A career in aviation was always at the top of the list for Jackson Grow. Watching his dad work around airplanes, he knew at an early age that’s what he wanted to do.
“I wanted to be a pilot. As a kid, my dad worked for a few jobs that serviced airplanes, so I was around them a lot and knew that was what I wanted to do,” he said. “My first experience with aviation that made me really decide to be a pilot was flying on an airplane to California when I was younger. I thought it was the coolest feeling ever, and I wanted to pursue it. I loved roller coasters as a kid, and I wanted to do that every day.”
After graduating high school in May 2018, he enrolled at the University of Oklahoma expecting to get a degree in aviation or a related field. Ultimately, he decided an online degree would better fit his busy lifestyle, so he landed on a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice with a specialization in homeland security through the OU College of Professional and Continuing Studies.
“An online degree is a great idea, especially in the COVID era. I was able to graduate a semester early, and it worked very well with my flying schedule. The format is geared around people who have a life or job outside of school. Since it was online before COVID, it’s already been perfected.”
Grow, who works as a pilot instructor, said the degree meshed well with his aviation background, and homeland security was something that interested him. The homeland security concentration offers students a deeper understanding of terrorism and how to respond to it by focusing on topics like national and global security, justice, and cybersecurity.
“I wanted a degree that would pair well with flying and could open the door for a diverse range of job opportunities," he said. “I chose homeland security because it sounded very interesting and a step up from just a typical criminal justice degree. I have always been interested in homeland security and thought I might as well study in it.
Grow graduated from the college in December 2021. He was honored as the Winter 2021 Banner Carrier, leading the college’s students in the convocation processional Dec. 18.
The Banner Carrier honor is given to an exemplary graduating student each semester. An important decades-long tradition, the honor signifies academic achievement and serves as a formal public recognition of accomplishment.
“When I was chosen for banner carrier, I actually had no idea what that was at the time,” Grow said. “Once I figured out what it was, I was shocked that they chose me. But overall, it was an honor to do it and to represent PACS in that way.”
Grow said the online format gave him the flexibility to continue working while he pursued his degree. He also felt confident he was getting the best education possible because of PACS’ history of offering highly ranked online degrees.
“An online degree is a great idea, especially in the COVID era. I was able to graduate a semester early, and it worked very well with my flying schedule,” he said. “The format is geared around people who have a life or job outside of school. Since it was online before COVID, it’s already been perfected.”
Grow said his instructors were all very helpful, engaging and played a significant role in ensuring his success, especially Thomas “Max” Dugan, who also helped him finish his capstone.
“I had him for my Intro to Criminal Justice class, and he was one of the reasons that I stuck with the degree,” he said, adding that he ended up taking several more of Dugan’s classes. “In those classes, he made sure that everything was understood and that I had sufficient feedback on every assignment. He made it much more enjoyable.”
In addition to the support from his instructors, Grow said encouragement from his parents kept him on track and working hard to finish his degree. He said he learned a lot about himself in the process.
“I learned life is not easy and that I can overcome any challenges that I come across. It really made me a tougher and more driven person,” he said. “I think overall finishing my degree will benefit me because it showed me that I could finish something difficult and that will help my future. It overall was a great experience that allowed me to get a degree and make friends as well.
“I am a much harder worker since getting my degree,” he added. “It pushed me to work at 100% and to really expand my knowledge and views on issues.”
While Grow currently aspires to be a corporate pilot, combining his degree with his passion for flying isn’t out of the question.
“I think it would be very interesting to use criminal justice with aviation,” he said. “There are a lot of great defense opportunities out there for pilots that seem pretty cool and allow you to make a difference in the world.”