After serving 13 years in the Army and completing two tours in Iraq, College of The Albemarle student Brian Stovall realized it was time for his second act.
In 2009, he was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division. While he was on a mission, his parachute collapsed during his landing.
“When you jump in the military, you jump about 800 feet above ground, so you don’t have much time,” Stovall said, adding that paratroopers are taught to land on their heels for a soft landing. But because his parachute didn’t open properly, Stovall came down on his feet – hard – instead, and his back took the impact. His military career was over.
“I could no longer do my job anymore,” said the 43-year-old Stovall, who added that he was out of work for two years after the accident.
So, the single father decided he needed a new career, especially if he wanted to continue providing for his three children who range in age from 9 to 17. He enrolled in classes at COA in the fall of 2012 and earlier this month he graduated with a 3.89 GPA and an Associate’s Degree in Arts.
This fall, Stovall and his two youngest children will move to Chapel Hill where he will continue his studies as a transfer student at the University of North Carolina. He plans on earning his Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, and eventually his Master’s Degree in Psychology as well.
It’s going to be a long road, Stovall admits, but he has never been one to take the easy path.
“I’m in it for the long haul,” Stovall said. “I set a goal in the beginning and it’s not a matter of if I’m going to do it, it’s just a matter of time.”
Having completed the first part of his education, Stovall said, it’s delayed gratification – a term he learned during his studies at COA. It wasn’t easy, but it was definitely worthwhile, he said.
“Work is that,” he said. “It’s work. But if you work your hardest, you’re going to reach your goals.”
It’s a lesson he has tried to instill in his children, Phillip, 17, Brandon, 12, and Morgan, 9. Every day for the past two years, Stovall has juggled his class schedule against the needs of his children, managing dental appointments, school pick-ups and intermittent bouts with the flu and colds all single-handedly.
It has meant a lot of late nights for Stovall, who would study once the kids were put to bed. It has also meant missing televised football and basketball games on the weekends when Stovall was also studying and helping his kids with their homework and projects.
“It was definitely tough, but we have a daily routine,” Stovall said.
Originally, Stovall had planned on enrolling at Elizabeth City State University but an admissions counselor there told him he couldn’t accept Stovall because he had been out of school for so long. Unwilling to give up on his academic ambitions, Stovall decided to go to COA to begin his studies.
But, Stovall added, he did have some concerns about this new chapter in his life.
“I was apprehensive some at first,” Stovall said. “I didn’t know how I was going to learn either. In high school I was an average to low-average student. I didn’t apply myself like I should have and like I tell my children to.”
His meticulous studying habits, and turning to his instructors for help when he needed it, translated into straight A’s during Stovall’s first semester.
“I started to make good grades and it motivated me to continue,” Stovall said, adding that he made straight A’s – and one B – during his two years at COA.
“He is very self-motivated,” said Rodger Rossman, chair of COA’s Social Sciences Department and Stovall’s academic advisor. “As an older student, he has more understanding of what responsibility is, more than others do. He never made excuses. He did the work when he needed to do the work. He doesn’t look to somebody else to make it happen.”
All his dedication and effort earned him acceptance to UNC – his chosen university. It was one of only 900 spots available to transfer students.
“I don’t feel I could accomplish what I accomplished without the help of the faculty at COA,” Stovall said, adding that instructors were very understanding when his kids were sick or had appointments, especially since he had no other family members to turn to.
“All my instructors have worked with me on that,” he added. “And they’ve all been very understanding if something were to come up.”
This fall, Stovall’s oldest son, Phillip, will remain in Elizabeth City. When he graduates from high school in June, he plans on following in his father’s footsteps and enrolling as a student this fall at COA where he plans on completing the HVAC program.
Seeing his son plan for his own future, Stovall said, is another mission accomplished. From their dad’s example, Stovall’s children have learned that with hard work, anything is possible.
“Brian wanted to be a model for his kids,” Rossman said. “He wanted them to see that you can accomplish things.”