2020 Tillman Scholar

Sadia Ali Heil

Air Force
George Mason University

“Raising a child with special needs can feel as uncertain as a combat zone. As a special educator, my mission is to passionately advocate for these children and their families.”

As a first-generation American, the value of hard work and compassion for others was instilled in Sadia at a young age. Formerly a mathematics teacher in a small village in Pakistan, her father was committed to democracy and providing a peaceful future for his family, which brought him to Northern Virginia, where Sadia was born and raised.  After 9/11, Sadia felt a strong sense of patriotism and duty; and was commissioned into the U.S. Air Force in 2007.

Sadia discovered her zest for education while serving in the military. Early on, she became a certified instructor and evaluator at an Air Force distributed common ground system. Later in her career, she led an interagency subject matter expert exchange on counter-violent extremism with the Department of Justice, the U.S. Defense Attache for Sri Lanka, and the Maldivian National Defense Force; and fully realized her enthusiasm for teaching.

As a mother of two young children and spouse to an active-duty Coastguardsman, Sadia’s passion for education has inspired her to pursue a Master of Education in Special Education. This conviction was reinforced when her 17-month-old son was diagnosed with developmental delays. The mental and emotional grit required to support and champion for her child has increased Sadia’s desire to work in the field of early childhood special education in school, home, and community settings. Sadia aspires to advocate for special needs children and their families in order to promote a more inclusive world for all.