Arts & Sciences
Hear about some of the experiences of your fellow Drexel students about their experiences applying for and undertaking fellowships.
Prestigious Fellowship to Support PhD Student in Taking on Cancer
Originally published by Drexel's Graduate College
February 23, 2017
Fourth year PhD student Eva Karasmanis’ fascination with cell biology began as soon as she started studying the subject, and eventually inspired her decision to join Drexel’s biology program and the Spiliotis Lab.
Armed with the faculty mentorship and state-of-the-art lab space to match her passion and knowledge within the field, Karasmanis recently earned the National Institute for Health’s Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award, a prestigious fellowship supported by the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
“The fellowship program supports promising researchers at the beginning stages of their careers, building a diverse and highly-trained pool of scientific experts to address critical health-related research needs,” said Meredith Wooten, PhD, director of the Center for Scholar Development. “Eva’s fellowship falls under the umbrella of the NCI, which funded less than one third of all applications it reviewed.”
With the fellowship in hand, Karasmanis' research project exploring “the role of septins in cytokinetic abscission” will be funded by the nation’s primary government agency for cancer research and training.
The task is as complex as it sounds. Karasmanis is working to uncover how cells function, an endeavor vital to better understanding and treating cancer, infectious and neurodegenerative diseases.
“Discoveries in cell biology have revolutionized our approach to medicine,” she described. “Not unlike the laws of physics, cells abide to a set of rules, whether they reside in a dish or within an organism.”
For instance, to prevent the development of cancer, “cells have in place cell division checkpoints,” Karasmanis explained. “My research aims to understand how septins function in the last step and checkpoint of cell division, and therefore will shed new insights into the cause of cancer and how septins can be targeted for cancer therapies.”
According to Karasmanis’ faculty advisor, Elias Spiliotis, PhD, associate professor of biology and director of Drexel’s Cell Imaging Center, their research focuses on septins, a complex family of proteins, because they function as the “chief architects, directing molecular and cellular asymmetry by positioning certain proteins in the right places at the right time.”
In addition to Karasmanis’ research plan and productivity fitting seamlessly with the mission of the NCI, the access she has to advanced facilities such as the Cell Imaging Center, mentorship from Spiliotis, and collaborations with other prominent researchers, were also key to being competitive for the national award.
In fact, though these types of funding opportunities are rare, Karasmanis is the second student Spiliotis has supported in receiving the honor. Another esteemed student, Lee Dolat, who is now a post-doctoral scholar at Duke University, received the same fellowship in 2014.
In describing the unique culture of the Spiliotis Lab, Karasmanis said, “I was particularly drawn to the lab because of their mechanistic ‘looking under the cell’s hood’ approach and their commitment to understanding the molecular and cellular cause of diseases.”
The three-year fellowship supports Karasmanis in learning novel research techniques, exploring new cancer therapies, and ultimately prepares her for a career focused on cancer research. It also empowers her in contributing to important conferences and workshops, and in connecting with leaders within the field.
“Receiving the National Research Service Award fellowship is an impressive achievement and provides national recognition of Eva’s potential as a researcher and the importance of her project,” Wooten said.
Already equipped with “the tools for a very successful and fun graduate school experience,” Karasmanis is now taking her knowledge and research to the next level.
“This fellowship is an excellent step for a long-term career in advancing our understanding of cell biology in health and disease,” she said.
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Diving Deep: Two Honors College students receive prestigious NOAA scholarship
Originally published in the PHC Magazine, Fall/Winter 2016
By Erica Levi Zelinger, Associate Director of Communication, Pennoni Honors College
Nicholas Barber and Vincent O’Leary are the first two Drexel students to receive the Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Nick and Vince are among 125 students from across the country to receive the 2016 award, and are natural fits for the Hollings program, which provides top undergraduates with hands-on training and professional development opportunities in oceanic and atmospheric sciences.
How does a sophomore geoscience major and Honors student with a pile of raw data end up giving an oral presentation to 60 PhDs in sedimentology and coastal geology? On a lark.
The now-junior wasn’t sure which box to tick when he applied to present research at his first conference. Poster, oral, or both? He thought he’d increase his chances if he chose both, but he panicked when he was actually selected to present at the annual conference for the Northeast section of the Geology Society of America.
