Ask Richie Treanor if his 18-year-old self would be surprised to meet the current version, and the affable UMass Boston graduate is quick to say "absolutely."
“Back then I was just playing Xbox. I didn’t have a ton of friends. I didn’t have a lot of ambition,” said Treanor, a Savin Hill resident who graduated last month with a degree in environmental science. “I was a perpetual ‘you’ve got potential’ type of guy.”
Two crucial experiences transformed Treanor’s life and turned that potential into action. The first was his 5½ years of service in the U.S. Army, which included a year as part of counterinsurgency efforts in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The second was enrolling at UMass Boston. And Treanor says the second would not have been possible without the first.
“I think in Afghanistan I had some experiences that made me realize—hey, let’s go, time is short,” he said.
During his service, Treanor developed an interest in geographic information systems (GIS)—an increasingly vital mapping technology that has proven crucial to resource allocation and search-and-rescue efforts in disaster response. The potential of GIS was made clear in the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
By gathering information from the ground and mapping it using GIS, “you didn’t have search and rescue teams wandering around, looking for people to rescue," Treanor said. "They were responding to spatial information that was populated for them, and it just made them more effective.”
When he returned home, Treanor found a GIS-focused program in his own backyard, at UMass Boston’s School for the Environment. It’s an obvious match because of the potential for GIS to be used in grappling with the fallout from climate change.
“Climate change is going to be the defining issue of our time. You have all these implications, and the question now is how do you prepare for and respond to it,” Treanor said. “I think emergency response is going to be a big part of that, and if we can utilize the latest science and data-driven technology to help plan our responses, we’re going to be more effective.”
Treanor's commitment to public service in dangerous situations was further evident in his decision to spend a summer fighting wildfires in the Rocky Mountains with the U.S. Forest Service.
School for the Environment professor Robert Bowen says Treanor has demonstrated a deep commitment to others in everything he does.
“He is a combat vet who knows too well the costs of service to country. But those challenges did not push him to solitude,” Bowen wrote. “Rather, they seem to enforce and solidify his understanding of social responsibility, public service, and the value of education in solving important problems.”
The same principles that guided Treanor to Kandahar and Colorado have also informed his future career goals. He has accepted a position on the dispatch team of the Boston Fire Department, and hopes to serve the city as a firefighter as well. In the long term, he aspires to a position in operational leadership with a disaster response agency such as MEMA or FEMA. And he says UMass Boston has played a crucial role in helping him develop those goals.
“The faculty here in the School for the Environment has been great. I had a number of professors who took a personal interest in my success," Treanor said. “None of this is really possible without UMass Boston."