Our Team

Merlin Directors

Marisa Diaz-Waian

Founder/Director & Community Philosopher

About Marisa

Marisa Diaz-Waian is community philosopher, educator and Founder & Director of Merlin CCC.  A “generalist” by nature, training, and practice, she has an M.A. in Philosophy from San Diego State University (Summa Cum Laude), serves on the board & education committee for The Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization, and is a speaker for Humanities Montana

She is also an NEH scholar, has philosophical practitioner credentials in Logic-Based Therapy, is a volunteer for the U.S. LBT Institute of Critical Thinking & the National Philosophical Counseling Association, a published author and co-author of numerous scholarly works, and an (occasional) Adjunct Philosophy Instructor at Carroll College in Helena, MT.  

Born in Santa Monica, CA, Marisa was a high school & collegiate scholar-athlete.  She spent the majority of her formative years along the coastlines of Southern & Northern California, exploring tidepools, playing basketball and volleyball, body surfing, and getting into good-hearted mischief.  As she grew older, Ennis, Bozeman & Helena, MT became regular stomping grounds.  Her summers were frequently spent fly fishing, bird watching & “wandering into the great wide open” with her late father (and buddy), Lee. B. Waian.  

“The first person to introduce me to philosophy was my poppa.  We would spend hours talking shop — holding ideas up against the light of reason, taking them apart & putting them back together again…having fun exploring the terrain. But it was more than just that.  My father was a man who put his (& others’) ideas to the test…who walked the walk….and who showed me (by virtue of who he was) that thought & action (must)  go hand-in-hand…That talk (thought, feeling) is not enough…we must also strive to do & be.  Over the years, the philosophy-seeds that he & countless others in my life have helped to sow & nurture, took shape…ultimately resulting in the formation of Merlin CCC.  I am grateful and elated to be part of such an amazing process…and feel passionately about the power of philosophy to transform & inspire in each of us…grace, humility, beauty & strength.” — Marisa

An active member of the Helena community, Marisa lives off-grid and happily “hangs her hat” at Merlin Nature Preserve, where she serves as its resident-steward.

Marisa has a special interest in ethics & ancient philosophy, as well as existentialism, humor, and “fuzzy” things at the intersection of philosophy and psychology.  (She also really loves wolves, the ocean, art, jazz, basketball, dancing, laughing, reggae, and doing things outside of the box).  

Her work focuses on philosophy in the community, across all ages and backgrounds, and frequently involves an interdisciplinary, environmental, and intergenerational bent.

Marisa can be reached at [email protected] or via phone at #406-439-5788 (Cell) or #406-502-2122 (Office).

Tricia L. Clemons | Administrative Director

Tricia L. Clemons

Administrative & Donor Relations Director

About Tricia

Tricia L. Clemons is the Administrative & Donor Relations  Director for Merlin CCC. Born in Long Beach, CA and a resident of Southern California for most of her childhood and early adulthood, she eventually found herself drawn northward to the beautiful states of Montana and Alaska.  Tricia resides in Helena with her husband, Tom Clemons — retired Alaska Trooper and Chief of Police in Seward.

The sole proprietor of a successful small business (a massage therapy practice named TLC Bodyworks) since 1996 and armed with 25+ years of high-level administrative experience, Tricia is adept in a variety of areas, including: office and records management, accounting, and project planning and coordination.  She is also extremely proficient in numerous computer programs and platforms, and has superior communication, managerial, and interpersonal skills.

As a massage therapist, I have had many wonderful opportunities to make a positive difference in people’s lives, both physical and emotional. Utilizing the many years experience of administrative work I had prior to becoming a massage therapist, as well as running my own massage therapy practice since 1996, I hope to play an important role in the successful operation of Merlin CCC, and thus continue my quest to help people.” – Tricia

An active member of the Helena community, Tricia is an avid lover of reading, learning, nature, wildlife, gardening, and botanical photography.  Her vast experience, passion for life, and sincere desire to give back to the world are among the many attributes that make her a valuable and indispensable member of the Merlin CCC team.

You can reach Tricia at [email protected] or #907-362-2355 (Cell).

Philosophers/Advisors & Mascot

David Nowakowski

Community Philosopher, Advisor & Senior Fellows Mentor

About David

David Nowakowski is as a community philosopher and educator in the Helena area whose professional work is dedicated to helping people of all ages and backgrounds access, understand, and apply the traditions of ancient philosophy to their own lives.  A lover of philosophy and the great outdoors, David moved to Helena (originally from Pennsylvania) in 2019 to build his consulting practice and serve as a Community Philosopher & Advisor for Merlin CCC, as well as Senior Mentor for scholars in the Merlin Fellowship Program.