“That story is indicative of how unplanned the turns in my research have been thus far,” Nick says.
Nick began his research at Drexel through the Office of Undergraduate Research’s STAR Scholars Program. He analyzed rates of sea level rise and sediment transport mechanics along barrier islands in the Delaware Bay.
He quickly became a poster boy for the Pennoni Office of Undergraduate Research, presenting at the Colonial Academic Alliance and challenging himself to build upon his STAR research in the SuperNova Undergraduate Research Fellows Program. As the president of Undergraduate Research Leaders, Nick also touts the benefits of doing research to other students.
“Nick has a remarkably good attitude about having to adapt his research focus as not one, but two of his research mentors left Drexel to take positions at other universities,” says Dr. Meredith Wooten, director of the Fellowships Office. “He has been able to adapt and reorient himself easily, quickly proving himself to be an asset in each new lab and project he joins.”
In 2015 while studying abroad in Sydney, Australia, Nick received an email from the Fellowships Office that he qualified to apply for the Goldwater Scholarship, recognizing top undergrads in STEM fields.
“I had never heard of it so I looked it up — and I like applying for things,” Nick says jokingly. When he returned to the U.S., he immediately began meeting with Dr. Wooten, to discuss the application process. She pointed out he might also qualify for the Hollings Scholarship from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
“Throughout the process, Nick showed himself to be exceptionally bright and intellectually curious, two traits that will enable him to be a successful researcher and to make real contributions in his chosen field,” Wooten says.
Receiving the Goldwater provides Nick the prestige and reputation it carries as a signal of academic excellence and postgraduate success. Nick can receive up to two years of educational support from both the Goldwater and the Hollings. As one of the 125 students chosen to receive the Hollings Scholarship from NOAA, Nick is actively looking for a NOAA mentor for an integrated coop and internship doing sea floor mapping or volcanic ash monitoring in Seattle, Portland, or Anchorage.
When he returns, Nick plans to apply for additional fellowships during his senior year so he can research volcanology in Indonesia, with the ultimate goal of getting a PhD in petrology and then a research position in academia or government.
“I’m leaving myself open to every opportunity – whatever pops up,” he says positively.
In his memoir “Rocket Boys” about growing up in a West Virginia coal-mining town and aspiring to be a rocket scientist, author Homer Hickam wrote, “A rocket won’t fly unless somebody lights the fuse.”
For Vincent O’Leary, environmental science ’18, Honors, reading Hickam’s book was his fuse. “Rocket Boys” propelled Vince to do research, and inspired him to attend Drexel and to apply for and receive the Hollings Scholarship.
Like Hickam, Vince grew up in a small town in West Virginia, but with an interest in studying freshwater ecology and conservation.
His undergraduate research career began long before Vince was an undergrad. He worked with Dr. Zachary Loughman of West Liberty University in West Virginia for all four years of high school, and even participated in the International Science and Engineering Fair and the Science Talent Search, where Vince presented his research to President Obama.
“After all of these competitions and travels, I knew that I wanted to continue doing science, but I also wanted to make sure I could communicate the research and talk to others about my work, “ Vince says.
Once at Drexel, Vince adds, it took some coaxing on the part of the Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) to apply to present his research at conferences; Vince never felt like his research was complete. But in 2016, he made it his goal to present his research monthly.
“Vince is such an engaging person and is clearly committed to research and his own work, in particular, that I had a hard time understanding why he was so hesitant about putting himself out there,” says Jaya Mohan, associate director of the OUR.
Once he got going, though, he had a busy few months. OUR funding allowed Vince to present his co-op research from the Academy of National Sciences at the Harvard National Collegiate Research Conference (NCRC), the Stanford Undergraduate Research Conference, and the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in Asheville, N.C.
He also presented at the OUR’s Nerd Night and the Office of Global Engagement and Education Abroad Global Challenges Conference on sustainability about the community-based learning course that he and Dr. Ted Daeschler of the Academy of Natural Sciences developed to get students thinking about walking trails along the river and how to use them as educational opportunities. Vince, engineering professor Peter DeCarlo, and staff at UPenn and Bartram’s Garden just received a grant from the ExCITe Center to develop an app-based tour of the Lower Schuylkill River.
