Four George Washington University students have been named part of the fifth class of Tillman Military Scholars by the Pat Tillman Foundation. The Tillman Foundation awarded a total of $1.4 million in scholarship support to 60 students at 41 institutions for 2013. The number of scholars is the highest from a single institution, matched only by Harvard University.
Laura Butler, a military spouse, is pursuing a master of design in interior architecture from the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. Meaghan Mobbs, an Army captain, is pursuing a master of forensic psychology degree, also from the Columbian College. Heather Pahman, an Air Force staff sergeant, is pursuing a master of strategic public relations from the Graduate School of Political Management and Danielle Scalione, an Army captain, is pursuing a law degree from the George Washington University Law School.
GW is also one of 16 university partners within the Tillman organization—a designation awarded based on an institution’s veteran-specific services and supportive culture.
“We are so very proud of our GW students who were selected as Tillman Military Scholars,” said Retired Vice Admiral Mel Williams, GW’s senior associate dean for military and veterans initiatives. “They typify the many high-quality military members, veterans and family members who are GW students. As a result of their character, experience and their demonstrated service, they truly enrich the diversity of our classrooms.”
Ms. Butler—whose husband, Ferris, an Army captain, sustained injuries during his deployment that led to the amputation of both feet—began working as a case coordinator with Homes for Our Troops two years ago. The nonprofit organization gathers donations of money, building materials and professional labor and coordinates the construction of homes for wounded veterans that provide freedom of movement and the ability to live more independently. Her experience with the organization inspired her to seek an interior architecture degree with the goal of eventually starting an interior design firm that will also provide pro-bono design services for people with disabilities.
“I have learned the immense value in treating the home as a sanctuary and a place that provides mental and physical freedom from disabilities,” Ms. Butler said. “As Ferris and I moved into our own home, I developed a profound understanding that true accessibility transcends structural design like open floor plans and wide doorways. It also requires elements like the proper location for each furnishing, considering the height of sofas and beds and selecting appropriate materials for floors and upholstery.”
Ms. Mobbs, who grew up in a military family, graduated from West Point in 2008 and was deployed to Afghanistan, where she led a 25-person aerial delivery detachment, with a mission of resupplying 40 remote bases and combat locations. She aspires to work with the government agencies that train special forces units—a job that requires understanding the physical prowess, behavioral traits and psychological resiliency these special units require, she said. And she hopes her GW forensic psychology degree with be a step toward a doctorate in clinical psychology.
“My intent is to continue to serve in any capacity that will further strengthen the resiliency, capabilities and potency of the greatest fighting force that has ever existed,” Ms. Mobbs said.
Ms. Pahman, an Air Force veteran, said she believes the military conflicts of the past decade have affected Americans more than many realize.
“The complete toll that war has taken on these young men and women, some who just graduated high school before shipping off to Afghanistan, has not yet been measured,” she said. “And the toll that it has taken on families, friends and support systems for these service members is far too often an afterthought.”
After completing her strategic public relations degree, Ms. Pahman would like to work as a lead communicator for a veterans’ service organization that focuses on increasing awareness among the civilian population about the issues that plague physically and emotionally wounded veterans, their families and their friends.
Ms. Scalione decided to join the Army after 9/11, and when she had completed the Military Intelligence Officer Basic Course, she chose to change units and join one that would immediately deploy to Afghanistan. Once there, she became deeply invested in ending the struggles Afghan women faced under the repressive Taliban regime.
“The challenges and struggles women face in Afghanistan resonated with me,” she said. “The abuse these women endured was unimaginable to me as an American. Through the military, I wanted to contribute to the end of that cruelty. My primary motivation to serve in uniform was to be a part of an organization that could bring sustainable change to women who had fewer opportunities than I did.”
On a second deployment to Afghanistan, she was stationed in Kandahar Province, where local government was slowly being pieced together with assistance from the U.S. military. Her work there made her realize she could combine her early dream of law school with her desire to effect change in places like Afghanistan. When her active duty ended, she was accepted to the George Washington University Law School to study international human rights law.
The 2013 Tillman Scholars’ first duty will be to attend the Tillman Leadership Summit in Chicago in July. After that, they’ll return to their studies and, for some, their military duties.
Michael Ruybal, veterans coordinator in GW’s Office of Military and Veteran Student Services, who worked with GW’s Tillman Scholars to prepare their scholarship applications, called the students “highly motivated and inspirational.”
“As student veterans and dependents, these four individuals truly bring forth the vision that is the George Washington University. I am truly humbled and honored to play a small role in their selection.”