David began studying ancient philosophies and classical languages in 2001, and has continued ever since.  A scholar of the philosophical traditions of the ancient Mediterranean (Greece, Rome, and North Africa) and of the Indian subcontinent, reading Sanskrit, Latin, and classical Greek, he earned his Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University in 2014.  His work has appeared in a variety of scholarly journals, including Philosophy East & WestAsian Philosophy, and the Journal of Indian Philosophy; as well as in presentations to academic audiences at Harvard, Columbia University, the University of Toronto, Yale-NUS College in Singapore, and elsewhere. 

After half a decade teaching at liberal arts colleges in the northeast, David chose to leave the academy in order to focus his energies on the transformative value of these ancient philosophical and spiritual traditions in his own life and practice, and on building new systems of education and community learning that will make this rich heritage alive and available to others.

A hermit by nature and by committed choice, he balances contemplative solitude with his active work in teaching, counseling, and the healing arts.  We are elated to be collaborating with David on our philosophy in the community activities, fellowships, and other Merlin projects.  David can be reached at [email protected] or via his personal website.

Merlin MCC | Luciano - The Merlin Meower Mascot

Mitchell Conway

Community Philosopher

About Mitchell

Mitchell Conway is a Community Philosopher at Merlin CCC, an adjunct philosophy instructor at Carroll College, a branch facilitator/educator at Cottonwood ALC, and serves on the Academic Advisory Board & Questions? Journal for The Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization.

A student of philosophy, a theater maker, and a teacher who cares ardently about empowering young learners, his work has often been an interweaving of education, story, and inquiry. At the BIRD Theatre in Tottori, Japan, among other productions, he collaborated with Korean group TUIDA to create The Poetry Class about the colonial period and Pacific war; he also directed students at Kei Ai High School in Romeo & Juliet. Using applied theater, he performed with Village Playback Theatre creating improvisations from audience members’ personal stories, and for a three-month residency he taught embodied methods of community dialogue through the Colombo Americano in Medellin, Colombia. He has also taught theater to elementary school students at 82nd St. Academics and middle school students at Summer Institute for the Gifted.

For a year, Mitchell taught at the English Immersion Program in Umphium Mai refugee camp on the Thailand-Myanmar border using a curriculum based in literature and critical thinking. With the New York Foundling at Queens College, he supervised the academic component of The Dorm Project, a program supporting youth in foster care through college.

Mitchell has a Bachelor’s degree in Theater from Skidmore College and a Master’s degree in Philosophy & Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. Mitch has recently presented at the North Eastern Philosophy of Education Society (NEPES) and Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization (PLATO) conferences. He also relishes walking in the forest. 

Mitchell helps to facilitate & design several of Merlin CCC’s philosophy in the community programs, including programs for youth.

Mitchell can be reached at [email protected].

Merlin MCC | Luciano - The Merlin Meower Mascot


Mascot – The Merlin Meower

About Luciano

Every organization needs a mascot, right?!  Our resident furry four-legged is Luciano…affectionately known as the ‘Merlin Meower.’  While not formally trained in philosophy, Luciano has spent many years contemplating the mysteries of the universe, including mankind.  A lover of the outdoors, yoga/stretching, high places, and a huge fan of snoozing in the sun, Luciano is kind, loving, astute & extremely insightful.

“Cats were considered gods in ancient Egypt.  No doubt, this also means that they received praise & gifts of some sort…like belly rubs, tuna fish or crunchy treats.  If I were a cat during that time frame, I would have dropped some hints about cardboard boxes and dangling strings.  You show me a cat who can resist either…and you will have arrived upon the equivalent of ‘un-catness’”! – Luciano

A loyal & affectionate member of the Merlin CCC team, we love Luciano and are thrilled to have such a “paws-itively” marvelous critter on board who so diligently works to keep us  on our collective toes!


Our core group of volunteers include Marie Z. Bourgeois, Dennis McCahon, Ross P. Nelson, Ashley Dugdale, Mike McGuire, Michael Chapman, Amber Johnson, Martin Richard,  Thomas Baumeister, and Mimi Wolok.

Volunteers & contributors are a critical part of our non-profit organization.  We value what each brings to the table — energy, time, perspective, skills, support, insight, expertise, feedback, ideas…the list goes on! 

Advisory Committee

Our advisory committee is represented by Bob Schmitt, Max Milton, Ann Waickman, Ross P. Nelson, Michael Chapman, Marie Z. Bourgeois & Thomas Baumeister.

