TAMPA — Three student veterans from the University of South Florida have been named 2014-15 Tillman Scholars in recognition of their academic and leadership potential and desire to change the country and community through their studies.
“This is a big one,” said Larry Braue, USF’s director of veterans’ services. “We seem to be getting excellent scholars every year, and this year is no exception.”
LaChiana Hamilton, Trill Finlayson and David Welker were all motivated by personal experiences to pursue medical studies at USF. They are among 58 Tillman designees nationwide who were chosen from more than 7,500 applicants.
The scholarship is named for Pat Tillman, a former NFL player who put his career on hold in 2002 to serve in the Army after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He was killed in April 2004 while serving with the 75th Ranger Regiment in Afghanistan.
The award covers study-related expenses, including tuition and fees, books and a living stipend.
Hamilton, an Army veteran, resigned her commission to care for her sick son when he required open-heart surgery. The Riverview native is pursuing a master’s degree in nursing and says she wants to improve primary care for pediatric patients like her son at military hospitals.
Filayson, an Army veteran, is pursuing a doctorate in cellular, molecular and microbiology to better detect and eradicate ovarian cancer, which nearly killed her mother. The Beach, N.D., native trains weekends with the Army National Guard.
Welker, a veteran Air Force pararescueman, witnessed the effects of poverty on basic health care in South America. The Lutz native is seeking a master’s degree in nursing and wants to improve health care services to underserved communities.
This marks the second consecutive year USF has had three Tillman scholars. There are now 12 on campus.
The university has been recognized nationally for its attention to veterans, with Military Times magazine naming it the fourth-friendliest to student vets in the nation.
“I can vouch for everything that has been said in the news about them growing and getting better and better,” said Welker. “I’ve seen it firsthand over the last seven, eight years.”
There are 1,700 military-affiliated students on campus and the university has provided extensive resources to assist them.
Finlayson, who came to USF from Minot State University in her home state of North Dakota, said veterans’ services staffers were helpful in her transition.
“USF has always been on top of the game in terms of letting us know about scholarships available, job opportunities available,” she said. “They work around the clock to make sure we have all the resources we need. It’s really phenomenal.”