By Kate Jolley
Originally published in The Florida Times-Union
When a classmate in Gary Brose’s Leadership Jacksonville class suggested he become a mentor and coach for a student who was participating in United Way of Northeast Florida’s Upstream initiative, it was a match made in aviation heaven.
Brose, a retired Navy pilot and Jacksonville University graduate, is well qualified to coach Eunique Jackson. Jackson, a JU student herself, is a United Way of Northeast Florida Upstream finalist.
United Way’s annual Upstream competition allows college students the chance to develop ideas for social change with a young professional as their coach. These ideas are then presented to a panel of community leaders for the chance to win seed money to make their idea a reality.
Jackson’s proposed Upstream project is a unique idea for an aviation-centered tourist attraction and taxi service in Jacksonville.
Her idea involves basing a small aircraft in the downtown area — perhaps on the river — that would provide aerial tours to tourists as well as lower-income students who do not have the opportunity to see much of their own city. The plane could also be used as a taxi service.
Brose and Jackson have started discussing ways to overcome potential barriers, including partnering with an entrepreneur who is already looking to start a Jacksonville-based airline and researching city of Jacksonville and FAA regulations, among other resources.
Brose was impressed with Jackson’s dedication and determination from the start.
“When we sat down with her professor and Matt Tuohy, [director of aviation at Jacksonville University], we all started brainstorming the challenges she’s going to have to overcome,” Brose said. “For a lot of people, that might have been discouraging, but I never saw fear in her eyes.”
On Feb. 9, Jackson and the other Upstream finalists will submit a formal proposal and present to a panel of business and community leaders at Upstream Pitch Party, which can be likened to the popular TV show, “Shark Tank.”
Jackson will be competing for a $10,000 agency-managed grant to see her idea come to life. But first, she and Brose must ensure the idea is economically viable, as well as measure ridership demand.
Competition aside, the first-hand experience Jackson and other Upstream finalists gain during their preparation is the most important part of the competition, and guidance from coaches like Brose is a major part of that experience.
“All of us have achieved a certain amount of success, and we didn’t get there by ourselves,” Brose said.
He credits other veteran pilots who pushed him and believed in him during his first deployment with many of his career successes. Now, Brose wants to turn around and help those coming up behind him.
“That’s sometimes all it takes — someone to believe in you,” he said.
Since Brose’s interview for this story, Brose left the U.S. for contract work in Afghanistan. He said he is thankful his good friend and colleague, Josh Newsteder, volunteered to guide Jackson in the final phases of her project.