(Posted August 6, 2015)

Jessica Baumgardner-Zuzik prepares for her bout.
Jessica Baumgardner-Zuzik prepares for her bout.

Knockout Hunch: Juniatian Jabs Away at Economic Development

Economic development is not exactly a knock-down, drag-out profession, but there are certain similarities to banking and boxing.

After all, two parties come together, defenses are probed, the pair jab away until they find a soft spot to work on, and at the end, someone goes home with a little more hope and perhaps some money in their pocket.

Jessica Baumgardner-Zuzik, a 2007 Juniata graduate, knows the links between business and boxing well, because, in addition to her job working at the World Bank evaluating microenterprises in Malawi, Africa, she recently fought a four-round bout against a Malawian opponent that she narrowly lost on points. But even her defeat turned into a victory of sorts for economic development. At the end of the May 10 fight, her opponent, a 20-year-old Malawi woman was awarded $1,000 and a four-year scholarship to a university in South Africa.

"Had I won, I would have received about $25, but because a Malawian defeated an international boxer (from the United States), she received these great rewards and I felt really good about that," says Baumgardner-Zuzik, who was a peace and conflict studies POE while at Juniata.

"For me boxing is not about beating someone up. It's more about sportsmanship and perfecting techniques and skills from a perspective of discipline."

Jessica Baumgardner-Zuzik '07

In case alumni and current students see a contradiction between PACS and pugilism, Jessica assures everyone she still is very much a pacifist. "For me boxing is not about beating someone up," she explains. "It's more about sportsmanship and perfecting techniques and skills from a perspective of discipline."

When she's not practicing her ring footwork, Jessica works for the World Bank's Gender Innovations Lab, where she evaluates and reports on 3,000 entrepreneurs who run microenterprises that occupy open-air markets in the capital city of Lilongwe and the country's financial center in Blantyre. She's been in Malawi for two years.

Her boxing career goes back further, about five or six years when she started training in a boxing program in Southern California while her husband was completing his post-graduate work. She injured her wrist and stopped training for several years. She started up again in Malawi, which has an active boxing culture. She and her husband, Allen, found coaches and began to train in earnest. "Boxing here is definitely a less skillful endeavor, it's more open, but they keep it pretty clean," she says.

She finds that boxing also helps her in the banking world, where Africans might be slightly leery of officials from a foreign company. "The greatest thing about athletics is that everyone is equal," she explains. "I've worked in four countries in Africa and I will always be an outsider, but after I box they have an opportunity to see me as an equal and that's an excellent basis to meet people."

Jessica and Allen are leaving Malawi for Kenya in a month. She's not giving up on her dream of more boxing. They've already found a new coach.

Contact April Feagley at feaglea@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.