Scholars in the News: Action Tank

Tillman Scholars in the News | 10/14/2021

Each week, we share the individual accomplishments of our remarkable Tillman Scholars. This week, we have the privilege to share the strength our scholars can demonstrate when they come together for good.

Tillman Scholars Matt Miclette, Emily Balog, Chris Diaz, and Daris McInnis are all members of Action Tank, a veterans’ organization taking on challenges in neighborhoods across Philadelphia. Action Tank, which was cofounded by Diaz, has emerged as an organization that taps into the talent, spirit, and ambitions of a new generation of American veterans.

The Philadelphia Inquirer recently profiled several of the scholars working with Action Tank, focusing on the volunteer work they do and supporting nonprofits making a difference in the community. Ranging from the opioid crisis in the greater Philadelphia area to food insecurity, gun violence, and restoring Philadelphia’s tree canopy, Action Tank positions itself as an antithesis to think tanks.

Matt Miclette, 2016 Tillman Scholar

While serving at WRAMC and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Matt often received patients within five days of their initial injuries, most from Afghanistan, and witnessed up close the tragedy of war. Of the five quadruple amputee patients injured during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, three have been his patients. As debilitating as the physical injuries were, Matt learned it was the invisible injuries that were often most overlooked and particularly challenging for those in his care. So in 2013, he began the next phase of his career as a behavioral health nurse, working with patients suffering from PTSD. Now, with his Master of Public Health (MPH) and Master of Science in Social Policy (MSSP), Matt is leading clinical initiatives at NeuroFlow working with organizations such as Stop Soldier Suicide, Wounded Warrior Project, US Naval Academy, and US Air Force. Matt is also leading the implementing the evidence-based integrated behavioral health models, such as psychiatric collaborative care, into major health systems across the country. He serves as Action Tank’s executive director.

Chris Diaz, 2013 Tillman Scholar

Chris Díaz serves as deputy chief of staff and White House liaison for the Department of Veteran Affairs. Díaz is founder and former executive director of Action Tank, whose mission tackles the toughest challenges facing that community. He has sat on numerous boards in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, helping to shape the future of the region. For leading these efforts, he has received national recognition earning the South by Southwest Community Service Award, Aspen Ideas Fellowship and Pat Tillman scholarship. Díaz is a U.S. Navy Veteran.


Emily Balog, 2018 Tillman Scholar

During her six years in the Air Force and her deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Emily encountered a wide range of individuals in a variety of contexts. This afforded her the ability to confidently translate her military experiences to practical applications and prepared her for continued leadership. After the death of her mother, and being a young mom herself, Emily saw her purpose with renewed perspective. She began volunteering with veteran organizations, witnessing the challenges of older vets and the enriching relationships of older and younger veterans. Upon graduating from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia in 2007 as an occupational therapist specializing in geriatrics, she addressed barriers to meaningful participation and independence with her clients. Recently completing her Ph.D. from George Washington University in Translational Health Science, Dr. Balog is now Assistant Professor at Rutgers University in the Occupational Therapy Doctorate Program. Dr. Balog’s research in “aging in place” explores the ways in which older adults can successfully age in their homes and communities, preventing and delaying institutionalized care.  In her efforts to improve communities, she began volunteering with Action Tank in 2018 and continues to serve as Communications Director for the grassroots all veteran team.

Daris McInnis, 2020 Tillman Scholar

In 2013, Daris transitioned to work on a school turnaround in the inaugural New Orleans Education Pioneers Fellowship. Shortly after in 2014, Daris earned a teaching certification and became an early childhood teacher in Washington, D.C. Daris was also recognized for his determination to transform education and was invited to personally meet Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton as he was sworn in as an Americorps service member at the Americorps 20th Anniversary. While teaching, Daris sought ways to support students beyond the classroom. Through Daris’ challenging yet fulfilling urban classroom teaching and volunteer experience, he was compelled to embark on a new journey in education. Daris currently studies reading, writing and literacy at Penn Graduate School of Education. He employs his experience and research to support literacy programs throughout Philadelphia. Upon program completion, Daris aspires to become a professor of education and use practice and research to advocate for early literacy programs in marginalized communities.