2019 Tillman Scholar

Jeremy Van Tress

Walden University
Ph.D., Social Work

“Paralysis and respiratory failure will not deter my resolve as a social scientist to help fellow ALS patients live with purpose and joy.”

As a young 19-year-old, Jeremy put his education and collegiate running career on hold to serve in Chile for two years as a missionary. Each day, Jeremy gave meaningful service, comforted people in their pain and despair, shared faith-based messages and gained an appreciation for humanity and the goodness that comes from sacrificing his interests to benefit others.   

Those formative experiences inspired Jeremy’s decision to become a social worker and eventually commission as an officer in the United States Army. After serving honorably for six years in a special operations unit and the conventional Army, Jeremy separated from active military service to become a physician and provide medical care to vulnerable populations. During his first semester of medical school, he experienced unexplained neurological symptoms later diagnosed as Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS, a rare progressive neurodegenerative disease caused by his military service.   

Although his body continues to deteriorate, Jeremy’s motivation to serve and learn transcends his physical limitations. Now, as a doctoral student with ALS, like Stephen Hawking before him, Jeremy intends to make groundbreaking contributions to his field. He will commence a long overdue evidence-based strategy to help ALS patients cope and thrive while living with the biopsychosocial challenges associated with the disease. In addition to conducting resilience research with ALS patients, and after attaining a Ph.D. in Social Work, Jeremy plans to teach, advocate to bolster public assistance programs on behalf of ALS patients, establish a fully accessible online ALS counseling program and launch a nonprofit social research firm.