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Female Student Ranks Near Top of LSC-Montgomery’s Fire Academy

Kari Willis, the first and only female in LSC-Montgomery’s fire academy, will be graduating this week near the top of her class. Photograph © 2010 Mallory Sherman.The first—and only—female student in Lone Star College-Montgomery’s fire science academy, Kari Willis, has climbed her way to the top of the ladder, and on Friday, May 21, she’ll graduate from the academy ranked in the top 10 percent of the more than 40 fire science and emergency medical services students graduating. It’s quite an accomplishment for the 5-foot, 4-inch, no-nonsense woman from Magnolia.
“When I came into the academy, I knew that I wouldn’t necessarily be the strongest,” said the 26-year-old. “So, I said I was going to be valedictorian.”
Working toward her goal, Willis made straight A’s throughout the entire year and finished within the top four students. While extremely proud of her accomplishment, Willis credits good old-fashioned hard work and studying for her academic success.
“The physical work is sometimes a challenge for me, but the book work is not,” she said. “It just makes sense to me.”
Willis set the spark to her firefighting career when she entered the academy in August of 2009. To her, being a female student in a primarily male-dominated program is nothing extraordinary.
“Both of my parents are in law enforcement, so growing up I was surrounded by both male and female police officers and firefighters,” explained Willis. “My mother participated for two years with the police and firefighter Olympics, so I never saw it as being a big deal.”
“And none of the guys I’ve worked with or in my class have even cared,” she added. “Usually it’s people outside the service who comment or see it as an issue.”
According to Keith Campbell, director of the fire science program at LSC-Montgomery, having a female such as Willis in the program is extraordinary and is something that has made a huge, positive impact on the academy.
“It’s our hope that her influence will create an interest for other women to join the fire service, which includes emergency medicine, as well,” he said. “She is a true professional and an absolute inspiration for everyone that works around her.”
In May of 2009, Willis became certified as an EMT-Intermediate, so upon joining the academy, Willis had the opportunity to intern with The Woodlands Fire Department while her fellow classmates were working on the EMT-Basic portion of the course. During that internship, she worked with certified firefighters doing daily chores, completing apparatus maintenance, and observing protocol on emergency calls.
“I got to see what working for a department was really like,” said Willis. “It also gave me a interesting insight into the new recruits, which is what I’ll be soon. I learned what the new recruits do that can irritate the firefighters—and I definitely don’t want to irritate them when I’m a new recruit!”
Throughout the past year, Willis has managed to balance earning good grades in the academy with maintaining her part-time evening and weekend job as a hair stylist.
“It’s funny because I’m primarily with males all day long, and then I totally switch gears and am with females at work all night,” said Willis.
With physical training accounting for a large portion of the course, Willis had to work hard both in and out of the classroom to maintain her success.
“Some days, I walked into work so tired from the physical training,” she said. “My coworkers ask me ‘What’s wrong?’ and I just shake my head and tell them they wouldn’t even understand.”
Campbell is proud of Willis’ success both physically and academically.
“Kari outscored almost every other student in every aspect of the course, and physically, she unabashedly gave everything she had on every task,” said Campbell. “I just hope the program can get more women like her!”
The graduation ceremony for the LSC-Montgomery fire science and emergency medical services programs will be Friday, May 21, at 76 p.m., in the theatre (Bldg. D).
 The fire science academy at LSC-Montgomery trains students to become certified by the Texas Commission on Fire Protection as firefighters. Both daytime and evening classes are available. The academy class of 2010-11 begins Tuesday, August 31; however applications for enrollment in the program are currently being accepted.
Classes for the fire science and emergency medical services programs are taught at The Woodlands Emergency Training Center, located off the Interstate 45 feeder road between Texas 242 and FM 1488. This 13-acre site includes a state-of-the art training center, a five-story live burn tower and 60,000 square feet of pavement to practice maneuvers.
For more information about the fire science academy, visit www.LoneStar.edu/sirens or contact Keith Campbell at (281) 210-5831.
LSC-Montgomery is located at 3200 College Park Drive, one-half mile west of Interstate 45, between Conroe and The Woodlands. For more information about the college, call (936) 273-7000, or visit www.LoneStar.edu/montgomery.
With more than 62,000 students in credit classes in spring 2010, and a total enrollment of nearly 85,000, Lone Star College System is the largest institution of higher education in the Houston area, and the second largest and the fastest-growing community college system in Texas. LSCS consists of five colleges including LSC-CyFair, LSC-Kingwood, LSC-Montgomery, LSC-North Harris, and LSC-Tomball, six centers, LSC-University Park, LSC-University Center at Montgomery, LSC-University Center at University Park, Lone Star Corporate College, and LSC-Online. To learn more visit LoneStar.edu.