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Alumni Spotlight | Andrew Chen '91


Tell me about the work you do now.

I am an active-duty officer in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and assigned to the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. We effectively function as the public health and medical services arm of FEMA, even though we don't actually work for FEMA. (Links: http://www.usphs.gov, https://aspr.hhs.gov/Pages/Home.aspx) I have been in USPHS for almost 18 years. I was commissioned in October 2005 and was a civilian hospital administrator in NYC for almost eight years prior to that.


What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Friends?

I think of Linda Chu, who was my teacher for 3rd and 4th grades (or "8/9's" as we called it back then) -- my first two years at Friends. I unexpectedly started attending Friends after losing my father in a car accident in July 1981 -- my parents had divorced and he had custody of me out in Kansas, so my mother had to scramble to find a school for me. Linda was my first teacher after that, and to have her for two years as a steadying presence as I worked through that loss and change was invaluable.


Tell me a little bit about your Friends journey.

I was at Friends from 3rd grade through 9th grade, at which point I transferred to a Quaker boarding school near where I currently live in Bucks County, PA. I wound up doing a lot of music things at Friends between playing the trumpet for Bob Rosen's and the late Don Bender's Chamber Players and playing recorder for the late Linda Monssen's Recorder Consort. I still remember playing in the 1986 Bicentennial celebration at the church across the street! (Somewhere I still have the vinyl LP recording of that performance). All that music also meant I never ate lunch in the cafeteria - I had a special pass that allowed me to cut the lunch line, get my food, and then take my lunch to class. I also played on the tennis team in 7th, 8th, and 9th grades.


In what ways have Quaker values and your experience at Friends influenced the work you do today?

I think I really absorbed the Friends and Quaker concept of service. I am an active-duty servicemember, which isn't the first thing that most Quakers would consider when looking for opportunities to serve, but the word "service" is baked into that title: SERVICEmember. Also, my branch of service (again, there's the word "service") does not have (nor support) a combat mission; it has a public health mission. The end beneficiary of my work is the average person on the street. If an emergency or incident made national news in the last 15 years or so, there's a decent chance I was personally involved (obviously COVID-19, hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria in 2017, the Boston Marathon Bombing in 2013, the Joplin tornado in 2011, the airline crash in Buffalo in 2009, etc.).


How do you understand the work you do now as bringing about a world that ought to be?

I get to do full-time, as my career field, what I think everyone should do at least once in their lifetime as a volunteer: to help others in their time of need. I like to say about my career field, "We are at our best when times are at their worst" -- meaning, on the worst days of some people's lives, we are there to help them, such as the recent wildfires in Maui, Hawaii. I personally did not go, but my agency sent personnel there to help identify the remains of victims and reunite them with their loved ones. I think anyone not in a service-oriented career field should also consider volunteering on their local rescue squad, with the Red Cross (or similar organization, like Team Rubicon), with their local medical reserve corps (MRC) or community emergency response team (CERT), or at their house of worship.


What are your hopes, dreams and plans for your work in the future?

I am actually hoping to retire from active duty in a couple of years! But in doing so, I also hope to return to my roots: I am currently a team leader/supervisor, so I am frequently tied up in more mundane, administrative tasks. By retiring from full-time work, and then coming back as a civilian reservist, I will get to work solely in the response arena and help others when needed. I will then fill my free time with other volunteer work; I have my pilot's license, so I hope to fly more of the animal rescue missions as well as the Angel Flight East missions (both of which I currently already do -- albeit not as much as I'd like -- when I have some spare time).


Would you be willing to be contacted by fellow alumni who want to learn more? (Networking/Mentorship opportunity)

Sure!


Is there a fellow alum you would nominate to be featured in a future article?

Wylie Dufresne ’88 or Stefan Monssen '91. Wylie has become one of the most celebrated chefs in NYC of our generation, and Stefan seems to have had a fascinating experience traveling to Africa and exploring African music.

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