Skip to main content

Remembering an Exceptional Alumna

The 2015 Friends of Penn Nursing campaign was dedicated in memory of an inspirational alumna, Colonel Sophia Tillman-Ortiz, GNu’97. These efforts coupled with the Ortiz family’s generosity enabled the School to formally create a new scholarship in her name. 

Over nearly three decades, the Friends of Penn Nursing Scholarship campaign has fortified a legacy of increasing access to the School for any and every qualified student who wants to make a difference in the world. But this year’s campaign had a special focus in addition to increasing aid for the scholarships Friends already supports. Efforts in late 2015 were dedicated in memory of an exceptional alumna, Colonel Sophia Tillman-Ortiz, GNu’97. 

Colonel Tillman-Ortiz, or “Sophie” to her family and friends, was a member of the United States Army and 1997 graduate of Penn Nursing’s master’s program. She was a proud American solider, a compassionate and capable medical professional, an inspirational leader, and an exceptional mentor for countless members of the nursing community. Even after being diagnosed with colon cancer, Col. Tillman-Ortiz continued to deliver care and mentor other nurses, working up until two weeks before her passing in June 2015. Remaining positive and energetic throughout, she revealed her cancer diagnosis only to senior hospital leadership, not wanting special treatment from her colleagues. 

She was truly an extraordinary nurse who have everything to her patients, her loved ones and her country. Col. Tillman-Ortiz left behind her husband, Colonel Orlando Ortiz, two children, and countless family, friends and patients who had been touched by her love, commitment and generosity. In addition, she left behind a legacy of service to her nation, her patients and her colleagues. 

“Sophie was a very humble person, who lived her life putting others’ needs before her own,” said Colonel Ortiz. “But she was very proud of being a nurse, and more specifically, being a Penn Nurse. That pride was palpable.” 

After his wife’s passing, Colonel Ortiz felt the most fitting way to honor her life was to support the next generation of nursing leaders. Col. Ortiz made a remarkable pledge to help establish a scholarship in his wife’s name to help under-represented minorities in need to pursue their Master’s degrees at Penn Nursing. Coupled with the efforts of the larger Friends of Penn Nursing community, the School was able to formally create the Colonel Sophia Tillman-Ortiz Memorial Friends of Penn Nursing Scholarship. 

“In the process of having the opportunity to raise money for a scholarship honoring Colonel Tillman-Ortiz for this year’s Friends of Penn Nursing campaign, we learned even more about her unsurpassed courage and determination in the face of remarkable adversity,” said Friends Campaign Co-Chair Renata Whitaker. Fellow Co-Chair Marie Savard echoed this sentiment. “This provided a tremendous opportunity for Penn Nursing, and a privilege to be a part of what turned out to be a very successful endeavor.” 

Maintaining financial access through scholarships is critical to continue to gains Penn Nursing has made in growing and diversifying our student pool, which helps ensure we are educating nurses who are reflective of our diverse population. It is a perfect tribute to the life of Col. Tillman-Ortiz to be able to commemorate her life through such a scholarship, which will impact the lives of countless students and their future patients. 

“Serving as a mentor and support to others was very important to Sophie, and our family sees this scholarship as continuing that legacy,” said Colonel Ortiz. “We hope this scholarship helps build a pipeline of diverse nursing leaders who are equipped to meet the needs of today’s society.”