Sandra Sila-Massengill is the recipient of the 2017 International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) scholarship. This scholarship is made possible through Columbia Southern University’s learning partnership with IAAI.
Sandra moved to the U.S. in August of 2003 from her native country of Latvia, a European country along the Baltic Sea. After realizing the many opportunities available to her in this country, she decided to pursue one that no woman would be allowed to in Latvia: become a firefighter.
“Like most in this profession, I started out by becoming a volunteer firefighter. After doing this for a couple years, I knew that I wanted this to be my lifelong career.”
She applied for a full-time firefighter position but Sandra says that due to her limited English skills, she failed the written exam. While most would give up at this point, Sandra pushed forward. She applied to a local community college and developed the English skills she would need to pass the exam.
“When I returned to apply for the position again (in 2013), I not only passed the written exam, but all other necessary tests. As a result, I became a full-time firefighter. Now that I am in my chosen profession, so many more opportunities have opened.”
Sandra says the next opportunity in front of her is in fire investigations and she is excited to pursue a bachelor’s degree in fire investigations from CSU as a “tool to fulfill her dreams.”
“As a firefighter, my main job is to put a fire out and usually, we don’t think why the fire started. But I have always been curious in how things work and started looking for clues on fire scenes. From that point forward, I decided that I wanted to learn everything I could about the cause of a fire.”
Sandra has attended classes, seminars and workshops on fire investigations through the National Fire Academy. Her five-year goals are to complete this bachelor’s degree and obtain the Certified Fire Investigator designation, which is an evaluation of a fire investigator’s training and expertise.
“The knowledge gained by working on my degree will help me be a better fire investigator and [will also allow me to] contribute more to the fire investigator team in my fire department. This, in turn, will help my community in both fire investigation and prevention.
This scholarship will allow more time to concentrate on my studies, rather than adding to an already demanding work schedule in order to pay expenses. I want to be the best at my studies and career, and I believe this scholarship will provide that opportunity.”
As a proud learning partner of the International Association of Arson Investigators since 2010, Columbia Southern University is honored to offer a scholarship to the members of IAAI. The scholarship will cover up to $13,200 in one online degree program. The scholarship will be applied directly to the recipient’s tuition for up to three years or until the completion of the selected online degree program, whichever comes first.
To learn more about this and other scholarships, visit our website.