“I drive a behemoth of a fire truck with a big turret on it to shoot water,” says Josh Chandler ’23. A cell and molecular biology major with minors in chemistry, global health, neuroscience, and psychology, the Air National Guard firefighter is taking a full load of Plymouth State University courses while currently serving in Kuwait.
Chandler is also speaker of the Student Government Association and has been running meetings remotely via Zoom while deployed, despite the seven hour time difference. He previously served as vice president of the student body and as student trustee to the University System of New Hampshire Board of Trustees. His busy life fits together in a life of service to the nation, central New Hampshire, and the Plymouth State community, and in his career goal of becoming a physician assistant.
Chandler was originally slated to graduate next May, but military service has necessitated pushing his Commencement back to 2023. All in all, he has one more year to go at PSU and then three more with the Guard.
Chandler’s connection to PSU runs deep. He belongs to a legacy family, with his mother, aunt, and brother among Plymouth State’s alumni. A native of nearby Laconia, NH, he came to PSU for math meets, band festivals, and other events during his high school years. “Every time I came, it was a great, welcoming environment and I knew when I was applying that this would be a great place to go,” he says.
As speaker, Chandler’s priorities include reorganizing the way the Student Government Association operates to make it more inclusive. “We want to better meet the needs of the general student population and to openly show the campus what we do and how we can help create change,” he says. He’s also in the stage of developing/implementing an academic affairs subcommittee akin to that of the faculty’s, and is looking for ways to enhance the First Fire and Ski Day events.
The deployed fire department is made up of two crews, which divide up coverage in 24-hour stints.
“We’ve mostly had to deal with hot brakes and other routine things so far, and we stand by in case a pilot needs emergency services when landing,” says Chandler. “At a moment’s notice we have two minutes to get all our gear on and go, and once we’re out there we position and do whatever command tells us to do.” Chandler expects to use his firefighting skills to benefit PSU and Plymouth when he returns from the Mideast next spring.
Chandler acquired EMT certification as a freshman and subsequently worked in Plymouth as an EMT call member. He started earlier this year with a private ambulance company responding to 911 and medical transports. He plans to work as a full-time EMT when he returns to the United States in order to amass the 2,000 to 4,000 patient care hours needed for applying to the most competitive physician assistant graduate programs.
The EMT commitment will be in addition to continued part-time studies at PSU, which Chandler will center on horseshoe crab research with Professor Chris Chabot. Chandler’s capstone project will involve bioinformatics, the capture and interpretation of biological data via computation and analysis.
“Josh is a real self-starter and will be taking advantage of our biology program’s Undergraduate Research course,” says Chabot. “He can continue with this research remotely if needed because it involves computer-based analysis of existing bioinformatic data. In this course, students get real hands-on experience with problems that are in their field. I’m excited to help mentor Josh as he explores bioinformatics and gains skills that will help him stand out to future recruiters.”
The high level of student participation in the Undergraduate Research course is a particular strongpoint for PSU due to professors’ willingness to work with students. “We provide much better opportunities for this kind of hands-on research, which is instrumental in students getting jobs or admission into graduate programs later on,” says Chabot.
Chandler appreciates Plymouth State’s advantages and enjoys sharing them with others. “I say, ‘It’s a great little university tucked away in the mountains,’” he notes. “It offers a lot of one-on-one time with professors who are able to answer questions you have from the classroom, and it promotes a lot of critical thinking and pre-thinking. Rather than just telling you what the answer is, we’re encouraged to consider why we get the answer, how we get that answer, and if there are other answers. Plymouth State is also about creating better leaders in our respective disciplines.”
“Josh showed characteristics of a leader early on at Plymouth State—asking questions, collecting data, making good decisions, and a willingness to serve,” says Chabot. “I think our environment and leadership opportunities have helped to nurture and strengthen those good qualities.”