Then & Now: Tegan McWhirter, Master of Environmental Science Graduate (2021)

Growing up in Northern Ontario, Tegan McWhirter developed a passion for the outdoors. While pursuing her Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Environmental Science at Queen’s University, Tegan worked for the Aviation, Forest Fire and Emergency Services (AFFES) division of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry as a Wildland Fire Fighter on the Type I (initial attack) crew.

Then & Now: Tegan McWhirter, Master of Environmental Science Graduate (2021)

Tegan McWhirter, Master of Environmental Science Graduate (2021)

Her experience as a Wildland Fire Fighter further ignited her passion for the outdoors, specifically in fire ecology and resource management which ultimately brought her to Nipissing University’s Master of Environmental Science (MESc) program.

Working under the supervision of Dr. Jeff Dech, Professor in the Department of Biology and Chemistry, and Dr. Elizabeth Webb, Associate Professor in the Laboratory for Stable Isotope Science at Western University, Tegan pursued the thesis option of the MESc program.

Her thesis titled, Analyzing Stable Oxygen Isotopes in Charred Bark to Reconstruct Past Wildland Fire Conditions, sought to determine if the oxygen isotope composition of char (δ18O) from bark samples could be used to distinguish four pre-existing wildfires of varying intensity. Collecting char samples from Phelps Township, Hearst and Temagami, Ontario, as well as Fort McMurray, Alberta, her study demonstrated that δ18O bark-char increases with increasing fire severity between the study sites.  These results suggest that this approach holds great promise for differentiating and reconstructing past fire events.

Tegan’s research was funded through the Ontario Graduate Scholarship program and a seed grant from the Centre for Environment & Sustainability at Western University.

“My time as a graduate student and Wildland Fire Fighter reinforced the importance of a strong work ethic and the essential nature of teamwork,” shared Tegan. “These values have continued to serve as pillars in my career.”

Tegan McWhirter, Master of Environmental Science Graduate (2021)

Upon graduation, Tegan received the President’s Gold Medal for her work in the Master of Environmental Science program. Since graduation, her thesis has been referenced multiple times and other MESc students at Nipissing continue to advance research on the topic. Her thesis manuscript was also submitted for publication in the International Journal of Wildland Fire.

Today, Tegan works in Project Management as the Manager, Commercial Management with Metrolinx in Toronto, Ontario.

“I turned my focus to Project Management while continuing to volunteer as a Structural Fire Fighter as a way to continue learning while also giving back to my community,” she said.  “My post-graduate studies further instilled a commitment to education and training that I continue to seek in a Business Management and Finance program.”

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