“The most important part of these conferences has been meeting other students and sharing my work with them,” Vince says. “For me, science is only useful if you can collaborate with others, and these conferences were a great chance to do that.”
Pennoni Honors College, Vince adds, has played a huge role in his time at Drexel in ways he never expected. As a STAR Scholar with OUR, Vince learned to use computer simulations to determine how crayfish will move in response to climate change. The active Honors student has taken full advantage of colloquia and one-credit offerings to provide breadth to his environmental sciences major. From an Honors Great Books course on Darwin’s The Origin of Species to a course taught by guest professor Dr. Bernard Amadei, the director of Engineers Without Borders, “Honors has given me the chance to take classes alongside engineers and artists, instead of just students in my major. I think the Honors College’s interdisciplinary nature really helps me think about my own studies in a new way.”
In his sophomore year, Vince began working for the Pennoni Fellowships Office because he thought it would be a good opportunity to learn more about the work they do – and to network with students and faculty in the College.
“I saw the work other students were doing to be successful, and I was lucky to be involved in reviewing anonymous applications and listening to advice,” Vince says. “These experiences all helped me to be successful when I did apply, but most importantly showed me not to give up.”
Without seeing the work fellowship applicants put in — and sometimes the rejections they receive — Vince says, it may have been a lot harder to keep applying for fellowships when he was turned down for an Udall Scholarship last winter. But he’s grateful to be a recipient of the Hollings Scholarship, and looks forward to working with a NOAA team on using predictive modeling to understand and communicate changes in our ocean and climate systems. When he graduates, Vince plans to pursue a PhD combining environmental science and mathematics; he’d like to apply his knowledge from projects at the Academy of Natural Sciences to understand the world around us using computer modeling and big data.
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Fusion Fanatic: An Honors grad on the forefront of nuclear fusion research
Originally published in the PHC Magazine, Fall/Winter 2016
By Erica Levi Zelinger, Associate Director of Communication, Pennoni Honors College
The 2015 Honors Program graduate listened attentively as the Director of the U.S. ITER Project Office talked about the biggest challenges facing the development of fusion energy. As the speaker moved through the presentation, Matthew’s eyes zeroed in on a slide depicting current efforts in fusion research. His research.
“I had never intended for anyone other than my boss to have a copy of it,” the physics grad says. “Apparently, despite its crudeness, it was a significant enough result to make its way into that presentation.”
Matthew was flattered. Even though that bit of data was just a small step in his work with fusion, the “holy grail of alternative energy,” the then-computational physicist at Princeton’s Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) was pleased his hard work was paying off. And the payoff continued this summer when Matthew packed up in Princeton to move to Aix-en Provence, France on a Fulbright U.S. Student grant to do research at ITER, one of the most ambitious energy projects in the world.
Matthew, determined to do research at ITER, spent hours working with the Fellowships Office on award applications. In his third year, he received a Goldwater Scholarship Honorable Mention. Before the start of his fourth year, the highly resourceful and hardworking student applied for Fulbright the first time, and even in the face of rejection, says Meredith Wooten, director of the Fellowships Office, he maintained a mature and positive outlook.
“Matt is such a driven and talented young man, and I know how much this opportunity means for him,” says Wooten. “He has demonstrated incredible diligence, humility, thoughtfulness, and care in preparing for this experience.”
Matthew first encountered fusion as a sixth grade Boy Scout working on the Nuclear Science Merit Badge. But it wasn’t until his second coop at PPPL that his hands-on experience solidified his interest in fusion research.
To create a fusion reaction, Matthew explains, hydrogen is heated up to about 100 million degrees Celsius, 10 times the temperature of the sun’s core. At these temperatures, negatively charged electrons are stripped away from the positively charged nuclei that they were bound to, creating a new state of matter — a plasma. In hot plasma, the positively charged hydrogen nuclei collide and “fuse” together, forming helium and releasing energy in the process.
The challenge, he adds, is to create plasma that is very hot and dense and hold it in place long enough for it to produce a lot of energy. Since the magnetic fields used to hold the plasma aren’t perfect, it sometimes escapes, slamming into the reactor walls and cooling back down to a gas. Matthew’s job is to come up with statistical models to predict when this might happen, so the plasma can be controlled and the fusion reaction can last longer.
