For Sterling Bryant, Virginia Tech opened his eyes to a new future — one focused on service and higher education.

Bryant, a junior majoring in history in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, served seven years in the U.S. Navy before becoming a Hokie. His primary job was as an electrician’s mate, and he was stationed in Norfolk, Bahrain, and Japan. 

He left the Navy in March 2020 — a week before COVID-19 shut the world down — and moved to Austin, Texas, to work for a company that manufactured IV bags.

“I was miserable. I was tired of turning wrenches,” Bryant said. “I’d been doing it for the last seven years, and there I was in Austin, continuing to do it.”

Searching for a new path, he applied to Virginia Tech.

“I had gone to college before I joined the Navy, but because of my alcohol use I was asked to leave,” Bryant said. “I was kind of concerned about getting into Virginia Tech based off of my previous experience.”

But in spring 2021, he got news that he was accepted. He moved to Blacksburg a few months later, leaving the wrenches behind.

“When I came to Virginia Tech, I was 28 years old and I was taking classes with freshmen,” he said. “There was a literal 10-year age gap. It was a big shock.”

Bryant focused on his studies and his future. He quickly excelled in the classroom, got accepted into the Honors College, and works on campus as the Recovery Community’s recovery outreach and support specialist.

“In recovery, service has been how I’ve maintained it,” Bryant said. “When I showed up at Virginia Tech, I had just celebrated three years [sober], and I found the Recovery Community. I fell in love with it immediately.”

In his current role, Bryant works with the Southwest Virginia Recovery Organization for Community College Students, establishing recovery communities at community colleges in the New River Valley and surrounding areas. 

The federally funded effort connects to the university’s original land-grant mission by positioning the Hokies as the hub and primary support for a new network of community college-based recovery communities in the southwest part of the state.

“After working in this job, I’d like to continue working in higher education in some capacity,” Bryant said. “There are so many different directions you can go with a history degree. I’m just not sure what that looks like for me yet.”

Regardless of where he goes or what he does, the important thing to Bryant is why he’s doing it.

“Find your why. That’s my biggest thing,” Bryant said. “Why am I here? Because I got tired of turning wrenches.”

Written by Savannah Webb

Resources for veterans