A third grade book report about an animal that lives in the jungle can change your life. Jessica MacManus soon learned that cheetahs live on the plains of Africa, not the jungle. From that assignment on, Jessica knew that big cats were in her future. When it came time for college, she contacted Professor Peter Pekins (her future advisor and mentor) to inquire about the Wildlife Management program. What follows is an amazing college experience starting in UNH classrooms and spilling out into the classrooms of the African plains.
Jessica describes her semester in Tanzania, Africa as “probably the most amazing experience of my life.” During her first day with her host family, she found herself climbing through the jungle with 8 African siblings. They couldn’t communicate because of the language barrier and Jessica had no idea where they were taking her. After hiking through people’s yards and banana fields, they arrived at a breathtaking waterfall. She was honored and excited that this was the first thing they wanted to show her. There were no words needed at that moment. Jessica learned the Kiswahali language and researched a herd of giraffe. How do you keep track of 98 giraffe? Jessica drew on paper the necks of each one, taking special notice of where their spots were located.
After her first experience in Africa, she wanted to go back. She got her chance during the summer of 2003. Jessica is changing the world, one cheetah at a time. This endangered species was killed if caught on farmers’ lands in Namibia , Africa. Through the Cheetah Conservation Fund, Jessica taught farmers how to work with these animals. Jessica ran biological tests on the cheetahs and then released them on the land of farmers who were willing and sympathetic to the plight of the cheetah.
When not working with giraffes or cheetahs in Africa, Jessica got involved at UNH. She is a very curious person who is excited and passionate about life. She loves varied experiences such as being involved in marching band, the ice skating team, serving as her hall council president, and being involved in theatre. “College is a great time to try new things. It’s a safe environment. Try until you find something you are passionate about and love. There are so many options. There are tons of them. I can’t understand why people don’t do anything at all. The list of options is so huge.”
Jessica’s experience abroad has shaped how she lives her life at UNH. The experience in Africa “makes you see what’s important in life and what isn’t. Once you’ve lived with people in poverty, you can’t complain about not having the sweater that you want. I didn’t consider myself frivolous before but I’m much more aware of what I have and how lucky I am.” She has taken advantage of as much that UNH has to offer as possible, although she wished she had done more.
Jessica plans to go back to Africa (maybe next year if she is accepted as a Fulbright Scholar.) Her intentions are to go to graduate school at Purdue University in Indiana starting the fall of 2005.