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Where there’s a WIL there’s a way

David Ross got his first exposure to the challenges of humanitarian emergencies while working in Afghanistan first as a United Nations military advisor and later as the chief of civil military operations with the International Security Assistance Force.

He says an unforgiving winter of avalanches, landslides, dying livestock and helicopter relief of a cut-off mountainous district exercised all his coordination and negotiation skills.

“These challenges made a significant impact on me,” says Ross, who retired from the RCAF in 2015 after a 35-year career.

When he decided to go to graduate school, Ross chose the Master of Arts in Disaster and Emergency Management program in the School of Humanitarian Studies because he wanted to increase his knowledge and apply his experience through a work integrated learning (WIL) opportunity, an option for students in a variety of programs at Royal Roads.

Ross is completing a three-month internship with the Humanitarian Advisory Group (HAG) in Australia to gain experience while studying.

The Melbourne-based social enterprise works to elevate the profile of humanitarian action in Asia and the Pacific.

As a retiree with a supportive wife, Ross says WIL was an obvious choice for him. Plus, he was drawn by the allure of working with a significant regional humanitarian player.

“I think that one of the real benefits of WIL is to get a glimpse into a possible field of endeavour. On the inside, one can see the actual workings and gain some sense of the challenges and rewards,” he says.

Part of his role has been to investigate the environmental impact of disaster response, determine gender bias in humanitarian reporting and identify gaps in the use of drones during disaster and emergency response operations.

At first, he wasn’t sure what someone with his skillset could contribute to HAG, but says he’s been able to contribute more than he thought.

“It has ranged from occasional offerings of academic commentary on current issues through exploration of issues not considered a HAG core capability, to the simple mechanics of searching references through my RRU library account. Most of all, I have been pleasantly surprised at how much of my class learning I have been able to use.”

While he thought he would be engaged in HAG’s civil-military coordination work, his actual workload is quite different.

“Instead, I’m being exposed to a wider range of issues that I might not have otherwise considered. I feel that I am having a more holistic WIL than would have occurred had it been a single focus,” he says.

Now that he’s nearing the end of his degree, Ross says he’s back to the drawing board.

“Much to my surprise, and I confess a fair bit of consternation, I am drawn to research. Who knew? Maybe my problem-solving abilities will be exercised not on the ground, but rather from behind a computer screen.”

Many programs at Royal Roads offer work integrated learning opportunities as academic courses. These work terms allow students to gain experience while studying, providing the chance to apply classroom skills in the workplace and bring what they learn back to class. Learn more about WIL at Royal Roads.