Environmental Studies Major
Biology and Spanish Minors
Less than an hour into his first day with the Galesburg Fire Department,
Knox College student Brent Newman was carving through the side
of a car, learning how emergency workers rescue trapped crash victims.
As a senior at Knox, the Dallas, Texas, native completed an internship with the fire department during fall term 2009. An environmental studies major, he pursued the opportunity because he was considering a career in firefighting.
"I just walked to the fire station and asked if they'd let me shadow firefighters," said Newman, who recently was awarded a prestigious Fulbright Fellowship for international research and teaching. "I'm the type of person that if I have an interest in something, I check into it."
As part of the internship, he accompanied firefighters on their training exercises. He got off to a rousing start.
"I got to dress in a full firefighter uniform, and I was given the Jaws of Life," he said. "I was cutting open a car 20 minutes into my first day."
Firefighters and other emergency workers use the Jaws of Life to extricate people from their vehicles after a traffic accident.
Newman joined firefighters a couple of weeks later in another training exercise that involved saving someone -- in this case, a practice dummy -- from a smoke-filled house.
Again, he was decked out in firefighter gear. This time, his equipment included a breathing tank and goggles that had been covered with cellophane to prevent him from seeing clearly.
"We were crawling on our hands and knees, and we found the dummy and brought it out OK," said Newman, who played running back on the Prairie Fire football squad. "It's definitely harder than I thought. It's physically demanding."
He also came to recognize that firefighting can be an emotionally stressful job.
"Someone else's life could be involved in every call," he said. "I got more respect for what firefighters do every day. They have a family, and they're risking it all for people they don't even know -- every day."
In addition to the hands-on training, Newman spent hours of "down time" at the fire station with on-duty firefighters. Firefighters work unusual shifts: 24 hours on duty and then 48 hours off.
"They were really down-to-earth people. They answered every question I had," said Newman, a member of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. "You could definitely tell that it was a close-knit group."
As a 2011 Fulbright Fellowship recipient, Newman will travel to Jamaica to study the Jamaican yellow boa, a snake that has been listed as a vulnerable species according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
While based at the Windsor Research Centre in Cockpit Country, Jamaica, he will research the Jamaican yellow boa and promote efforts to protect the species.
"The goal of my project is to help with the conservation of the Jamaican boa," said Newman (in photo below with a boa he caught). "I will be monitoring their movements throughout the island, using GIS (geographic information system) software. We're going to get a really good understanding of boa ecology."
One of the reasons he applied for a Fulbright, he said, is the program's emphasis on international relationships. While a student at Knox, Newman studied for two terms in Barcelona, Spain. "That completely changed my life," he said. "I realized how much you can learn from other cultures."
When he arrived at Knox as a first-year student, he already knew he wanted to study the sciences. He "kind of went exploring," then opted to major in environmental studies after taking Professor Peter Schwartzman's introductory class.
"I really care about it," he said. "I feel like it encompasses all aspects of being a human being."
As a senior, Newman received a David "Burney" Dunn Award for Students' Field Research, which the Knox College Biology Department gives to provide resources for field work in biology, ecology, and environmental science. The award enabled him to continue his research on ticks in Knox County.
"I like problem-solving and getting my hands dirty," added Newman, who worked as a teaching assistant for Professor Mathys Meyer's entomology class during spring term 2010. "I also like working with people. Environmental studies brought together all the things I'm interested in."