In addition to maintaining a 4.0 GPA in the cutting-edge field of data analysis, Jack Vachon ’21 holds down a regular job, has a professional photography sideline, and manages an hour-and-a-half roundtrip commute to PSU when he’s not taking online classes. He also volunteers with search and rescue teams that are called out at all hours, in all conditions, assisting hikers in distress.
Which bring us back to the 4.0. How is it possible?
“It comes down to trying to organize everything as best as I can,” says Vachon. “I like my routines, and I like to have things blocked out. Granted, search and rescue operations can’t be scheduled like that. A lot of it has to do with trying to keep myself ahead of the curve rather than letting myself fall behind, because I used to do that, and I’ve learned from that.”
Vachon’s organizational tips include getting his course homework done as soon as possible, typically on the day it’s assigned. School comes first, and he builds his work schedule at Concord Photo Service around his PSU courses. He also is a fan of Wallpaper Engine, an app he deploys on a secondary monitor, set up to continually remind him of his schedule.
Vachon is among a significant proportion of students who commute, and he appreciates being able to experience a new location while saving money by living at home. PSU’s welcoming environment became clear to him on his very first day when, as a new transfer student, he was sitting in front of Mary Lyon Hall. “I was a little lost and sitting alone, and a couple of people saw me and came over and sat with me. They’ve been some of my closest friends here ever since. Plymouth is special because of its location, and it’s tight knit.”
Faculty are also accommodating to commuters. Vachon notes that professors are typically willing to meet outside of office hours and that the pandemic has led to even greater flexibility.
Vachon transferred to PSU in 2017 after earning an associate’s degree. He was initially a marketing major, then switched to business management, and ultimately found his way to the interdisciplinary studies program. His self-designed major on data analysis is complemented by a minor in history.
“I like how open-ended data analysis can be,” he says. One assignment with Professor Daniel Lee had Vachon analyzing car fuel efficiency, and he’s intrigued by an acquaintance’s probing of the relationship between soft drink flavors and geography. “I enjoy the fact that I can work on totally different projects and do totally different things.”
His history studies were spurred by Professor Lee, who explained that prior history was a prerequisite for data forecasting, and by Professor Jacqui Nelson, whose War in US History course impressed Vachon.
“He is one of my most engaged students, both in person and when remote,” says Nelson. “From his very first class with me, he showed a desire to truly absorb all that he could. The diversity in the classes Jack has taken at PSU shows a goal to not only see the world more clearly but also to be able to communicate and reach the world more sincerely.”
One of Vachon’s greatest accomplishments to date is hiking all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot mountains. He also puts his wilderness knowledge to good use as a volunteer for the Pemigewasset Valley Search and Rescue Team. One of many memorable outings involved a hiker with a broken ankle who needed to be helped down from the Lincoln-Lafayette ridgeline in Franconia Notch. Conditions worsened during the rescue and a National Guard helicopter had to be called in.
“You need a lot of drive to keep going,” says Vachon. “I think that’s one of my skills. When you’re hiking late at night and it’s freezing, knowing that you’re doing it for someone else is what keeps you going.”
Summiting majestic peaks led to the pleasure he has in taking pictures, and Professor Nelson finds a strong relationship between Vachon’s photographic talents and his passion for history. “He can skillfully express the many details and nuances of historical events, trends, and figures, creating as beautiful a scene as he does with his photography.”