2023 Tillman Scholar
After 9/11, Jon felt compelled to pursue a career in public service and became a TFA Corps member in Compton, Calif. He brought his kindergarten class from below basic achievement levels to exceeding grade-level proficiency. Jon’s commitment to his students went beyond the classroom, taking them on weekend field trips, coaching football, and testifying in the historic Vergara v. California court case to help improve teacher quality for the lowest-performing schools. After fighting for low-income communities for five years, he sought an even broader influence.
After seeing photos of Syrian children killed in chemical attacks by the Assad regime, Jon joined the Navy as a Special Operations Officer. He commanded a Task Unit that disposed of deadly ordnance in support of SOCOM. During his deployment to Southeast Asia, he discovered the long-standing civil war in Burma, where landmines and bombs caused immense suffering. After exiting the Navy, Jon contacted the Free Burma Rangers (FBR) and offered his expertise. Jon trekked with FBR through jungles to reach civilians fleeing military attacks by their government.
In Burma, Jon led EOD operations, provided frontline medical support, and brought aid to IDP camps populated by hundreds of thousands fleeing constant government attacks. Jon felt that every experience in his life had prepared him for this mission. Months later, Jon decided his best chance to save more lives was by learning NGO management at the Harvard Kennedy School and pursuing an advanced degree in explosive technology before returning to Burma to start his organization.