2024 Tillman Scholar

Ryan Gilfillan

University of San Diego
Ph.D., Leadership Studies

“High rates of Veteran suicide are not solely the result of individual veterans’ psychological or physiological changes during military service. Instead, Veterans are an ‘at-risk’ category in a more significant sociological problem.”

Ryan was called to military service right after September 11th, 2001. He spent 15 years in the Naval Special Operations Community, graduating from Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) school in 2006. From there, he deployed overseas eight times, twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. 

During his EOD career, he responded to over 600 Bomb Squad Emergency Responses both in the United States and Overseas, rendered safe hundreds of Improvised Explosive Devices, destroyed over 50,000 enemy ordnance items, and conducted thousands of hours of military diving operations. For his military service, he was awarded the Humanitarian Service Medal, 6 Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals (including 1 for Valor), the Purple Heart Medal, and the Bronze Star Medal. During his 20-year career, 11 were spent living overseas, allowing him to work with individuals from over 40 nations on 5 continents. This has given him a unique global cultural perspective he carries with him in his daily life. Upon retirement, he attended the University of Southern California’s Master of Business for Veterans program, finishing second out of 86 students and being one of only three peers to earn a 4.0 GPA. 

He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego School of Leadership and Education Sciences (SOLES) with a focus in both Organizational Leadership and Advanced Research Techniques. His next mission is to remove some of the employment barriers to entry for service members in their transition into the civilian job market.