Evan Turner, a student in the Online Military and Veterans Counseling program at William & Mary, has been named a 2023 Tillman Scholar.
By Kimberly Richards-Thomas, W&M School of Education
In recognition of academic excellence and commitment to community service, Evan Turner M.Ed. ’25, a student in the Online Military and Veterans Counseling program at William & Mary, has been named a 2023 Tillman Scholar. Out of thousands of applicants nationwide and across all disciplines, Turner is among the group of only 60 scholars chosen for this prestigious honor.
Turner’s selection as a Tillman Scholar is a testament to her exceptional achievements and dedication to making a positive impact on those around her. With a background that includes leadership development coaching, consulting with U.S. law enforcement agencies, and volunteering as an educator within the prison system, Turner’s journey has been driven by a passion for supporting others and effecting meaningful change.
Having experienced the influence of military service firsthand as the granddaughter of a Naval master chief and the wife of a veteran, Turner felt a deep calling to directly support the military community. This led her to pursue a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling with a specialty in serving military and veteran communities. Her drive to become a professional counselor in this area stems in part from overcoming painful childhood experiences without the help and support she needed.
“I came from a chaotic family system and didn’t have a tangible way to deal with that, or a safe adult in my life other than my grandfather,” she elaborated. “He was distant and tough as nails, but also consistent, kind, and a man of principle.” When Turner ran away from home at age 16, her grandfather was her greatest advocate. The qualities he embodied and the support he provided were her first impression of the impact of military service.
When she became her grandfather’s primary caretaker during the last year of his life, she realized his service had come with a cost.
“He would wake up shaking and had terrible nightmares. I saw that he had unresolved trauma and had managed it on his own for 96 years.”
Meeting her husband and getting to know other military veterans and their families further taught Turner about challenges specific to this population. They have to be extraordinarily adaptable and ready for constant change, often without a support network, she explained. Additionally, the shift from military to civilian life is a significant and complex transition that she feels drawn to support as a counselor.
As a Tillman Scholar, Truner will have access to a network of like-minded individuals who are committed to service, scholarship, and leadership. The Tillman Scholars program, established in memory of Pat Tillman, a professional football player who gave up his NFL career to serve in the military and ultimately lost his life in Afghanistan, provides financial support, mentorship, and professional development opportunities to exceptional individuals who embody Tillman’s legacy of leading with integrity.
“Evan is an incredible representative of our William & Mary community, and I am so incredibly excited for her to be recognized in this way,” says Elizabeth Burgin, assistant professor and coordinator of the military and veterans counseling program in the School of Education. “Her dedication to supporting the military community and promoting mental health wellness is an inspiration.”
Turner’s commitment to global peace-building was ignited during her participation in a peace education training in Rwanda, hosted by Aegis Trust — an international organization dedicated to preventing genocide and mass atrocities — and facilitated by faculty members in the School of Education’s Counseling Programs. On this trip, Turner connected with both Elizabeth Burgin and Kord Basnight ’85, M.Ed. ’23, a 2022 Tillman Scholar.
“They both have a gravity about them, and they exude the quality of humble leadership. When I had the opportunity to apply for a Tillman Scholarship, they were both on my mind.” At the annual Tillman Leadership Institute this July, Turner found out that Basnight will be her mentor.
Turner continues to actively collaborate with Aegis Trust to spread the message of hope and reconciliation worldwide. Her experience in Rwanda had a profound effect on her and deepened her passion for fostering reconciliation and seeking solutions for polarized communities, both in the United States and abroad. In January 2024, with the skills gained at the Tillman leadership summit, the connections to other Tillman scholars, and the support of her School of Education mentors, she will return to Rwanda to research a documentary film on the forgiveness and peacebuilding efforts happening there in response to the genocide of 1994.
“The people we met in Rwanda desire peace to be their number one export, and they have some very important lessons to share with the world during a time of great division,” said Turner. She is proud to be part of helping them meet that desire as a 2023 Tillman Scholar.