David Brock isn’t one to back down from a challenge. Brock, who is a small business specialist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the agency’s Mentor-Protege Program manager, was diagnosed at the age of 20 with retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease that gradually led to the loss of his remaining vision over the following decade.

Brock persevered. He earned a bachelor’s in business administration from the University of Alabama in Birmingham in 1983 and started his Marshall career in 1984.

“It would take time to overcome the shock of what I would be facing in the coming years,” Brock said, “but I was determined to work through those challenges despite the many skeptics who believed a person without eyesight could not succeed in life. I refused to buy in to that philosophy, Believing that when one rises each day with a sense of expectancy, sets realistic and obtainable goals, and places the job and others first, it most always results in a positive outcome.”

When asked what advice he would give for someone facing a similar prognosis, Brock said the key is to focus on the future.

“Yes, there was indeed a door closing in my life, a door to more than 30 years of useful eyesight, but with its closing, another door was ever so slowly opening,” he said. “The question was simple: Was I willing to pass through that door to start my new journey, or remain where I was at with no direction to guide me in the years to come? There really was only one choice. I had to step out in faith and start my new journey. The key from that point forward was to not focus on my deteriorating eyesight, rather on the opportunities that lay beyond the open door, and that was exactly what I did. No matter what one may be facing in life, I am living proof that one can still have a dream and that dream come true.”

Question: How do you encourage teamwork, collaboration, and integration, especially in this unprecedented telework environment?

Brock: It’s all about the team and the program. Over the past 20 years, I’ve worked tirelessly to build a strong team to help promote the goals and objectives of the program both internally and externally through several initiatives. In January 2003, we established the first Marshall large business council -- the Marshall Prime Contractor Supplier Council – which comprises more than 100 members representing approximately 50 large aerospace companies. In 2009, we assembled the first small business council at Marshall – the Small Business Executive Leadership Team – comprising more than 75 members representing 40 small business prime contractors at Marshall. In 2010, we established a team comprised of high-level managers from each Marshall organization, called small business technical coordinators, who help guide small businesses to potential opportunities within their organizations. 

The key to affecting positive growth within the program is to grow and expand the team of support. Each of these groups are significantly involved in the planning, coordination, and execution of the program at a very high level of participation. It’s one of the primary reasons the Marshall Small Business Program has received the Administrator’s Cup for having the best program at NASA six out of the past 12 years.

Question: How are you managing your personal and your team’s work-life balance during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Brock: Again, it revolves around the team. We are a very close-knit group, always there for each other, no matter what the situation. There is a sense of oneness among our team that evolves out of ongoing collaboration. Whether together at our morning tag ups, various meetings scheduled throughout the week, or participating in numerous virtual outreach events, we are each there to support one another. I also encourage the team to take time to spend with family, and time away from work, and know that we are all there together to be encouragers and motivators, always willing to lend a helping hand to each other when in need.

Question: How does your team honor and demonstrate NASA›s commitment to creating a diverse and inclusive environment where team members are valued for their unique contributions?

Brock: Diversity and inclusion is a big focus area in our office. It’s a subject we discuss internally on a daily basis, especially with members of our large and small business councils, and in particular our ongoing collaboration with industry representatives seeking to do business at NASA. This is best understood by the type of businesses we council on a daily basis. Whether the company is woman-owned, minority-owned, Hispanic-owned, etc., we are constantly seeking ways to diversify our portfolio of companies providing support to Marshall through direct contracting or subcontracting to the primes.

A story told of Andrew Carnegie is one that has personally had a positive impact on my life, and speaks to the importance of diversity and inclusion in a very special way. During the early 1900s, it was said that Carnegie had more than 100 millionaires working for him, which was unheard of at that point in history. When asked how he was able to hire this many millionaires, he said, “I didn’t, I developed them within the company.” When asked how he was able to accomplish such a feat, he replied that it was like mining gold. Often one has to remove tons of rock and debris to get to the gold, but the key is not to focus on the rock and debris, rather the gold that lies beneath. It’s all about focus, and truly applies to our work environment today.

Question: What key partnerships are your team pursuing to help NASA build and develop a sustainable presence on the Moon? Help push the boundaries of science, technology, and/or human exploration?

Brock: Our team is constantly seeking ways to engage with industry to help grow and expand our industry base of suppliers who can play a key role in the development efforts associated with key NASA programs. We’ve been able to achieve this objective through in-house telecoms with industry, semi-annual Marshall Small Business Alliance meetings, quarterly joint counseling sessions featuring small business service providers and machine shops/fabricators, annual partnership meetings with minority-serving institutions and historically Black colleges and universities, and attendance at virtual outreach events.

Question: Why do you think your team is successful at staying mission-focused?

Brock: By shifting the focus of the program to more than simply meeting a small business goal, to the important role small businesses can and will play in helping NASA and its primes achieve NASA’s Vision for Space. Many of the large businesses supporting NASA today started out as small businesses, including SpaceX, Blue Origin, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, United Launch Alliance, Sierra Nevada, etc., and how that happened was through direct contracting opportunities and subcontracting to the primes. Yes, it’s much more than simply percentage goals and dollars, it’s about expanding our industry base of small business suppliers, an industry base that can and will make significant contributions to our programs in the future.

Editor’s note: Daniel Boyette, an LSINC employee and the Marshall Star editor, supports Marshall’s Office of Strategic Analysis & Communications.

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