When he returns from his year abroad, Matthew will start his PhD in the Department of Nuclear, Plasma and Radiological Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“If nuclear fusion becomes commercially viable, there is no question that it would revolutionize the world,” Matthew says. “Nobody has come across a perfect design for a fusion reactor, but my research will go a long way toward helping our current best candidate operate for long periods at a time.”
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Updates from the field: Matthew Parsons
Published November 2015
While he was completing his final co-op at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab this summer, Matthew Parsons (Physics ’15, Honors) was also busy presenting research, attending professional meetings, and even applying for a Fulbright U.S. Student Grant. According to Matt, this is all part of becoming an active member of the scientific community. Check out his updates below:
When I started college I had a strong idea of what I wanted to accomplish with my career (pursuing fusion research), but I had no idea of how to get there. As I became more engaged with the physics community, I got to hear about the plethora of ways in which people have evolved their careers around a passion for science. These interactions with people in my community have really helped me to narrow down a path for my career, and it’s one that I’m very excited about!
I strongly believe that as a scientist, the involvement I have in my scientific community is just as important as the quality of the science that I am doing. As I see it, that includes everything from supporting STEM education and science policy to presenting at conferences and getting to know others in the field.
At the end of the day I want my work to be about helping people. When I’m tutoring teens in math and science, it’s to help them achieve in school. When I’m reviewing articles for Physics & Society, it’s to help physicists stay connected to how their work is applied. When I’m doing public outreach, it’s to help people see how wonderful science is and how it affects their daily lives. When I’m doing research, it’s toward supporting a healthy planet that can sustain our existence.
Here are some highlights of what I’ve been up to in the physics community over the summer, where there’s always something exciting to be a part of!
August 11, 2015
After about 4 years and a $100 million upgrade, the National Spherical Torus Experiment - Upgrade (NSTX-U) created its First Plasma! Yesterday I hung out in the control room all day just so I could be around for it. Even with attempts once every fifteen minutes starting from 9 am, it still took until almost 5 pm before they got it. Today they will be trying to generate plasmas that are hotter and last longer, but then regular experiments won't begin until mid-September. This week we will also have the annual summer student poster session, so I'll get to present on the machine learning / plasma disruption project that I've been developing.
July 30, 2015 – American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) Conference
The conference went really well! On Sunday night I presented a poster on the undergraduate physics research project that I am leading at Drexel with funding from the Society of Physics Students national organization. A lot of the SPS National staff were actually in attendance; they were excited to see our progress since we presented at the APS April meeting, and they are looking forward to our results after we fly our weather balloon.
On Monday there was a small SPS reception where I actually ran into a fellow Drexel student who is interning for the American Institute of Physics down in that area, met someone who just got back from a Fulbright in Luxembourg, and ran into another student who I had met at another APS conference last October. It's a small world after all!
Yesterday I gave a poster and talk on the Computational Physics offerings of our department, “The Importance of Computational Physics Education: An Undergraduate Perspective.” The poster session went incredibly well and I had some really great conversations with faculty from other schools on the topic of incorporating more formal computational physics work into their curricula. A few people even asked for copies of my poster to share with their departments!
This week I also submitted a poster draft for Start Talking Science, which is a public outreach event organized by one of the new physics faculty here (Christina Love), so that event in September is the next on my calendar.
July 16, 2015
I think this week has been very productive in clarifying my research plans for the near future. We just concluded hosting a workshop on plasma disruptions (the phenomenon that I'm studying) and it was very informative. Yesterday I joined a physicist from ITER for lunch and we discussed both of our present research pursuits and how they could align next year for a possible Fulbright in France. There was also a presentation from a senior scientist at MIT on their near-term research pursuits in this area, and what I am proposing for GRFP will fit in very nicely with their plans.
I also had the opportunity to reconnect with the director of the US ITER Program and update him on my current pursuits here at PPPL and with regard to my Fulbright application. The Director of Research in the DOE Office of Fusion Energy Sciences also introduced himself to me... Pretty exciting!
