2021 Tillman Scholar

Jo Unruh

Saint Mary's College of California

“I once used robots to investigate bombs. As a writer, I investigate humanity with words, advancing a nonviolent world where every individual is free to live their truth.”

Jo’s military service began at Annapolis, where she grew her leadership skills, developed her passion for writing, reading, and language as a form of expression, and became one of only two midshipmen to have ever performed an exchange with École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr. After Annapolis, Jo studied Farsi at the Defense Language Institute. In 10 years of active duty and reserve service, Jo served as an explosive ordnance disposal officer, specializing in underwater mine countermeasures.

By developing her unit’s EOD skillsets around underwater technology, Jo’s unit became an interface between acquisitions organizations and end-users, employing advanced technology to meet critical national security needs in strategically important environments. Among Jo’s proudest memories are leading innovative maritime security operations alongside the Royal Navy in the Arabian Gulf, and her work with Korean Navy Special Warfare and mine countermeasures forces that significantly enhanced readiness in the Korean theater. After active duty, Jo supported an underwater robotics laboratory at the Naval Information Warfare Center, leading development and fielding of technology to meet Fleet operational needs, while simultaneously earning her MBA through Arizona State University.

Indebted by international experience and love of languages and literature, Jo is pursuing her lifelong dream of becoming a writer and academic, focused on evolving towards a nonviolent world, where every individual can pursue their dreams without harmful or prejudicial barriers. She is currently earning her MFA in creative writing at Saint Mary’s College of California, while being published in literary magazines and working on an autobiographical novel.