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Anton Chiono Anton Chiono

Anton Chiono: Make it personal.

Although we'll encourage you to explore your interests from sea to shining sea (starting with America and encompassing every continent except Antarctica), you'll also get to delve into issues that hit close to home - in some cases, literally.

That's what junior Anton Chiono discovered after his family's home and business were threatened by wildfires that swept through Central Oregon in 2002. "My own household had to evacuate, and we were forced to stay at a friend's house," recalls Chiono, who's spent the past five summers as a wildlife technician and reserve firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service. "I would leave every morning to fight fires not knowing if our home would survive by that evening."

Initially, Chiono was tempted to view the fire as a natural catastrophe that was beyond his control. But after researching the matter further, the environmental science major discovered that severe wildfires are often rooted in forest management policies that emphasize fire suppression without considering the consequences of fuel overload.

That subject has provided plenty of fuel for his senior thesis proposal - and his professors have provided plenty of assistance. Professor David Craig traveled to Central Oregon this past summer to assist Chiono with his study and plans to return next summer to help him complete it. "The Willamette faculty are so accommodating," says Chiono. "They helped me transform my ideas into something that would allow me to pursue my own interests. I'm hoping that my findings can be used by my district to manage forests and wildfires."

This past fall, Chiono pursued his passion for public policy in Washington, D.C., where he served as an intern to U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.). In addition to researching forest management practices at the Library of Congress, Chiono saw firsthand how politics shape policy. His experiences on Capitol Hill will no doubt come in handy as he pursues a career in forest management - and he says none of it would have been possible without Willamette. "The experiences I've had at Willamette have done more than simply accrue credits toward an eventual diploma," says Chiono. "They've played a major role in forming who I am - and who I'll become."