A community only thrives when its constituents are actively participating in it. Creating a network of support between my peers, colleagues, and fellow scientists helps to grow a community that works harder, better, faster, stronger together. Through the variety of activities that I participate in, that's what I'm trying to accomplish.
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Video Interview with 2013-14 Boren Scholar Kailey Kluge
Kailey Kluge (BS International Area Studies '15, Honors) received the prestigious Boren Scholarship for study in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Kailey has been studying Russian since her first term at Drexel and is planning to spend the entire academic year 2013-14 in Russia: two semesters at the language intensive CIEE St. Petersburg program followed by a co-op at an NGO or international exchange organization in Moscow.
We interviewed Kailey before she left to talk to her about her experience applying for the Boren.
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Elliott Chiu Shares Udall Experience
I traveled to Tucson, Arizona from August 8th to August 12th in order to attend the 14thannual Udall Foundation Scholarship Orientation. Over a span of 4 days, 81 students from different universities gathered to discuss the environmental problems we face today. Sophomores and juniors studying anything from chemical engineering to environmental science, community planning to Native American health tackled real cases of environmental injustice, working together to formulate plans in order to mitigate the effects of human impact on the environment.
We met with leaders of industries such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, as well as members of the Udall family. Together, the scholars, foundation members, and industry leaders assembled to understand the complexities of environmental issues. While the formal take home message of the orientation was a simulation of a hearing on the important issues of hydroelectric power dam removal and impact, the most important thing that I took from the orientation was the ideas that were passed from one scholar to the next. True to the Foundation’s namesake, the students chosen for the award have demonstrated their drive to respond to the urgency of many environmental issues, representing the values exhibited by Morris and Stuart Udall.
In their home universities, these students have taken it upon themselves to better their schools, communities, and themselves. From organizing annual recycling programs, which gross over $200,000 and recycle materials from student housing after the year has ended to running their own organic farm and restaurants. Some scholars are working on building houses out of sustainable materials while other scholars are traveling across the world to aide in conservation efforts of endangered species. Through my experiences, I will never forget what I learned from the other scholars and I intend to bring these lessons back to Drexel’s campus.
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The Udall Scholarship awards 50 scholarships of up to $5000 and 50 honorable mentions to sophomore and junior level college students committed to careers related to the environment, tribal public policy, or Native American health care. The Udall Foundation seeks future leaders across a wide spectrum of environmental fields, including policy, engineering, science, education, urban planning and renewal, business, health, justice, and economics. Find out more about the Udall Scholarship here.
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Alumnus and Fulbright Scholar Dan Tedesco Chosen to Speak at High-Level Conference on People-to-People Exchange
Daniel Tedesco, IAS ’11 and current Fulbright Student Grantee to China, was selected by the US Embassy in Beijing to give a brief talk (in Mandarin) at this week’s High-Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange in Beijing. Hillary Clinton, Liu Yandong (the highest-ranking woman in China’s government), and about 250 other high-level delegates from China and the US were at the plenary session audience. The embassy chose two students to talk about mutual understanding and the value of people-to-people exchange — one American to speak in Chinese and one Chinese student to speak in English.
For video and photos of the speech check out this blog at http://tedescodaniel.blogspot.com/.
Dan is spending his Fulbright year studying the Student Village Officials program, China’s system for youth leadership development. He is also the President of Global China Connection. You can read occasional posts from Dan about his time in China on his blog.
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Video: Phil and Liza Talk about Truman Application
Phillip Tomezsko (Biomedical Engineering, BS, '12) was a Truman Scholarship finalist in 2011.
Liza Rubin (Psychology, ’13) was Drexel’s Truman nominee in 2012. In this interview, they talk about their application experiences and what they learned in the process.
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Video Interview with Fulbright Finalist Borana Hajdinaj
Borana (Criminal Justice and Sociology, BS/BA ’12) talks about her experiences applying for a Fulbright to Albania, her home country.
She had proposed to work with the Gender Alliance for Development Center in Tirana to produce a bilingual book that tells first-person narratives of the experience of women in Albania.
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Video Interview with 2012-13 Boren Scholar Colby Hepner
Colby Hepner (International Area Studies, BA, ’13) received the prestigious Boren Scholarship that allows him to spend the entire academic year 2012-13 in South Korea. Colby will be studying Korean language and international business at Hanyang University for five months. His studies will be followed by a 6-month coop at a Korean based company.
