Thompson Rivers University

Graduate student’s global wildfire journey

May 4, 2023

Master of Science in Environmental Science student Andrea Robinson at the WTREX program in South Africa. (Photo credit: Andrea Robinson)

Thompson Rivers University (TRU) Master of Science in Environmental Science student Andrea Robinson is passionate about the planet.

An aspiring wildfire scientist and initial attack crew lead for the BC Wildfire Service (BCWS), Robinson was eager to participate in the Women-in-Fire Training Exchange (WTREX) program in South Africa from March 20-31.

Blazing the trail

Andrea Robinson (pictured far left) with other WTREX participants. (Photo credit: Andrea Robinson)

Serving in firefighting positions, participants in WTREX’s intensive 12-day programs received valuable hands-on training in prescribed fire and wildfire management while working in leadership roles.

In South Africa, Robinson and her colleagues from around the globe learned about more than new techniques and fine-tuned operational skills in managing wildfires.

“It wasn’t just about technical skills — the program also emphasized leadership, emotional intelligence skill-building and creating a collaborative educational experience,” says Robinson, who is conducting research under the supervision of Dr. Jill Harvey, a Canada Research Chair examining how wildfires and drought impact forests in the BC Interior.

“Andrea brings back leadership training and field experience in new environments that will greatly benefit her field-based research project at TRU,” says Harvey.

“Her experience with WTREX highlights the importance of adaptability in both wildfire science and management,” says Harvey. “Learning how other countries and agencies manage wildfires and fire-prone landscapes, will enable Andrea to manage available resources even more strategically in her position with BCWS.” Harvey is one of two research chairs at TRU dedicated solely to wildfire science, which is a first in Canada.

An agency that advocates for diversity in wildfire science and management, WTREX highlights the underrepresentation of women and non-binary individuals in the field.

“Connecting with like-minded individuals and mentors from around the world was incredible, and it has been such a supportive journey thanks to my supervisors and TRU,” says Robinson.

One of the most relevant parts of the conference involved learning about different fire-adapted ecosystems in South Africa, which the master’s student plans to apply to her future work in Canada.

Providing opportunities

WTREX attendees (Photo credit: Andrea Robinson)

Robinson’s participation in WTREX is a testament to TRU’s commitment to providing opportunities for its students to gain international exposure and make a difference in their fields of study.

“Participating in the conference expanded my knowledge and skills. It helped me build global connections in wildfire science and management,” says Robinson.

Robinson’s journey continues as she brings her learning and experiences from South Africa to contribute to wildfire science and management in Canada and beyond.

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