Online Student Pursues Fire Degree
Megan Fitzgerald will graduate from the University of Idaho in May with a Master’s degree in Natural Resources.
It will only be her third time on campus.
Fitzgerald, who is also getting a Certificate in Fire Ecology, Management and Technology, is one of CNR’s online students. However, in CNR, even on-line students get their hands dirty.
Over spring break Fitzgerald traveled with the rest of her Prescribed Fire for Ecologically-Based Management course to the Niobrara Preserve in Nebraska to participate in a prescribed burn training exchange. Afterward, she returned to her home in Olympia and participated in the fieldtrip debriefing via Skype.
She was present in the debriefing via a laptop sitting on a desk, visible to other students and able to see them. “I do get to talk to people,” Fitzgerald said. “[Professor Penny Morgan] makes the online experience as interactive as possible.”
Fitzgerald, who lives and works in Olympia, chose to go to school online because it fit with her lifestyle. “The MNR program really seemed to complement what I wanted to do,” she said. “It’s just a matter of where I was in my life. My husband and I are already pretty established, packing up and moving would be a big thing. Also, this gave me the ability to keep working.”
Fitzgerald received a bachelor’s degree from Washington State University in athletic training. As a student at WSU, she worked as a wildland firefighter on an engine. After graduating, she worked in athletic training for a while, but, ultimately she decided it wasn’t right for her. She went back to work as a seasonal firefighter and began looking for options to advance her career. Because of her background in fire, she knew that was the direction she wanted to go. She chose U-Idaho because of the onlinefire certificateprogram.
The MNR program is designed for mid- and executive-level professionals. The graduate program integrates various perspectives – ecological, the human dimension, planning, policy and law – and practical tools into a systems view of natural resources. The Certificate in Fire Ecology, Management and Technology is designed for students who are looking for an in-depth exploration of the concepts, science and tools used in fire ecology and management, or for working professionals who want to meet the educational requirements needed for some federal fire management positions.
Fitzgerald thinks that attending online has worked out extremely well for her. “The development of technology has really helped,” she said. “I put documents on a Kindle so I can read during the day without having to carry a lot of papers around.” In addition to Skype, she attends some classes via teleconference. “The whole thing has been eye opening. It challenged my thoughts and opened up my mind.”Upon graduation, Fitzgerald plans to look for a permanent job in fire. She wants to be a fire coordinator with an agency, or with an organization such as Pheasants Forever or the Nature Conservancy, trying to use fire as a management tool to restore habitat.