FORWARD is a series from Student Affairs featuring Virginia Tech students, faculty, staff, and alumni who have faced, overcome, or learned from life's obstacles and setbacks. FORWARD aims to normalize the conversation about hardships we endure and to encourage resilience.

Bryan Blackwell is in the business of resilience.

As a coordinator for Student Conduct within Student Affairs, he oversees cases involving conduct violations. In other words, he guides students through the restorative process of accountability. “We want to build students up beyond their mistakes,” said Blackwell. “We understand that everyone is going to make mistakes, but it’s more about how you learn from them.”

With a background in psychology, Blackwell’s strategy is to find the “why,” or to seek the underlying reason for a student’s actions. “Once you understand the ‘why,’ then you can develop a plan of action,” he said.

His desire to discover meaning in life’s circumstances was challenged when he was diagnosed with a rare illness in 2010 and when his father and mentor died during his senior year in college.

A weeklong hospital stay turned into a three-week stay, and that was only the beginning of what would be a chronic struggle including 21 surgeries. His determination to graduate from Kentucky State University within four years motivated him to persevere but also taxed his body and caused further complications. Toward the end of his junior year, an infection required him to visit the hospital every day. While other students wore shorts and t-shirts on campus during the warm spring months, he dressed in sweatpants and a sweatshirt to accommodate his medical accoutrements. 

He wonders whether or not taking time off to heal during college would have benefited his body. “I felt like my college days were gone,” he said. “I didn’t get to enjoy it to the fullest.” But he doesn’t regret pushing through. For as many lows as he experienced, he learned to appreciate the highs.

“The hardest thing to do is to worry over things you can’t control,” said Blackwell. “Don’t let the things you can’t control put a burden on you.”

One of the most exciting parts of his job is being able to make an impact on someone’s life, and he considers it a privilege that his story can provide hope for others.

“Sometimes a mountain is placed in front of you to show others it can be moved,” he said. “Even though our obstacles may be different, the feeling stays the same.”

Blackwell earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Kentucky State University in 2014. He then worked for Midway University and Georgia State University and, after taking a year to care for his mother who was facing significant health problems, enrolled in a master’s program at Western Kentucky University. He graduated in December 2018 with a Master of Arts in Education degree focused on higher education and student affairs as well as a Career Service Certificate.

Video produced by Andrew Huang '19

Written by Tiffany Woodall

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