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I grew up in Washington, PA, in a poor, blue-collar family. My two grandfathers both worked in the steel mills, and I still remember how Pittsburgh’s economy was devastated when the steel mills closed. Entire neighborhoods went from middle-class to poverty. But, unlike Cleveland and Detroit, we brought in new industries and created new middle-class jobs. We should use this same model around the U.S.: invest in sustainable industries that will keep good jobs inside the United States.

Like many of us in the 12th district, the military is a family tradition. I am an Army Veteran who served in Panama and in the 82nd Airborne as a scout sniper and machine gunner. My father is a Vietnam veteran, and my daughter is currently a U.S. soldier serving in the Middle East. A lot of politicians have used veteran’s issues to pander for votes, but very little progress has been made. I promise that I will fight to fix our VA system, and ensure that our servicemembers have the support they need when they return from active duty.

After I finished my military tour, I started working in Neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh in 1996 to support my daughter Brooke. I was able to take advantage of tuition discounts to begin working part-time on a degree. It took a long time, but I eventually earned a Bachelors of Science in Neural-Psychology and Sociology. After 9/11, I learned that the Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health created a new program to train professionals in emergency management. I jumped at the chance to serve my country again, and earned a Graduate Certificate in Emergency Management and Public Health Preparedness while continuing my research full-time at Pitt.

In 2013, my scientific funding expired and I found myself without a job.  Knowing that scientific funding was not going to get better (and will only get worse under the Trump administration), I decided to pursue journalism after earning a Bachelors for Creative Non-fiction writing, mainly focusing on environmental and political issues. For my efforts I was awarded the Heinz Endowment Grant for an internship at Allegheny Front Radio. Later, I became a contributing writer for USA Today – College, and I’ve been published by National Geographic, Alpinist Magazine, and a host of other publications.

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Today, I’m a Research Associate at Carnegie Mellon University, where I study brain cell circuitry of learning and plasticity. In normal terms, I study how our brains change as we learn. Our brains form new connections (aka, “circuits”) between cells as we are exposed to new information or stimuli from the environment. Newly-created circuits change (aka, “plasticity”) as our brains collect more data.

The scientific approach I routinely use at work can be used to address important issues in our district. I want to  combine my diverse experience and knowledge to create policies that work for people and their communities. My educational background may not be in politics, but it is relevant for a congressional seat – not only for the public and government policy work that comes with it, but in the way it helps me interact with — and fight for — all of you. We have all seen where our “trained” politicians have gotten us. But, with your help, we can create real, concrete, attainable solutions that can be implemented now, and in the future, to help small communities flourish.

As a progressive candidate, I know that change is needed in D.C. We need people to get involved in the political process, and concerned citizen-candidates, like me, that are willing to take on our corrupt government. If I am elected, I plan to work with local Pennsylvania groups so that I can introduce and fight for legislation that will help our state’s communities grow and stay strong.

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Some quirky things about me I thought you may find interesting.