him to receive funding for his education through the Wakf Fund. The young man continued to do amazing things in the field of computer science and won a number of competitions around innovations and computer-based projects. However, the most astounding was the internship he received with the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). 

What was the best thing that happened to you when you were a student?

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my career and I started out as a lawyer. However, taking General Education (which is also a feature at AUBH) enabled me to explore a variety of subjects before deciding on one. 

Another important episode taught me that failure often is one of the best things that can happen to you; it’s a powerful teacher. I had submitted a paper to one of my faculty members and I was just devastated when he bled all over it. He gave me an opportunity to rewrite the paper and it was visibly much better and definitely an improvement from the original. The experience was important for me to understand that students shouldn’t be afraid of failure because it’s how we grow most. As educators, we need to encourage students to feel comfortable that failure is not the end.  

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