2020 Tillman Scholar

Kevin Bubolz

University of Minnesota

“Together we can provide a future where all children have the reading skills necessary to reach their full potential.”

Driven to serve a greater purpose in life, Kevin enrolled in the ROTC and became an Army aviation officer. During his military career, he developed a passion for mentoring and developing others, pursuing this calling by becoming an instructor pilot and commanding the Army’s only Chinook flight school.

During a deployment, Kevin’s unit was accompanied by a service dog that brought comfort to soldiers, reduced loneliness and even flew in his helicopter wearing specialized hearing protection. This experience inspired Kevin to share the benefits of animal-assisted therapy to others. Upon redeployment, Kevin certified his golden retriever as a therapy dog and began volunteering in the local community. After visiting several schools, he witnessed firsthand the impact of animal-assisted reading programs on childhood literacy.

As a result of the pandemic, Kevin was no longer able to volunteer in-person with his therapy dog, Ellie, so he pivoted to social media as a way to help with others. During this process, he unexpectedly developed a global community passionate about his mission to spread smiles.