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Willamette Alumna Earns Fulbright to Australia

Kate D'Ambrosio's jobs with the U.S. Forest Service have taken her to a wide array of locations: outside among the ponderosa pines of Montana, inside the federal government buildings of Washington, D.C., a Portland office in a region blanketed with Douglas fir.

For her next opportunity, D'Ambrosio '06 will travel across the world to Australia to spend a year researching wildfire response policies through a prestigious Fulbright Grant. She will work in collaboration with RMIT University and the Australian National Bushfire Cooperative Research Center.

Fulbright grants support post-graduate research, creative projects or teaching in more than 150 countries. D'Ambrosio is one of three Willamette students and alumni to receive a Fulbright this year.

The history and politics major got her first forestry related job the summer after her freshman year, when she returned to her home state of Montana to join a wildland firefighting crew. Much of her work involved using a chainsaw to thin out overgrown forest areas that might create fire hazards. The job piqued her interest in public land management.

During her junior year, an internship in Washington, D.C., allowed her to work for the U.S. Forest Service. That same year she received a Truman Scholarship, a national grant of up to $30,000 for students who plan to pursue careers in government or elsewhere in public service. Both opportunities set her up for two post-graduation positions in D.C.: a three-month fellowship assisting with environmental legislation for Montana Sen. Max Baucus, followed by a full-time job with the Forest Service in fire and aviation management.

D'Ambrosio plans to use her Fulbright grant to research differences in the strategies Australia and the U.S. use to deal with the risks wildfires pose to communities. She will examine the institutional structures that support the Australian "stay and defend" policy, and she hopes to develop a framework for considering the utility of implementing that strategy in the U.S.

"In this country, federal, state and local firefighters tend to be the first line of response when wildfires threaten a community, and in some cases, they will try to protect individual homeowners' properties," she says. "The Australian policy, however, supports citizens who opt to stay with their homes during a wildfire and try to protect their property themselves.

"Components of Australia's policy are regarded with growing interest among public land management agencies in the U.S. as a possible way to improve community and firefighter safety and manage escalating wildfire suppression costs."

After the Fulbright, D'Ambrosio hopes to attend graduate school and continue studying government organizational behavior and management. She credits her mentors at Willamette with helping her through every step of her journey.

"The faculty at Willamette doesn't forget about you after you graduate," she says. "Monique Bourque in Student Academic Grants and Awards worked with me on my Fulbright application, and did several professors in the history and politics departments. They have a continued interest in their students. Their help and support has been invaluable."