Community Hubs


Project Snapshot

Inspired by the unique role of human connection and community as central to critical thinking—places where living and learning together go hand in hand—our Community Hubs project re-envisions the academy by re-centering the community as a place of learning.

The project involves four distinct phases, each of which we will campaign for prior to its launch:

Phase 1: Community Hubs – Pilot 
Phase 2: Rural Hub Pilot Program 
Phase 3: Urban Hub Pilot Program 
Phase 4: Statewide (Montana) & other Mountain West Community Hubs

  • 0% 0%

Raised: $0

of $50,000 Goal

In-Kind donations, project personnel, scholars, venues, and community sponsors secured.

Funding in Dollars Needed to Launch Phase 1: $50,000.

Phase 1 Overview

Phase 1 of our project is both a stand-alone initiative with immediate, local & far-reaching benefits and a critical step in our larger vision for public humanities (and our project at large).

In this phase, humanities scholars from Montana and other states will gather in Helena and develop concrete strategies for “community hub” models of learning in rural & urban settings, as well as create templates for a future scholar-in-residence/research fellowship program; together these will serve as blueprints for phase 2, 3 & 4 of our project.

Phase 1 will also involve several free public community programs (led by these and other scholars), including:

  • Public symposium & panel discussions
  • “Masterclass” workshops (w/ scholars as teachers)
  • Community-led activities (w/ scholars as students)
  • Place-based educational outings (w/ scholars & community members), and
  • Informal local gatherings (w/ scholars and community members)

Phase 1 of the project will:

  • Bring together humanities scholars currently researching/working in and/or interested in community-centered models of public philosophy education
  • Put “philosophical tools” (e.g., skills, methods, techniques) in the hands of community members that help answer the question: “What can I, situated as I am, do to develop myself philosophically, humanistically, intellectually?”
  • Make living philosophically a “live option,” both in the sense of articulating “Here’s something philosophical communities have done/are doing, and that you might also do” & in the sense of giving immediate guidance for doing so
  • Deliver concrete strategies & initial sketches toward plans for implementation of “community hub” models of learning at the group/institutional levels
  • Offer a “first run” of what a “scholar-in-residence” & research fellowship programs might look like both by doing it in the present (via the scholars’ participation the project), and by preparing the groundwork to do it in a more refined & deliberate way in the future


Main project personnel reside in Helena, MT

Marisa Diaz-Waian

Marisa Diaz-Waian

Program Director

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).

David Nowakowski

David Nowakowski

Program Co-Director

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 & West, Asian 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.

Mitchell Conway

Mitchell Conway

Program Associate Director

About Mitchell

Mitchell Conway is a Community Philosopher & Youth Programs Advisor at Merlin CCC, a branch facilitator/educator at Cottonwood ALC, and serves on the education committee 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 and design several of Merlin CCC’s philosophy in the community programs, including programs for youth.

Mitchell can be reached at [email protected].

Invited Project Scholars

  • Justin Whitaker (Independent Scholar & Senior Correspondent for Buddhistdoor Global; MA in Buddhist Studies, Bristol University, U.K.; PhD in Buddhist Ethics, Goldsmiths, University of London) – Missoula, MT
  • Jane Drexler (Professor of Philosophy at Salt Lake Community College; PhD in Philosophy, Binghampton University, SUNY) – Salt Lake City, UT
  • Rob Colter (Senior Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy & Religious Studies at University of Wyoming; Founder & Director of Wyoming Stoic Camp; Co-Director of Wyoming Pathways from Prison; Podcast Co-Host of “Philosophy as a Way of Life”; PhD in Philosophy, Northwestern University) – Laramie, WY
  • Ryan Johnson (Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Elon University; PhD in Philosophy, DuQuesne University) – Elon, North Carolina
  • Mark Ralkowski (Associate Professor of Honors & Philosophy and Philosophy Honor Society Advisor, George Washington University; Posse Mentor for the Posse Foundation; PhD in Philosophy, University of New Mexico) – Washington, D.C.
  • Henry Kramer (Adjunct Assistant Professor of Religion, Hunter College; Adjunct Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Carroll College; Organizer/Community Educator of Eco-Spirituality Beacon; MA in Environmental Philosophy & Literature, University of Montana) – Beacon, NY
  • Julia Jorati (Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Massachusetts Amherst; PhD in Philosophy, Yale University) – Amherst, MA
  • Phillip Schoenberg (Assistant Professor of English & Philosophy, Western New Mexico University; PhD in Philosophy, University of New Mexico) – Silver City, New Mexico
  • Allison Krile-Thornton (Assistant Professor of Philosophy, University of South Alabama; PhD in Philosophy, Baylor University) – Mobile, AL
  • Jacob Stump (Assistant Teaching Professor in Philosophy, Northeastern University; PhD in Philosophy, University of Toronto) – Boston, MA
  • Rebecca Chan (Assistant Professor of Philosophy & Director of University Pre-Law Advising, San Jose State University; PhD in Philosophy, Notre Dame University; JD, University of Colorado) – San Jose, CA
  • Dan Fouts (AP Government, Philosophy & US History Instructor in Chicagoland Area; MS in Education & Social Policy, Northwestern University) – Chicago, IL


Merlin CCC
A Community Philosophy Organization
119 Reeder’s Alley, Helena MT 59601
PO Box 2034, Helena MT 59624
Tax ID/EIN: 47-1479303


Marisa Diaz-Waian
Founder/Director (Merlin CCC)
Tel: 406.502.2122
Cell: 406.439.5788
[email protected]

Invest in Community

by Investing in Philosophy

For more information or to donate by check, please contact the program director.

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