Ariana Vargas made an important decision that ignited a fire within and defined her future career trajectory. The same week she received an acceptance letter to Colorado State University, she was also offered an internship with The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota. She committed to both and never looked back.
At the time, she was at a crossroads. She had earned an associate’s degree from the Colorado School of Mines and was on an engineering path. But something about her direction didn’t feel right. Like many students in natural resource fields, Vargas let her own outdoor experiences naturally guide her back to her true passion.
“A lot of people say that natural resource careers are found careers,” the native of Forest Park, Illinois, explains. “The internship solidified that I was doing the right thing in leaving engineering to pursue forestry.”
After deferring admission for one semester, Vargas arrived at the Warner College of Natural Resources in Fall 2016 well ahead of the game in her concentration of forest fire science. She had already completed all the fire certifications and had put them into practice during her internship as a burn and stewardship crew member by participating in a few prescribed burns, or planned fires that achieve certain outcomes.
“This experience was really helpful in my studies because I had the background in field work and new motivation to learn about fire,” she says.
Vargas’ inner fire continued to burn brightly throughout her academic experience.
She completed the rest of her degree in just over two years by taking at least 15 credits each semester. In addition to working a part-time job on campus, she stayed active in the Society of American Foresters student organization and spent time developing her plant identification skills with the Rangeland Ecology Club.
Knowing how important her Nature Conservancy internship had been in pursuing her field, Vargas continued taking additional steps toward her career path.
During another internship with the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest this past summer, she developed the foundational plan for what will become the Elkhorn and Pingree Hill prescribed burn next year. Vargas hopes to volunteer as a firefighter on “her” burn. She also wants to continue advocating for fire on Western landscapes historically shaped by the natural phenomenon.
“I’m a firm believer in managing forests for the seventh generation,” she says. “With more people living in forested areas, I want to help remove fire’s stigma that’s been around since the early 1900s and start building fire-wise communities.”
In other words, she wants to help ignite the fire within others too.