We are very grateful to have such a wonderful group of Helena professionals who lend their time, expertise & constructive feedback to our organization.

Board Members

Our Board is represented by J. Angelo Corlett, Arnold McMahon, Troy DaRonco, and Mike McGuire.  A motley & sophisticated crew with a shared love for education, learning and research, our board members have spent a considerable number of years examining life & the human condition (as well as helping others to do the same).

The result: an indispensable board with a broad-range of perspectives and capabilities & a shared intent to leave this world a better place then they found it.
About Angelo

Board Member, J. Angelo Corlett, was born and raised in Southern California. He received his PhD in philosophy from the University of Arizona in 1992, specializing in ethics and philosophy of law. Angelo was driven to pursue philosophy during his early college years when he first read Plato’s Apology wherein Socrates’ trial is recounted. His goal then was to study philosophy and become a philosopher, writer and teacher.  Why philosophy?  To paraphrase Socrates: so that we can become better for the rest of our lives (and help others do the same).

Angelo’s passions concern matters of social justice, identifying problems, and discovering solutions to those problems.  In particular, he claims: “Life is a constant learning process that usually has practical implications.  Responsibility and compassion must be brought into delicate balance.”

I feel fortunate to be able to serve as Professor of Philosophy & Ethics at San Diego State University in Southern California, and to be able to pursue my life’s passion with enthusiasm.

Angelo served as the Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of Ethics: An International Philosophical Review and lectures locally, nationally and globally on various philosophical issues, and publishes on a wide range of moral problems. To view Angelo’s bio click here.

About Arnold

Board Member, Arnold McMahon, was born in England.  After high school, he was offered a scholarship to study in the United States.  His academic journey in the U.S. began with the exploration of numerous courses in physics, psychology and sociology.  Due to  some fundamental questions about the human condition and other such matters that the aforementioned could not seem to adequately (or rigorously enough) address, Arnold turned to philosophy.  So began his lifelong commitment to the discipline.

Teaching at such places as University of Southern California, CSU Dominguez, Humboldt State University, Saddleback College and Los Angeles City College, Arnold has enjoyed helping others to embrace and value philosophy and the love of learning.

It has been a great joy teaching!  I have always felt like I was the luckiest man in the world being able to do what I really wanted to do.  And the quest continues.

Retired in 2009, Arnold is still active in the philosophical community, has authored several books and articles, and continues to lecture and present at numerous venues.  He also moonlights by still teaching some classes at Saddleback College.  To view Arnold’s CV click here.

About Troy

Board Member, Troy DaRonco, was born in Superior, WI. After growing up on a country farm, he moved to Minneapolis and later to San Diego. Determined to make a difference in the world and fueled by an avid love of learning, Troy has studied a range of subjects in the Science and Humanity fields, including: Botany, Health and Nutrition, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Spiritualism, and Faith.

A business owner, strategic interventionist, bereavement and grief counselor/mentor, and life coach, Troy is a compassionate and skilled communicator who is constantly looking for opportunities to serve.

To me, being an interventionist means being there for a person through some of their most harrowing life-moments and then, with time, helping them see the possibilities that lie beyond their pain.

In addition to counseling, mentoring, and coaching, Troy is a volunteer for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, a mentor for the Boys to Men Mentoring organization, is authoring his first book, and launching his website FromHereForwardCoaching.org. Troy currently resides in San Diego, CA, with his wife Julie and dog Chewy.

About Mike

Michael “Mike” McGuire is a native Montanan who is endeared to his home state and has been lucky enough to live, work, raise a family, and play in the Last Best Place his entire life (Montana).

An amateur philosopher whose introduction to Lady Sophia came via martial arts training and devouring classics such as Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, Miyamoto Musashi’s The Book of Five Rings, and Laozi’s Tao Te Ching, Mike also enjoys learning from modern authors such as Lt. Col. Forrest Morgan (Living the Martial Way) and Donn F. Draeger (Classical Budo).

In his professional life, Mike’s passion is business architecture, lean six sigma process improvement, and strategy development and implementation.  A strategy & process consultant with over 26 years at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana, he has experience in direct sales, market research, communications, and government contracting.

Mike’s foyer into Merlin started with his regular participation in our monthly Philosophy Think & Drinks.  It spread from there into other events, and then regular volunteering.  Mike enjoys learning from and with other thinkers who share his admiration of community philosophy and the quality discussion and analysis that it brings to his hometown (Helena).

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