Environmental Studies, Music and Movement Major
Picture riding the lid of a turkey roaster pan down a roller coaster rail.
That is the kind of rush that Knox junior Fayne Lawson gets when thinking
about his dream job - smoke jumper for wild fires. Lawson is a junior
and majoring in environmental studies and music and movement.
A member of the Prairie Fire swim team, Lawson says he is no stranger to a hard day's work. "Growing up on a farm, I detasselled corn, baled hay and harnessed race horses."
This summer, Lawson worked for the United States Department of Agriculture in the forest service of Buffalo Creek, Colorado at Pike San Isabelle National Forest. Working as a seasonal wild firefighter, Lawson, assuming the fire eradication hat of Smokey Bear and 40 pounds of gear, extinguished forest fires. "We were Station 11, engine 11.2. We had five people on my crew, and we all lived in the bunkhouse," he says.
Without hesitation or question, the firefighters have to spring into action quickly when the bells sound. Months after the internship, Lawson reflects with a seemingly uncompromised enthusiasm on the many reasons he loved what he was doing.
Just one day after getting his firefighter certification red card, Lawson was battling the choking heat of a 10-12 acre fire that erased the sun from the sky with 20 foot flames. "It was in a fire scar, a place that has already been burned, so the fuels were dry and it was hot. That was one of the best things that happened to me."
For someone who enjoys moving a lot, a 13-14 hour road trip to Colorado and two weeks of classroom training stood between Lawson and his red card certification. "It drove me crazy to see my bunk mates leave for a fire and tell me to hold down the fort and study for my test."
But once he qualified, Lawson says it was like a kid going to Disneyland. "I was super stoked about what I was accomplishing and couldn't believe I was there."
He says the job was everything he wanted it to be and even more. "I ended up on a crew that is called to various western states if a fire is over 100 acres.
The crew worked 10-12 hours a day. There were no days off, and Lawson found himself working with people he never worked with before. "You stay until the fire is out. It was very regimented and a good slap in the face."
Eventually, this environmental studies major wants to graduate to smoke jumping. "You get in a plane and fly near a fire, parachute in, hike a couple of miles to the fire and put it out."
Lawson is one of Knox's TRIO students. The TRIO Achievement Program is a student support services program funded through TRIO legislation, whose purpose is to assist first-generation and low-income college students succeed by offering, among other things, counseling, mentoring and a book loan program for students who can't afford books. "It is a good network, and when I visited as a prospective student, it was one of the first things they told me I qualified for."
Knox's Green Oaks term also appealed to Lawson who participated in the 700-acre biological field station during the spring term of 2008. Green Oaks is home to one of the nation's oldest prairie restorations. Students live in Schurr Hall and engage in independent research while they enjoy hiking, cross-country skiing, fishing, or camping under the stars.
But what impressed Lawson most about Knox is "Knox saw me as a student first who wanted to get a degree and an athlete second."
Lawson played football his first year at Knox and joined the swim team as well. He remains on the swim team still and says that he "swims whatever stroke the coach says and wherever the team needs me."
During his first year, he took a dance class to fulfill an art requirement and thought dance would make him stronger and more flexible. That led to his second major, a self-designed major, in music and movement. "I like to be moving a lot, and after long lab hours, it is a nice release."
He is already blazing through the paperwork to firefight next summer. "I hated to leave last summer, but I came to Knox to get a degree. There will always be fires."