University of South Florida


USF News

Newest Tillman Scholars Named
Making it an even dozen at USF, three former service members are honored with highly competitive and prestigious scholarship for military veterans.

Tillman Scholars (l-r) Trillitye Finlayson, David Welker and LaChiana Hamilton all plan on professions in healthcare as they continue to serve society in new ways.                                                                            Photos by Aimee Blodgett | USF News                                                                                                     

By Barbara Melendez

     USF News

Tampa, Fla. (June 5, 2014) – Three USF students are among 59 U.S. service veterans and military spouses who were named 2014 Tillman Military Scholars. Trillitye Finlayson, LaChiana A. Hamilton and David Welker now join the other nine Tillman Scholars on campus.

This is the sixth cohort of students in the organization’s 10-year history and the students will receive more than $1.4 million in scholarships to pursue their higher education and continue their service in the fields of medicine, law, business, government, education, technology and the arts.

The scholarships are given “in recognition of their service, leadership and academic excellence,” according to the foundation. More than 7,500 applied and were subjected to an extensive selection process that involved four elimination rounds. The 59 chosen to be recipients will represent 39 Universities and colleges from around the nation.

Gratitude and Purpose

A former U.S. Army sergeant and veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Finlayson is now working on her PhD in molecular biology in the College of Arts and Sciences. Her three-year award totals $39,000.

Her mother’s nearly fatal bout with ovarian cancer has led Finlayson to strive toward finding and implementing innovative techniques to better detect and eradicate the disease.

“I look forward to honoring Pat Tillman’s legacy through my military service, education, and cancer research,” she said. “Words cannot express how grateful I am to be a part of the Pat Tillman Foundation. Through this incredible scholarship, veterans across the country are given the opportunity to reach their full potential and make a tangible difference in their communities.

“Additionally, I will have the privilege of networking with other amazing Tillman scholars in several advanced and diverse fields,” she said.

Hamilton is excited about the opportunity to focus on her schooling full time. She explained, “This scholarship gets me one step closer to reaching my destiny and aids me in making school a top priority.” She added, “This opportunity allows me a chance to be plugged in to a group of mission-focused professionals that share my same zeal for goal-oriented service. I am honored to share in the fellowship and camaraderie shared by previous classes of Pat Tillman Scholars.”

The U.S. Army veteran of ten years achieved the rank of major but needed to resign her commission in order to care for her son who needed open heart surgery. Working on her master’s degree in nursing, at the USF Health College of Nursing, she looks forward to working at military hospitals so that she can help improve primary care for pediatric patients like her son. With her husband currently deployed and having to care for two children, Hamilton has her hands full.

“It is very difficult to go back to school because I have to balance my time between school and family,” she said. ”This scholarship provides me the prime opportunity to continue with school without adding a rigorous work schedule to my already full schedule. I will now have adequate time to invest in school without feeling as if my children don't get enough of my time.”

Her two-year award starts with $13,000 and is renewable for a total of $26,000.

David Welker’s scholarship covers one-and-a-half years at $15,000 and is renewable for a total of $22,500. Like Hamilton, he is working on his master’s degree in nursing. His goal is to provide care to underserved communities as a nurse anesthetist. He was driven to enlist as a para-rescueman in the Air Force following the tragic events of 9/11. Another experience led to his career choice.

“While receiving the grateful smiles, hugs and handshakes of the locals while delivering rudimentary health care in a remote village in Columbia, South America I had a crystallizing moment realizing how incredibly rewarding it is to be a part of a team providing life changing care to others,” he said, adding, “I believe we are called to be men and women with and for others and military service made me realize that my passion lies in helping those less fortunate through providing anesthesia care.”

An Investment, Not a Gift

Since 2008, the Tillman Foundation has used $4.6 million to benefit 290 military scholars at 85 universities. The organization’s Co-founder and President Marie Tillman is clear about what the scholarships stand for, saying, “The Tillman Military Scholarship is not a gift; it is an investment in excellence and potential. Pat lived his life with a passion for learning and action – he didn’t sit on the sidelines. The Tillman Military Scholars selected embody the same ideals that he lived by every day. Through our mission, we are proud to support and empower these outstanding leaders as they pursue their educational goals and strive to impact significant, positive change for our country and communities after their military service.”

Welker, as well as the others, plans to incorporate the scholarship’s full meaning into his life in several ways.

“While this scholarship will provide me with the opportunity to focus on developing exceptional anesthesia skills, networking with other Tillman scholars and exploring new challenges, I feel it also creates a responsibility for me to perpetuate the ideals that the Tillman Scholarship represents – integrity, dedication and excellence,” he said. “I will bear this greater responsibility in mind as I seize the opportunity provided by this scholarship, and perhaps more importantly when I exit the academic world and use my new skills to serve others.”

As director of the Office of Veterans Services, Lawrence Braue gets to know all of the Tillman Scholars

“We are thrilled with our three newest Tillman Military Scholars,” the retired U.S. Army veteran said. “We couldn’t ask for better representatives of the USF veteran community and we’re excited to watch all of them on their pathway to success.USF is very, very fortunate to have these three outstanding student veterans and our nine others leading the way.”

For more information about USF’s Office of Veterans Affairs, call 813-974-2291 or email And for the full list of 2014 Tillman Military Scholars, with the service branches from which they were chosen, their American Universities or colleges, and their fields of study, visit:

Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563