Pat Tillman Foundation can’t fulfill its mission to empower military veterans and their spouses without the generosity of our supporters across the country. Nationwide, over 400 Tillman Scholars are striving to impact our country and communities through their studies in medicine, law, business, policy, science, education and the arts. Every “Tillman Tuesday,” we are committed to highlighting the individual impact of a Tillman Scholar, focusing on their success in school, career and community—all thanks to your support. This week we learn more about 2014 Tillman Scholar Trillitye (Trill) Paullin who is currently serving her 11th year with the Army National Guard, while preparing to graduate this fall with her Ph.D. from University of South Florida, studying Ovarian Cancer research. In addition to serving her country while attending school full time, Trill is involved in her community with two online fitness programs as well as being a full-time mom.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO JOIN THE MILITARY AT THE YOUNG AGE OF 17, WHILE STILL IN HIGH SCHOOL?
“I had really lofty career goals and was unsure of how to attain them, so the military gave me the foundation that I needed in order to make the next step. There is a long history of abuse in my family and I felt I needed something substantial to break the cycle.”
WHAT WERE YOUR CAREER GOALS AND WHY DID YOU FEEL THE MILITARY WAS THE PATH TO TAKE TO ACHIEVE THEM?
“When I was fifteen, my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. After seeing her go through treatment, I decided to pursue a career that would make an impact for cancer patients. My senior year of high school, I realized that we didn’t have the funds to pay for college, so it didn’t seem like an attainable goal. I decided to join the National Guard to serve my country and get the support I needed in order to attend college.”
AS A STUDENT AT UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA WORKING TOWARDS YOUR Ph.D., WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED THROUGH YOUR RESEARCH AND HAS IT BEEN EVERYTHING YOU THOUGHT IT WOULD BE WITH GRADUATION NEARING?
“My Ph.D. will be in Cellular and Molecular and Microbiology, specializing in ovarian cancer. I have the privilege of working with a phenomenal team and we research and implement innovative techniques for making ovarian cancer more susceptible to chemotherapy. Ovarian cancer is the most lethal gynecological cancer, with over 200,000 women diagnosed every year and over half of those cases leading to death. This is due to a lack of physical symptoms, inadequate screening techniques, and limited treatment options. While conventional chemotherapy agents are often effective upon initial treatment, drug resistance is common in relapsed patients. My studies involve determining the role of the heat shock response in ovarian cancer progression and how it can be utilized to enhance current chemotherapy options.”
SINCE YOUR MOM’S FIGHT AGAINST OVARIAN CANCER BEGAN, HOW IS SHE DOING TODAY?
“My mom is amazing! After chemotherapy, radiation, and a hysterectomy, she has been in remission for over 12 years now. My research is important to me because ovarian cancer runs in my family. Not only is it possible that my mother could relapse, but my children and I have a high chance of battling it as well. So my work is very near and dear to my heart.”
WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE BEING A MOM TO A ONE-YEAR OLD WHILE BALANCING YOUR SCHOOLING AND MILITARY CAREER?
“It has been a roller coaster, but being a mom is incredibly rewarding. My husband and I have been through alot in our first year as parents. My daughter has had a few health issues, so it’s definitely been a challenge to balance that while trying to finish my Ph.D.
I’m only able juggle everything because I have a great partner who has been incredibly supportive of my schedule. Whether I’m gone for a conference, attending drill, doing research, or squeezing in volunteer work, he always has my back. None of this would be possible without my fantastic husband.”
ASIDE FROM GOING TO SCHOOL, BEING A MOM, A WIFE AND SERVING IN THE MILITARY, COULD YOU PLEASE SHARE A BIT ABOUT YOUR PASSION FOR FITNESS MOTIVATION?
“I’m part of two fitness motivation pieces – the first is a PT motivation page that is basically a resource for soldiers who are looking for extra motivation for physical fitness. We post challenges like ‘who can run the farthest in a week?’, ‘who can bench press the most?’, and generally motivate each other. It helps to keep each other accountable in regards to physical fitness, especially in the military. I’m also a leader for the Tampa Bay Fit Mom’s page, where moms in the area are motivating each other to workout and eat healthy. We really want to enforce the concept that even though we’re busy moms, we still need to make time for ourselves.
I was involved in some sports in high school but my enthusiasm for fitness really kicked off when I deployed to Iraq. During deployment, in addition to our jobs, everyone needs something to pass the time and mine became lifting and working out. I was learning everything I could about training and even participated in lifting competitions and races. When I returned home, it just became part of my normal routine. Every day my husband and I take the time to workout together or be active. We want to set a good example for our daughter and live healthy lifestyles.”
