USF Tillman Scholars

Three USF students named Tillman Military Scholars all want to pursue medical degrees and help other veterans.


Tillman Scholars (from left) Richard Mendez, Alicia Irvin and Anthony DeSantis. Photo: Katy Hennig | USF News


By Renee Svec

Special to USFNews


TAMPA, Fla., (June 24, 2013) – After two years in college, Richard Mendez decided to pursue the military career that he always desired. It wasn’t until his final deployment following numerous combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan with the 75th Ranger Regiment that the young sergeant knew what he really wanted was to become a doctor.


Having left the military, Mendez is now pursuing his military-born dream at the University of South Florida, along with two other student veterans, all of whom have recently received scholarships from the Pat Tillman Foundation.


In an announcement of 60 scholarship recipients nationwide, the foundation named USF’s Mendez, Anthony DeSantis, and Alicia Irvin among its 2013-14 Tillman Military Scholars.  All three aspire to become physicians and were selected not only for these aspirations but also for their service, leadership, and academic excellence.


“Returning to college is difficult after the military,” said Mendez. “I look forward to having the opportunity as a Tillman Military Scholar to share my experiences and encourage other veterans.”


Anticipating his graduation from USF in 2017, Mendez hopes to serve veterans as a physician at a Veterans Administration medical center.  He was awarded $8,000 a year for five years.


DeSantis, a second year medical student, served as a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps on tour in Iraq. His passion for a medical career was ignited after seeing the relief physicians are able to bring to those suffering.  As an active volunteer at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital, his personal beliefs align with those of the foundation in that it is important “to not only continue your service beyond your time in uniform, but throughout the rest of your life.”  DeSantis was awarded $10,000 a year for three years and is expected to graduate in May 2016. 


Having served as an Army Military Police platoon leader in Iraq, former First Lieutenant Irvin also set her goal to be a military doctor.


“I had a really great experience with the soldiers who I worked with and lead,” said Irvin. “I have always been interested in a health career and realized that I could even more meaningfully serve these men and women by becoming a doctor and returning to active duty.”  


Enrolled in the Morsani College of Medicine Master’s program, she expects to graduate in Dec. 2018.  Irvin was awarded $8,000 a year for five years and has the distinction of being the first USF female Tillman Military Scholar.


In 2008, the Pat Tillman Foundation established the Tillman Military Scholars program to support educational opportunities for military veterans and their families by bridging the financial gaps left by the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. The scholarships, established in memory of the late NFL player and Army Ranger, assist recipients with not only academic expenses such as tuition and fees, but also other needs like housing and childcare.


USF is one of 16 campuses serving as a Tillman Military Scholar University Partner, which are selected based on their innovative service member-specific support services and proven culture of community for military families. As a partner, each institution conducts outreach to its veteran and military spouse student population and actively participates in the Tillman Military Scholar selection process. USF proudly has eight scholars on campus currently.


Renee Svec can be reached at 813-974-5383.