State Board of Community Colleges announces winners of prestigious Dallas Herring Achievement, Gov. Robert W. Scott Leadership awards

The North Carolina State Board of Community Colleges names Lillia Kathryn Diez, recipient of the 2024 Dallas Herring Achievement Award, and Toby Neal, recipient of the 2024 Governor Robert W. Scott Student Leadership Award.  

The Dallas Herring Achievement Award was established by the System in 2010 to honor the late Dr. Dallas Herring, one of the state’s earliest champions of community colleges. It is awarded to a current or former student who best embodies Dr. Herring’s philosophy of “taking people where they are and carrying them as far as they can go.” 
headshot of lillia“It feels easy to put my situation into words now but, in reality, I was struggling to afford food and find a place to sleep even while working full-time and attending college,” said Diez. ”I wanted my life to change for the better and, ultimately, attending Alamance Community College was the answer.” 
After earning her GED, she immediately enrolled in the Automotive Systems Technology program. 
“I wish had a thousand more students just like Lillia,” said Nate Smith, instructor in the automotive program at Alamance. “She is the perfect student. She gets all of her assignments done on time and is always willing to help other students in the class that may be struggling.” 

While enrolled in the program, she secured employment as an automotive technician at Cox Dodge in Burlington. She is the first female technician at the dealership. 

“I hope this inspires other women entering the automotive industry,” Diez said. “This job ultimately provided me with a means to afford housing and transportation. There is no doubt that the opportunities at Alamance Community College have provided me with a new lease on life and a very bright future in my career.” 

In addition to automotive, she is working on a degree in fire protection so she can volunteer in the fire service. 
Toby Neal, recipient of the Gov. Robert W. Scott Leadership Award, is a student at Stanly Community College earning an Associate in Arts degree.  

This award was established in 2004 to recognize student leadership on a statewide level while also honoring former Governor Bob Scott, who served as the State’s chief executive from 1968 to 1972 and was president of the System from 1982 to 1995.   

Neal is one of seven children raised on a farm in Mount Pleasant, NC and was homeschooled. He was nervous about applying to college but knew he made the right decision after just one day on campus. 
“I struggle with imposter syndrome, but my professors really taught me to have confidence in my own abilities to succeed in an academic environment coming from a homeschool background,” he said. 
Neal quickly became active on and off campus. His civic engagement and multifaceted leadership is what sets him apart. He is national president of Future Business Leaders of America Collegiate (FLBA), vice president of the Student Government Association at Stanly, a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society, and Chief Precinct Judge for the 9th precinct in Cabarrus County. 

“Toby has consistently demonstrated exemplary leadership qualities and has impacted our campus community, proving that community college students can serve in high-level leadership roles,” said Dr. John Enamait, President of Stanly Community College. 

After graduating, Neal wants to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science, possibly go to law school, then work in the North Carolina state legislature and eventually Congress. 

“I have lofty ambitions for myself because of my experience at Stanly,” Neal said. “My guiding philosophy comes from Dolly Parton. She says you should find out who you are and do that on purpose. The things that guide me are creating change, fostering better community, and creating a more transparent environment. As long as I am doing those three things, I will be able to find fulfillment. As long as you let your true self lead you, you’ll find where you’re meant to be.” 

His advisor Dan Hazlett played a crucial role in Neal’s success. 

“At a time when many young adults are not willing to be engaged in service activities or take leadership roles, Toby represents those who give of themselves to benefit others and who are willing to do extra as an investment in their future career and leadership goals,” Hazlett said. 
The awards will be presented during the 2024 North Carolina Community Colleges Awards Dinner and Celebration on April 17th at the Umstead Hotel in Cary. Wells Fargo is the Presenting Sponsor for the Dallas Herring Achievement Award. The North Carolina Association of Community College Presidents is the Presenting Sponsor for the Gov. Robert W. Scott Leadership Award. Visit the Awards Dinner and Celebration event website for tickets, sponsorship opportunities, and to read about the award winners. 

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