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.
Russell Ledet, 2021 Tillman Scholar
Russell Ledet was featured in an article from Tulane News on his incredible journey of going from a security guard to graduating from Tulane School of Medicine and the A.B. Freeman School of Business. Russell will is also honored by being the student speaker for the Class of 2022.
Dr. Russell J. Ledet is a native of Lake Charles, Louisiana. At 18, Ledet enlisted in the U.S. Navy. His first duty station was in the nation’s capital as a ceremonial guardsman. He subsequently completed cryptology training in Pensacola, Florida, and was assigned to the U.S.S John L. Hall, based in Mayport, Florida. Ledet has been awarded multiple Navy Achievement Medals for his leadership.
After five years of active duty service, Ledet transitioned to the U.S.N Reserves, based in Pensacola, Florida, while also attending Southern University. He also worked as a security guard at Baton Rouge General Hospital. He went on to complete degrees in chemistry and biology. Subsequently, Ledet went on to obtain his Ph.D. in molecular oncology and tumor immunology from the NYU School of Medicine. His scientific work focused on protein modifications in prostate cancer progression. His thesis work was most recently published in Nature Communications.
Peter Kiernan, 2020 Tillman Scholar
Peter Kiernan was selected as the Class of 2022 student speaker for Harvard Business School’s Day Celebration.
Peter James Kiernan is a lifelong New Yorker who, being intimately affected by the events of 9/11, enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps after his 18th birthday. Peter immediately excelled, and became the youngest Marine Raider in the history of the Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC). The military taught Peter the importance of well-informed policy decisions on the battlefield and his experience includes becoming a scout sniper, fluent in Pashto, free-fall qualified and leading more than 40 combat missions in Afghanistan.
After nearly six years of service, Peter attended Columbia University, where he studied international relations in an effort to better understand the Afghanistan conflict in which he took part. In 2017, he received a Mitchell Scholarship to pursue a master’s in conflict resolution at Trinity College-Dublin. While studying the peace process in Northern Ireland, he explored fundamental aspects of conflict such as justice, trust and victimhood, to better understand why human nature often makes conflicts intractable. Reprocessing his experience of combat in academia added greater depth to his understanding about the inherent tradeoffs of policy-decisions and how conflicts are best resolved.
Jo Unruh, 2021 Tillman Scholar
Jo Unruh has founded and announced the soon to be launch of NiftyLit, a writer’s and artist’s first community that pledges to change the literary ecosystem.
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.
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.
Jamal Sowell, 2014 Tillman Scholar
Jamal Sowell has stepped down from his role as Florida’s Commerce Secretary to join the Naval Reserves in specialized training to prepare his support for operational assignments.
Having a grandfather who served in World War II, father who served in Vietnam, and brother who served in Iraq where he became 100% disabled, Jamal always knew he would follow this family tradition of service before self. During the initial stages of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Jamal was in college at the University of Florida. He was always perplexed by the way so many able-bodied military-aged men were extremely adamant about going to war and hawkish in their views, but were never willing to serve themselves. Knowing his family’s legacy of service, and not wanting to be one of those individuals, he knew his time would eventually come to answer the call to serve.
In his first year of graduate school at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, he enlisted as a private first class in the Marine Corps reserves, while simultaneously completing his Master’s degree. After graduation, he then went on active duty as an officer. Jamal found his experience in Afghanistan both life changing and humbling. Serving as an enlisted Marine, then being selected as an Officer to serve those same Marines as their leader was the most daunting responsibility he had ever accepted. The experience became a way for him to repay his country for the enormous opportunities it had provided him. His tour of duty with fellow Marines in Afghanistan helped him realize how fortunate he was and motivated him to make a difference in his home state of Florida.