Joe Guerra is the Grad Assistant for the Education Department at UNH. He works in the Pandora building of the Manchester campus with Judy Sharkey, Associate Professor and Associate Director of Teacher Education, and Lara Gengarelly, Field Experience Coordinator.
He attended The Derryfield School in Manchester and then studied at UNH Durham for three and a half years. He majored in geography and minored in classics, both of which reflect interests that pertain to other aspects of his life. He enjoyed his Durham experience and spent two and a half years as a Residents Assistant and Conference Assistant during the summer. “That really kept me busy with just being involved with the campus activities.” He graduated with a bachelor of arts in geography in December of 2007, a semester earlier than many of his classmates.
Joe got his private pilot license (PPL) right after graduating from high school (yes, airplanes!). Throughout college and alongside his studies, Joe worked for his commercial pilot license (CPL). “Geography kind of complemented it well, because [it involves] people and culture but also climate and weather.”
He had intended to be a flight instructor after graduating from college. Ironically, his decision to get a geography degree changed his life path despite complementing his passion for piloting so well. His concentration shifted to GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and technology as an intern at Durham. “I went the geography route instead, which was kind of difficult,” he laments, acknowledging that piloting is still a passion. Although, he says, it has now become more of a hobby than a career path.
In the years since obtaining his B.A. in geography, Joe has traveled the world. This he owes to “two innovative start-up technology companies”: Global Relief Technologies and Majella Global Technologies. With them he was a project manager and a corporate trainer. The companies “use electronic data collection and communications equipment” to aid humanitarian efforts. Joe gained experience with the American Red Cross and other relief organizations working for these two companies. He spent valuable and life changing time in the Caribbean, Haiti (“on five different occasions to assist on projects in response to the earthquake”), and Southeast Asia (“with the U.S. military”).
At these various global locations, Joe was responsible for training people to use the technology his companies worked with. He also gained much more cultural and worldly knowledge than staying in Manchester, NH could ever provide. “I really liked the corporate position I had because it offered a great deal of travel…. [It was] right up my alley just in terms of exploring and taking awesome pictures and eating strange foods. I really like the experiences that are outside of your comfort zone.”
His time in Thailand was particularly enlightening. The food was great, the country beautiful, but the people are what really left a lasting impression. He made friends with the translators and still keeps in touch by email, exchanging pictures of their shared experience. “The people there are just so nice and so genuine…. [My colleague and I] had the opportunity to go out and explore, and we made very good friends with some of the translators who were there. They immediately befriended us. They took us out to eat. They took us shopping, and they took us to a local noodle shop. And these are the best noodles that I have ever had. Our friends brought us there. They talked with us. They practiced their English with us. We didn’t even know them. We were from a foreign country, and that experience was really powerful.”
While working “in Haiti about a week after the earthquake struck” in 2010, Joe’s outlook on his own life changed. “One of the things that traveling does is it makes you really think about your own culture,” he says. Sent there by work, Joe spent a lot of time in the field hospitals after the earthquake. These were essentially overflow medical facilities made up of tents in open fields sometimes located in the yard of a hospital or school. Others were set up wherever space allowed. “That made me really appreciate how good we have it here in the U.S.” His blackberry and internet access were no longer concerns; he was working in a place where a shower, electricity and internet were not daily guarantees, and the horrific state of patients and those afflicted by the earthquake allowed him to reevaluate his priorities.
Despite the enlightening opportunities from travel, the corporate world, Joe admits, was tiring. He recently decided to pursue more education and is now a graduate student in the UNH education department. “Seeing the fulfillment of training in the corporate world, [bringing] that to academics is something that I’d really like to do. My hope is that it’s a little more fulfilling than the corporate world and much less travel.” His goal after finishing the graduate program is to teach geography at the secondary level.
Joe not only attends classes at UNH Manchester; he also works in the new Pandora building. He is responsible for coordinating student -teaching opportunities for the Exploring Education 500 course and the teacher certification internship process.
His achievements and goals are many, but he does find time to relax. Bikram yoga is a relatively new interest of his. “I was looking for something for kind of stress relief from the corporate world…. I went in there and tried it. It is particularly intense; it is not easy.” He is emphatic about breaking the stigma that yoga is easy. “For anyone who says that, I would encourage them to try a Bikram yoga class and see if their opinion remains the same.” He also likes to run, another form of stress relief from work and school.
When Joe is not working at his two jobs (the other is at a bagel shop here in Manchester) or attending classes, he also likes spending “a fair amount of time in Boston’s Italian North end visiting [his] uncle and drinking cappuccinos.”
Joe is not typically interested in the mundane, routine life. He has a passion for extreme sports and experiencing new and different activities, foods, and aspects of culture. “I would just say that a big part of who I am is… experiencing new things.” In one of his ventures to be extreme, Joe tried skydiving. It was an endeavor he attempted on his own, exemplifying his independent spirit. Eventually, Joe got certified; his experience flying and piloting abated fear and nerves.
You can find Joe at the Pandora building most days or running with Run of the Mill on Tuesdays at 8:00 a.m.
Sarah Thomas editor-in-chief