2021 Tillman Scholar

Kevin Varga

Marine Corps
University of California - Santa Barbara

“Service to others fuels my passion for life. By better understanding how our climate works, I will be able to help mitigate potential disasters.”

Kevin had a yearning to do more from a young age. This desire motivated him to enlist in the Marine Corps after high school. After honorably serving for five years as a helicopter computer systems specialist, Kevin went on to attend Colgate University, where he was awarded a Yellow Ribbon Scholarship. He thrived at school in the geology and geography departments, as well as in the community as a volunteer firefighter.

When Kevin was awarded a travel abroad fellowship, he decided to spend six weeks traveling through New Zealand alone. During this journey, he realized his true passion: environmentalism. After graduating from Colgate, Kevin went on to become a wildland firefighter. As he fought fires in the American West, he experienced the seriousness of our environmental issues. Kevin tried combating these issues as a zero-waste coordinator with a nonprofit in Boulder, CO, but he quickly realized he wanted to do even more. He set his sights on graduate school and was accepted into a Ph.D. program in the geography department at the University of California–Santa Barbara.

Kevin is now working to integrate meteorology, vegetation dynamics, fire danger, and community awareness. He is researching how our changing climate affects wildfire behavior, while also volunteering as the treasurer of the Santa Barbara FireSafe Council. By combining integrated research and community resilience activism, Kevin hopes to figure out how people can safely live in the fire-prone environments that they currently inhabit.