Meet an Alum

Devan Chirgwin ('15)

Why did you choose UNH?
For me, UNH is a family affair.  My mom, my dad and my older brother have all attended the school; so it has always been on the radar.  I’ve always loved the beautiful campus and felt at home visiting my brother here and attending hockey games with my dad.  The community atmosphere attracted me as well as the size of the school since I came from a large high school.  But what really stood out to me was how enthusiastic the professors seemed.  I had toured other schools and felt as though the professors were annoyed with my questions about their pre-vet programs, but it was different at UNH.  They seemed thrilled to talk to me and all told me that if I had any more questions I could feel free to email them.   This was a huge factor in my choosing UNH as my college.  But the final decision really came down to the academics.   Although I had applied as a Biomedical and Veterinary Science major, I realized that I didn’t just want to be a pre-vet student, I wanted to get my degree in Genetics.  This is a unique program that many schools do not offer and at that point I knew I was going to become a Wildcat.

Did you know that you wanted to major in genetics when you arrived on campus? I’ve known that I wanted to be a veterinarian since I was four and couldn’t even say the occupation right; instead of veterinarian I bounced around the house saying I wanted to be a vegetarian.  Finally my confused parents, who didn’t think I wanted to be a vegetarian since my favorite food was steak, realized what I was trying to say.  So when I sat down to apply to schools, I applied as pre-vet to every one of them and was accepted into UNH as a Biomedical and Veterinary Sciences major.  However, it was during my decision process that my dad asked me, “What’s your backup plan? Vet school is very difficult to get into.”  I realized that I had never formed a backup plan but I told him that I really enjoyed genetics.  We immediately got on the website for my schools and realized that UNH was the only one that offered an actual genetics major.  We talked about it for a while and I thought of all the veterinarians that had told me to do whatever I could to set myself apart from the others and to have a backup plan.   

Suddenly everything fell into place for I had also been planning to go into the livestock end of veterinary medicine where genetics and breeding is extremely important.  So when I arrived at orientation, I changed my major to genetics with a pre-vet path and have been loving it ever since.

What was your favorite class? My favorite class was GEN 606: Genetics Lab taught by Dr. Estelle Hrabak.  It’s the first class in my college career that is confined to just the other students that are my year and my major.  It was a blast to really spend time with them and to get to know my advisor in a different setting.  We had seven hours of lab a week and the best part was that we never felt like it was really that long.  

Professor Hrabak kept us busy performing our own experiments and learning on a much more in depth level than any of our other biological science class.  I loved how hands on the class was and definitely feel that the class boosted all of our confidences in a lab setting.  It exposed us to so many real world applications of genetics and we even got to submit plant DNA sequences to GenBank at the end of the semester, something most people don’t do until graduate school.

Which UNH faculty member had the greatest impact on you? This is a tough one but I have to say that there is a duo at UNH that I couldn’t do without! They are my Genetics advisor, Dr. Estelle Hrabak, and my pre-vet advisor, Dr. Michelle Fleetwood.  Every semester these two amazing professors help me to stay on track with my major, my vet school pre-requisites, and my dairy management minor requirements.  I know I’m not the typical genetics major but Dr. Hrabak always encourages my animal pursuits and helped me through the paper work to be able to study abroad this past summer in South Africa.  Dr. Fleetwood never fails to answer my million and one questions about getting into vet school and is always there to help me find ways to strengthen my resume.  I can’t imagine going through college without them and their great encouragement and support.

What activities related to your major have occurred outside the classroom that has been most beneficial to you?
UNH has an immense amount of clubs and I love being involved in them.  I am currently the 2015 Class Representative for Pre-Vet Club, the President of our Collegiate FFA chapter, and the Treasurer for Dairy Club.  All through high school I was involved in clubs and I knew I wanted to continue this is college.  I love working in group settings, meeting new people, and being a leader.  What my clubs all have in common is my love for agriculture and my passion for animals.  Being an active member of these organizations has allowed me to connect with people on campus both inside my major of genetics and my career path as a veterinarian. 

But I truly love my organizations and know that my involvement in them strengthens my abilities as a student.  Plus, as my mom always says, I don’t like to leave myself with any free time!

Describe something non-academic about which you are passionate: I love animals, agriculture, and farming.  So when I was offered a job at UNH’s Organic Dairy Research Farm at the Burley-Demeritt Farm during my freshman year I couldn’t have been more excited, it combined everything I love!  I had been a member of FFA all through high school and had come to greatly appreciate the work that farmers and everyone in agricultural jobs do.  I wanted to be a part of it all but didn’t know where to start.  Suddenly the answer was sitting right in front of me, this dairy farm.  I started working the week after spring break and immediately fell in love with the farm and the 80 or so Jersey cows that it is home to.  I had only worked with cows during farm calls with the vet and had a lot to learn but all my coworkers were more than willing to teach me.  Now, after over a year of working there, waking up for 4 AM shifts all summer, and seeing calves born, I am very comfortable with my girls and the farm is like another home.  My family laughs when they think about what FFA originally stood for, Future Farmers of America, and they tell me that I’m no longer a future farmer, that I am a farmer and proud of it.