Schillo named Tillman Scholar

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2005 FDSH graduate Jake Schillo was recently named the first Pat Tillman Scholar at an Iowa institution. Schillo, an Air Force veteran, is pursuing his PhD in genetics at the University of Iowa.

IOWA CITY — Jake Schillo knew he wanted to serve his country from a young age.

“In fourth grade actually, I met with an Air Force recruiter and I just kind of became fascinated with the idea of becoming a pilot and traveling the world,” the 2005 Fort Dodge Senior High grad said.

After graduating high school, Schillo followed his childhood dream and enlisted in the United States Air Force, completing his basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. He spent the majority of his six years of service working as a nuclear weapons specialist.

“That job entails the maintenance, modification, testing and handling of nuclear bombs, warheads and their associated equipment,” Schillo said.

By the time he finished his enlistment, Schillo had reached the rank of staff sergeant and had served on Air Force bases in Texas, Louisiana and North Dakota.

After leaving the service, Schillo pursued his undergraduate degree in biology and chemistry at Minot State University in Minot, North Dakota.

“I think the transition was a little difficult because I found myself going from something I thought was very important to basically just focusing on myself and I lost that team aspect right away,” he said. “And it wasn’t until I started doing cancer research as an undergrad that I really felt a renewed purpose in what I was doing and that’s when I really started to excel.”

While doing leukemia research at Minot State, Schillo was presenting at a national conference in Philadelphia where he met Adam Dupuy, an associate professor in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at the University of Iowa. After earning his bachelor’s degree, Schillo headed home to the Hawkeye State and became a Hawkeye. He is in his final year of pursuing his PhD in genetics at U of I.

“What I do now is I look at why patients relapse on current therapies and try to better understand what that process is and alternative therapies that can be utilized to ensure that patients have a viable treatment when other treatments are failing,” Schillo said.

The majority of his time is spent in a lab, where they’re creating new technologies to better understand tumors, he said.

Part of what attracted Schillo to University of Iowa was how the university appreciated his military service, and it’s given him opportunities to continue to serve and work with other veterans here in Iowa.

“Part of that was working as a team leader in this Veteran Peer Advising Program, which helps veterans transition from the military into college,” he said. “And then this last year, we were able to start the Veteran Innovation Series, which is geared toward bringing veterans across campus together into the same room for networking, collaborations and community engagement.”

Recently, Schillo was named one of the 2021 Tillman Scholars by the Pat Tillman Foundation.

Pat Tillman was a safety for the Arizona Cardinals NFL team when he decided to put his pro football career on hold in 2002 to don a different uniform and serve his country. While serving with the U.S. Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment in Afghanistan, Tillman was killed in action.

Following Tillman’s death, his friends and family established the Pat Tillman Foundation with the mission to unite and empower “remarkable military veterans and spouses as the next generation of public and private sector leaders committed to services beyond self.”

Tillman Scholars are supported with academic scholarships, a national network and professional development opportunities “so they are empowered to make an impact in the world.”

Each year, the foundation receives thousands of applications, and accepts just 60, who are chosen based purely on merit and potential for impact, according to the foundation website. Since 2008, just under 700 Tillman Scholars have been selected for $20 million in scholarships.

Schillo is the first person to be named a Tillman Scholar while studying at an Iowa college or university.

“Being a Tillman Scholar really allows me to carry on the legacy of Pat Tillman,” he said. “The Tillman Foundation gives us support through a scholarship, which is largely viewed as the least important part of this.

“The bigger thing is the lifelong leadership development … and maybe the most important thing is just access to this incredible network of fellowship and scholars, mentors, industry leaders that are out there doing things to impact the world.”

Schillo will graduate with his doctorate in May 2022. He is in the process of securing the next step in his career.


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