HOW MANY TIMES DID YOU DEPLOY AND WHAT WAS YOUR ROLE DURING THAT TIME?
“I deployed to Iraq when I was 19 and while there I mainly worked in operations. However, I also had the opportunity to join all male patrols in order to interact with the female local nationals, an opportunity I really appreciated. My experiences from the deployment gave me a different outlook on life.”
WHAT WAS THE DIFFERENT OUTLOOK AND WHAT DID YOU LEARN THROUGHOUT YOUR DEPLOYMENT THAT YOU MAY NOT HAVE KNOWN BEFORE?
“Having been so young when I joined and deployed, I discovered how much I took for granted. Being deployed and in a different culture, coupled with being a woman in the military, opened my eyes to what I’m capable of. When I returned home, I wanted to take advantage of all the opportunities before me.”
HOW DID YOU LEARN ABOUT THE TILLMAN SCHOLARSHIP?
“When I started my Ph.D., I received an email from the USF Office of Veteran Services about the Pat Tillman scholarship. It seemed like an amazing foundation, but out of reach for me since it is so competitive. I was apprehensive, but the following year I met scholar Josiah Hill on an airplane and we shared our stories. Josiah told me about the Tillman Scholarship and convinced me that it was worth applying. Afterwards, I was really grateful to not only meet Josiah but also be able to share my story with others as a scholar myself. Meeting Josiah and other scholars has really opened my eyes to how remarkable the foundation really is.”
KNOWING THERE ARE THOUSANDS OF APPLICANTS EACH YEAR, WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION WHEN YOU LEARNED YOU HAD BEEN SELECTED AS A TILLMAN SCHOLAR?
“I was really in awe, it took a little while for it to sink in. I had already met some of the scholars at USF and was excited to officially be part of that group! I couldn’t wait to get to the summit where I could meet the rest of the scholars and find out what I could do to make a difference as part of the Tillman community. The foundation and the network of people I’m now part of is astounding and I believe it’s going to help me attain my career and life goals.
Being part of the Tillman foundation network is wonderful. I’ve made the best of friends with scholars across the country as well as locally. I’m excited to engage local Tillman Scholars as part of the new regional program, representing the Tampa region. I’m ready to make a difference in our region while spreading the word about this great Tillman community.”
WHAT HAS THE TILLMAN SCHOLARSHIP PROVIDED FOR YOU THAT YOU MAY NOT HAVE OTHERWISE HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO DO?
“If I hadn’t received the Tillman Scholarship it’s very possible that I would have stopped my education at the Master’s level. I have completely exhausted my GI Bill and I’m not allowed to have outside jobs while in my program. At this point, especially with having a family, it wouldn’t have been financially possible to pursue my Ph.D. My initial goal was to earn my Ph.D. and because of the Tillman scholarship I’m set to graduate this fall.”
WHAT IS YOUR ULTIMATE GOAL AND WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU IN THE COMING YEARS?
“My objective is to complete my Ph.D. and continue contributing to the cancer field. I have many career decisions ahead of me following graduation. At this point my main goal is to stay in the cancer research field and if possible, work in a clinical trial setting. It’s difficult because I don’t yet have a specific graduation date to give employers and it can sometimes be a frustrating process.”
WHAT’S MORE CHALLENGING, BEING IN THE NATIONAL GUARD OR JUGGLING BEING A MOM TO A YOUNG CHILD?
“The combination of everything is what is most challenging. With the National Guard I currently drill three hours from home. When my daughter was only four months old I had 17 days of annual training and it was really difficult for me as a new mom who was breast feeding. The hardest thing is balancing my career goals while being a new mom. I remind myself that I want to be a great example for my daughter so she can be proud of the things I’ve accomplished both in and out of uniform. I want her to know that you can be a woman, have a family, and still do amazing things in your career.”
WE TALK A LOT ABOUT WHAT PAT STOOD FOR, WITH ALL OF THE OPPORTUNITIES IT HAS PRESENTED YOU, WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A TILLMAN SCHOLAR?
“The first thing that comes to mind is that I’m very honored and humbled. Knowing the other scholars’ extraordinary stories makes me want to be more. Cancer research, fitness motivation, mentoring, community service – all of it really stems around helping others and making an impact. Being a Tillman Scholar pushes me to do all those things. I’ve already been given the scholarship, but I want to earn the title of Tillman Scholar. I wake up every morning and prove to myself that I’m worthy of being a Tillman Scholar.”