Veteran working toward doctorate at USF honored as Tillman Scholar

A local veteran working toward his doctoral degree at the University of South Florida is the only student from a public university in Florida, and one of just 60 people across the country, to be honored as a 2022 Tillman Scholar.

Rio Tate is the first in his family to graduate college, but he didn't stop with just a bachelor’s degree. He said he's currently finishing his second year in the School of Aging Studies PhD program. 

Tate has a passion for the research he does, it is focused on cognitive and minority aging and how people can reduce their risk of developing dementia.

"It's something that affects a lot of people, regardless of the demographic characteristics," said Tate. "So I wanted to do something that has the potential to help a wide swath of people. Since many people have Alzheimer’s, I believe this research is a good way to really help improve the quality of life of many diverse groups of people."

That drive to help others led Tate to the U.S. Air Force. When he could not afford to pay for tuition, the military offered a path to higher education.

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Tate was stationed at Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico, and he finished his bachelor's degree in psychology while on active duty. Tate worked as a Crew Chief maintaining C-130 W planes in between missions. In 2019, he was deployed to Iraq, and used that time overseas to apply to graduate schools.

Tate’s work completing his doctorate at USF is part of why he just received the 2022 Tillman Scholarship. It is named for Pat Tillman, the NFL player who enlisted in the Army after 9-11 and was killed in Afghanistan.

Tate said he is honored and humbled to be one of the Tillman Scholars.

"What it means to me to be chosen as a recipient is immense happiness and gratitude. I'm very fortunate," he said.  "I wanted to be part of a community of veterans that was still dedicated to service beyond themselves."

READ: Movement made to document stories of all 421,000 soldiers who died during World War II

He said the military helped shape him into the person he is today, and he plans to continue to grow and give back to his community.

"It is super important to not give up in what you believe in. And even though you may get some roadblocks in terms of accomplishing your goals, keep sticking to it, and you'll get to where you want to be," said Tate.

Over the last 14 years the Pat Tillman Foundation has invested more than $24 million in scholarships for about 800 people. Twenty-one of them have been USF students.