Jogging along a Southern California beach, Sean McCafferty came upon hundreds and hundreds of crosses, each with the name of a soldier who had been killed during wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Pausing for a moment, McCafferty focused on the name of U.S. Army Cpt. John E. Tipton – a man he had never met and did not know. McCafferty said at that moment, he felt a profound sadness for Tipton and desire to reach out to his family.
"I did not claim to know the man John Tipton, only what he symbolized to me: The ultimate acceptance of duty and consequence in his dedication to bring about positive change," said McCafferty, a graduate student in the College of Optical Sciences at the University of Arizona. "It touched me deeply."
Three years later, McCafferty established the John Tipton Scholarship for UA engineering and optical sciences students.
McCafferty said it was important to aid gifted applicants, especially motivated low-income students, interested in pursuing such high-demand fields as science and engineering.
"Engineering is a mainstay of our society, and the importance of its participants is often marginalized. It is the pillar of our progress and enables our ability to function in today’s ever more complex society," said McCafferty, an engineer by original training.
McCafferty tried finding the Tiptons to express his "gratitude and sorrow for the family’s sacrifice and loss," but had no luck tracking them down.
Ultimately, Tipton's widow, Susie Tipton, would find McCafferty.
Tipton had a habit of randomly Googling her late husband's name, sometimes finding articles and memorial site listings.
This time, she was seeking out information about his military unit when she stumbled upon a new site: the UA's John Tipton Scholarship.
"I thought it was another John. He had never been stationed there, and we had no real connection to Tucson," said Tipton, who currently lives just outside of St. Louis, Ill.
The closest connection would have been the time that John Tipton had laser eye surgery in Phoenix, said Tipton, who is working to establish a fund in her husband's name.
Learning that no solid connection existed, Tipton said the scholarship is a touching memorial for a man she described as being a gentleman, loyal and devoted and wholly deserving of the honor.
Cpt. Tipton, who was killed in 2004 during combat operations in Iraq, was buried in Collinsville IL. In addition to the Purple Heart, Tipton received the Army Commendation Medal and Valorous Unit award.
"He was always a gentleman – held the door, was very courteous and really nice," said Tipton, adding that the two met and fell in love while attending Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and wed in 1996.
The two have two children: a daughter, Kaitlyn, who is 9 years old now, and Austin, now 11. Tipton said her husband, who came from a military family, enlisted in the military prior to college.
"I think being enlisted made him a better officer because he knew what it was like," she said.
"When he died, the soldiers stationed with him would tell me what a great man he was, which I already knew," Tipton said.
"But his peers aspired to be the type of person he was," she added. "He was just the type of person who always did the right thing, even if it wasn't always the popular thing to do."
But McCafferty did not know anything about Cpt. Tipton when he established the scholarship.
He only knew that on that Thanksgiving Day in 2005, seeing the memorial and Tipton's name drove him into action.
The scholarship for students in each college is funded at more than $30,000 annually with 44 UA College of Optical Sciences and College of Engineering students having been funded since 2008. Qualified students must have received a 3.4 grade point average or higher as high school students and, at the UA, must maintain at least a 3.0.
By their dedication to the advancement and application of science, they demonstrate that they are making a positive change in their communities, their nation and the world, just as Tipton did, McCafferty said.
“I'm happy to give and I felt it was something I needed to do," he said. "John Tipton was a befitting inspiration and deserved of the honor."