About Us

Trillitye Finlayson

The Story of Us: Trillitye Finlayson

TAMPA, MARCH 10, 2015 – "Above and beyond". It's an adage every service member knows well. In every aspect of military life, veterans are taught not just to meet the standard, but to go "above and beyond". Outside of military service, veterans can't help but apply this mentality to our everyday lives and into our educational endeavors. Trillitye "Trill" Finlayson has taken this mantra to the extreme. She's gone from a small town girl to a decorated National Guardsman and Tillman Scholar who is making strides in cancer research.

Raised in Beach, North Dakota, Trill was the first in her family to join the military. She enlisted at age 17 in the National Guard as a means to serve her country while she attended college at Dickinson State University. After deploying to Iraq with 164th Engineering BN in 2007, she transferred and graduated with her bachelor's degree in Biology at Minot State University. When her family moved to Florida, Trill began seeking out universities to continue her education. When asked why she chose USF, Trill contributes her selection to USF's veteran-friendly atmosphere and great research programs.

Analyzing Ovarian Cancer

Student soldiers, like other students, have numerous looming questions when they start looking at educational options: where to attend school, what kind of degree, what major? For Trill, now a PhD candidate, the Cell Biology, Microbiology, and Molecular Biology (CMMB) program was always the answer.

"At 15 years old, my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She went through a slew of chemotherapy and treatments. We were very lucky they diagnosed it early; it runs in my family so [the doctors] were kind of on the lookout for it. She's been in remission ever since, for about 12 years now. So [my mother] was part of the reason," explained Trill. "I originally did my undergraduate research in leukemia and lymphoma and that kind of got me into the research field. I knew I wanted to help people and do some sort of cancer field but it wasn't until I got the chance to do research as an undergrad that I really saw where my niche was. From there I worked at Moffitt [Cancer Center] for about six months doing lymphoma research. Then when I got to USF and into the CMMB program, I saw the opportunity to specifically research ovarian cancer and jumped on the opportunity to work in that lab."

Trill the Tillman Scholar

Trill used her VA G.I. Bill benefits to attain her bachelor's degree but when it came to her PhD, funding became a concern. Luckily, the Pat Tillman Foundation stepped in. The foundation, created by Marie Tillman, carries on Pat Tillman's legacy and desire to help deserving veterans and spouses reach their full potential through education. The Tillman Foundation awards scholarships to approximately 60 deserving student across the nation per year. When asked to describe the foundation, Trills first words are always "life changing."

"It has completely changed my life and opened so many opportunities for me. First and foremost, the scholarship is helpful in being able to finish my PhD to continue my career when I'm done. In addition, it has introduced me to this giant group of veterans across the entire nation. They do everything: MDs, PhDs, law students, art students, and just amazing people doing incredible things. I'm already networking with a lot of them. Some of them even helped me with my dissertation proposal by bouncing ideas off each other."

Giving Back

In order to provide future students with scholarships, Pat Tillman Foundation scholars regularly participate in fundraising activities. Since becoming a scholar, Trill has set an annual fundraising goal. Last October, she participated in a local Spartan race and is hopeful to participate again this October once the newest addition to the family, daughter June, has settled in. The Tillman Foundation introduced her to several other veteran based philanthropic organizations, specifically The Mission Continues, a community service centered program. She is a member of the Orlando Platoon (there is not a Tampa Platoon, yet) which focuses in particular on helping underprivileged communities and helping children attain education. Their projects range from working with schools to building playgrounds and everything in between.

Trill is also a Teacher's Assistant (TA) in the genetics lab. Though initially a bit nervous, she has found a great amount of enjoyment and pride in teaching. "Being able to teach people, seeing them understand what you are talking about when they really get the concepts, has actually been really rewarding. I've made a lot of great friendships through it. " She teaches two labs, both about three hours a piece, to approximately 48 students. She's also able to serve as a resource for her students that are considering the military as a way to pay for medical or dental school.

A Soldier of Many Hats

Today, Trill is called many things: soldier, teacher, wife, student, philanthropist, sergeant, and now, mother. Even with all of her responsibilities and the mounting stresses of her day to day life, she remains calm and collected, embodying yet another motto of the military: "Adapt and overcome." She is a great example of the talents, charisma, and dedication that all of our student veterans bring to our university.

Thanks to the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill, veterans everywhere are finding success in the classroom and beyond. At the University of South Florida, we would like to share with you the successes of our veterans and the impact they are making here at school and also in their communities. This series will highlight exceptional individuals who not only served our country in a time of need, but are using their unique tools to succeed after military service.

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