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Navy veteran paying it forward

Chuck Thomas, Nora Kostyk

Coby Dillard stumbled into college one sunny afternoon while walking down Granby Street in Norfolk. The Navy veteran had just completed work with Gov. McDonnell’s campaign and was looking for a job to support his family.

He realized he was on Tidewater Community College’s Norfolk Campus.

“I stepped into the veterans services office and when I left, I had a full course load and a part-time job as a work-study student,” Dillard said.

Eight years later, Dillard is the coordinator of veterans and military services at University of California at Santa Barbara and working on his doctorate in higher education leadership and management through Regent University.

“This is my first time leading a program, and I’m excited to build relationships with veterans and military-related students,” Dillard said. “It’s my greatest joy to connect students with resources and help them find their own paths to success.”

Dillard earned his Associate of Science in Social Sciences from Tidewater Community College in 2012. He went on to earn his bachelor’s in interdisciplinary studies at Norfolk State University and a master’s in human service counseling from Regent University.

While at TCC, Dillard held many positions from financial aid assistant to academic advisor in the college’s Center for Military and Veterans Education. He also worked briefly with military students at Regent University.

As a TCC student, Dillard was president of the Student Government Association on the Norfolk Campus from 2011-12.

Dillard credits several faculty and staff members with investing in his future, including Linda Jacobs, a veterans benefits advisor he met that first day on campus.

Now Dillard is paying it forward.

“Everyone is going to leave the military at some point. I’ve seen so many people come to me with three days left in the service and no idea of the next steps,” he said. “I help veterans, military spouses and active duty military navigate their benefits and plan for the future.

“I feel like this is a calling. I’ve changed from someone who hated school to a lifelong learner, and I know it’s going to impact my family.”

Dillard and wife Trieasha have a son, DJ, who is 11 and a daughter, Allie, 9.

For students coming after him, Dillard promises, “If I can do it, so can you. Find what you love and then do the work to get there.”