2021 Tillman Scholar

Christopher Cole Sawyers

Air Force
Western Kentucky University

I am building my academic arsenal to fight for fostered youth. Through data-informed policy intervention, I will improve child welfare in Kentucky, which leads the nation in rates of abuse and neglect.”

After spending the majority of his youth transitioning between eleven foster homes and two residential treatment facilities, Chris understood the cyclical nature of abuse, stigma, neglect, and instability. Imprinted by this, he vowed to one day become someone he could depend on. Someone others could, as well. Hungry for stability, Chris enlisted in the U.S Air Force as an HVAC technician and has worked with several civil engineering units around the globe.

Through two deployments to the Middle East and a four-year tour in Japan, he searched for problems he could help solve for local youth. While leading English lessons for Jordanian orphans and recruiting a team of 122 volunteers to procure 497 pounds of food and 658 toys worth $20.2K in Japan, Chris simultaneously pursued a degree in criminology. His studies revealed the statistically dismal forecast for youth that come from similar backgrounds of poverty and institutionalization. Believing that great leaders transform personal adversity into social solutions, he is reigniting his battle with the child welfare system. However this time, it will not be on his own behalf.

After graduating from Western Kentucky University, Chris will pursue a law degree focused on providing the help he once desperately needed to those who still do. Through military service, Chris transformed the qualities that he previously used for survival into sharpened leadership skills that he will now use to fight for disadvantaged youth. Combining personal motivation, leadership experience and quality education, he will answer the call of one of our country’s most vulnerable populations in his beloved home state of Kentucky.