We interviewed Colby before he left to talk to him about his experience applying for the Boren. Check out the video here:
Also take a look at the blog he is keeping while in S. Korea.
The Boren Awards, established by the National Security Education Program (NSEP), are designed to build a broader and more qualified pool of U.S. citizens with foreign language and international skills. Established by Congress in 1991, the Boren Awards provide funding for U.S. undergraduate and graduate students to study the languages and cultures of Africa, Asia, Central & Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Latin America, and the Middle East. Find out more about the Boren Awards on the Fellowships Office Boren page.
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Drexel Fulbrighter Caitlin Costello (BA International Area Studies '10) in Senegal
My research has been coming along well. As different organizations and companies are starting to commercialize local rice, I see how it is important to do research on consumer preferences and marketing so that local rice can be successful. With the help of my supervisor at AfricaRice, we designed a project that will compare different types of rice labels- ones in Wolof that emphasize Senegalese culture vs. ones in French that emphasize international aspects. After designing the labels we are having a women’s group (that sells rice) choose the labels that we will test. Then we are going to start testing the labels in the markets in Saint-Louis and in Dakar through a choice test using an endow-and-upgrade method.
In other news, Senegal has been pretty preoccupied with the recent elections. In the weeks leading up to the election there were daily protests and at least six people were killed throughout the country. It has been a very controversial election because the president is running for a third term. The constitution limits presidents to two terms, however the president argues that this does not apply to him because he the constitution was changed after he was elected. The president did not get the absolute majority he had hoped for so now he will be facing an opposition candidate in a run off election. Here is some more information if you are interested.
In addition to my research, I’ve kept myself with other activities and trips, including attending a friend’s wedding in Tambacounda (southeastern Senegal), going to the annual Mouride brotherhood pilgrimage in the city of Touba, attending a conference on democracy and civic duty, hosted by the Senegalese Alumni Association, and visiting a bird sanctuary outside of Saint-Louis. My host organization recently started soccer games among the personnel, so I joined in for the first game of the season. I was the only woman who participated (maybe I can convince some of the others next time).
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Psych PhD Student & Nonprofit Co-Founder Honored at SXSW
Original published by Drexel's College of Arts and Sciences
April 4, 2018
Chris Diaz, PhD student in clinical psychology, received the 2018 SXSW Community Service Award at the annual gathering of techies and creators known as South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. Diaz, a Navy veteran and Pat Tilman Scholar, is the executive director and co-founder of Action Tank, a nonprofit organization of service-minded veterans focused on improving their community after their time in uniform.
Six individuals from organizations around the country were honored at the event. Each was presented with a financial grant to help further their goals.
“It’s a privilege to be here, in Austin, Texas, recognized for the work we’ve done as a collective group over the last year,” Diaz said in his acceptance speech. “Part of me is honored to be here and to help spread the word that veterans are civic assets and an integral part of our community, even after wearing the uniform. Part of me is also humbled because we, Action Tank, believe there is still so much work to be done.”
Action Tank was formed in 2016 when a group of Philadelphia-area veterans gathered for a meal on Veterans Day. They knew that the growth and resilience learned from their days in the military could be leveraged for the benefit of the community — but they weren’t quite sure how, at first.
Knowing that Philadelphia, like many U.S. cities, has been heavily impacted by the opioid crisis, the group decided to set its intention on supporting those impacted, as well as those dedicating their daily lives to addressing the issue. In 2017, Action Tank members volunteered at drug and addiction clinics, cleaned up needles at local parks, and introduced legislation to help reduce overdoses and, ultimately, save lives.
Every year, the members of Action Tank will focus on a new issue in the community.
In 2018, the group is focused on food safety and insecurity; they are currently working to form relationships with key partners — those who need support and those who can help educate the community-at-large on the issue.
“We each served our country because we felt a calling,” Diaz says. “Now that we’re veterans and living in our community, that calling hasn’t subsided. This is our way to continue to serve. We hope that we can inspire other veterans to do the same in their communities, and even reach out to collaborate and open their own ‘Action Tank’ chapters around the country.”
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