Tillman Scholars in the News

Blog, Tillman Scholars in the News | 12/02/2021

We’re proud of these Tillman Scholars for continuing to make an impact on their communities. Read on to see how they continue to lead through action.

Natasha Ryan, 2018 Tillman Scholar

Natasha Ryan was featured as a guest on the podcast Veterans You Should Know.

In 2007, Natasha submitted her flight packet and started training. In her first assignment after flight school, she served with the 4th Infantry Division and deployed with A Co. 2-4 to Regional Command-North for a year in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Immediately following the deployment, the unit was moved to Fort Bliss, TX and stood up 1AD CAB. There, Natasha served in C Co. 2-4 and deployed back to Regional Command-North for nine months where she evacuated injured service members.

Still actively serving, Natasha’s experiences as an aviation safety officer and as a military pilot have inspired her to do more to ensure service members have safe passage to accomplish their mission. With a graduate degree in Occupational Safety Management, she hopes to influence organizations such as the FAA and NTSB to research and lobby for safer protocols in civil and military aviation standards.

Neal Rickner, 2011 Tillman Scholar

Neal Rickner was interviewed by Green.org, discussing how he transitioned from being an US Marine pilot to technology executive.

Neal served 12 years on active duty with the US Marine Corps as an F/A-18 pilot and forward air controller. He completed three tours in Iraq between 2003 and 2007, earning the Bronze Star with “Valor” device, and (13) Air Medals. He transitioned from active duty in 2009, earning dual masters degrees (business and international affairs) from Columbia University. 

Neal is a technology executive who specializes in advancing new ventures through their early-stages and into growth phase. Partnered with Octane and Sustain SoCal, he is the Managing Partner of Elevation Ventures. Prior to this role, Neal served as the CEO of Seafire Capital, leading a team investing in aerospace, mobility and electrification companies. Prior to Seafire, he spent nearly a decade at Google and Google[x] leading teams, most notably serving as the Chief Operating Officer of Makani, a next-generation wind-turbine company owned by Alphabet and Shell. In addition to his professional endeavors, Neal volunteers as a Big Brother with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, is on the Advisory board for the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), and is a member of the Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council.

Michael Kothakota, 2013 Tillman Scholar

Michael Kothakota’s research paper Racial Animosity and Black Financial Advisor Underrepresentation won the CFP Board Center for Financial Planning Best Paper Award in Diversity and Inclusion in Financial Planning for his article on Racial Animosity and Black Financial Advisor Representation.

Mike wanted nothing more than to serve in the military – like his father, his mother and his brother. Deployed to Iraq in 2004 as an infantryman, his idealized thoughts about combat were shattered. Assuming that military leadership ran on the best available information, he realized very quickly that decisions were made that were not always congruent with what we knew.

He went to school at Northwestern to earn a Master’s in Predictive Analytics and concentrated on how information can be used to reduce risk. The application of statistical and modern machine learning techniques to make reasonable predictions about future outcomes is essential to reducing all sorts of risk. Business risk, political risk, financial risk and personal risk.  

Shanna Mueggenberg, 2021 Tillman Scholar

Shanna Mueggenberg was recognized by John Hopkins Nursing in Student Soldiers Serving Double Duty.

It was to the bemusement of her parents that Shanna enlisted in the Army in 2006. No one in the family had ever voluntarily served in the military before, but witnessing the 9-11 attacks as a teenager inspired Shanna into a life of service. She enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves and trained as a licensed practical nurse. Her multiple mobilizations presented unique leadership opportunities that she has transcended into her civilian life.

Shanna earned her Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing degree with honors from Saint John Fisher College.  Shanna currently works as the clinical manager of surgical services at a 200-bed level II trauma center in the Midwest. Shanna was commissioned as a Nurse Corps officer in the Army Reserves in 2020. Shanna wants to improve patient outcomes for cardiovascular surgical patients. To achieve the necessary skills to accomplish this, she has been accepted into the doctor of nursing practice clinical nurse specialist program at Johns Hopkins University. Working with an interdisciplinary care team, Shanna plans to develop a program that performs community education regarding cardiac disease prevention and management, acute care for every patient undergoing heart surgery, and post-discharge outreach and follow-up. Shanna believes that every patient deserves innovative care with a personalized approach.

Kimberly Jung, 2014 Tillman Scholar

Kimberly Jung recently launched Blanchard House a podcast publishing company. Blanchard House will focus on telling true stories that have the power to endure.

As a U.S. Army Engineer Officer, Kim deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 with her construction-turned route- clearance soldiers to clear roads of IEDs and ambushes in the Wardak, Paktika and Ghazni provinces. This deployment would lead to a deep love and admiration of Afghanistan and its people.

After her first year at Harvard Business School, Kim decided to start a business importing saffron directly from Afghan farmers. She bought a ticket to Afghanistan and met with Pashto farmers from Ghuryan and Wardak, where she had served as Route Clearance Platoon 44’s platoon leader four years before. These farmers were growing some of the best saffron in the world, unbeknownst to Western consumers.