Pat Tillman Foundation selects two University of Minnesota students as 2019 Tillman Scholars

Kirk Butler and Bridget Gehrz

Two University of Minnesota School of Nursing students passionate about making positive contributions to society in healthcare have been named Tillman Scholars for the class of 2019 by the Pat Tillman Foundation (PTF). 

Army veteran Kirk Butler and military spouse Bridget Gehrz are among the 60 elite, national recipients selected this year in the 11th class of Tillman Scholars. In recognition of their service, leadership and potential, the newly selected class will collectively receive more than $1.2 million in scholarship funding from PTF to pursue higher education and continue their service in their fields of study.

Butler, from Sikeston, Mo., is applying his education and military experience to become a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) with the goal of addressing chronic pain issues faced by the veteran community. Butler joined the Army after the attacks of Sept. 11 and found leadership roles while stationed at Tripler Medical Hospital and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, advocating for the health of soldiers, particularly those returning from deployments.

“Veterans are a unique population who have a significantly higher probability of developing substance abuse disorders,” said Butler. “Working with scholars from varied backgrounds including health policy through the Tillman Foundation, I hope to find a way to reduce unnecessary opioid prescriptions after surgery as at least one avenue for lessening potential addition.”

Gehrz, Woodbury, Minn., is focused on Integrative Health and Healing within her Doctor of Nursing Practice studies and hopes to help survivors of trauma and loss by taking a whole-person approach to healing that balances a healthy lifestyle and professional services. Gehrz, who lost her husband — a Navy veteran who died by suicide after suffering from a post-traumatic stress disorder — has found a passion in working to help others after experiencing her own loss. 

“I am completely humbled to have been chosen as one of 60 Tillman Scholars,” said Gehrz. “The nursing profession is a serving profession and I was drawn to the story of Pat Tillman, his selflessness to give up a life he had planned for one of service and sacrifice to our country. I feel confident this scholarship and the opportunities that come with it along — with the resources available to me at the University of Minnesota — will help me develop a clear path to be a role model for Integrative Nursing in a healthcare system that moves us into the future.” 

“Tillman Scholars are uniquely positioned to make an impact with effects that will ripple across communities and around the world,” said Marie Tillman, Board Chair and Co-Founder of PTF. “We are proud and excited to announce the 2019 class, and are looking forward to seeing how this incredible group of people makes their mark in the years to come.” 

Since the Tillman Scholars program began in 2008, 13 University of Minnesota students, including four from the School of Nursing, have received this award. 


About the Tillman Scholars Program
Founded in 2008, the Tillman Scholars program provides financial support for undergraduate and graduate students who are veterans or active duty military service members in any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, and for spouses or surviving spouses of veterans and active service members. PTF provides academic scholarships, a national network and professional development opportunities, so Tillman Scholars are empowered to make an impact at home and around the world. For more information on the Pat Tillman Foundation and the impact of the Tillman Scholars, visit

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