Five Questions with Jessa Nelson
Jessa Nelson shares her memories of growing up in the Philippines.
Name: Jessa Nelson
Position: Assistant director of alumni giving and engagement, Advancement Office
Time at the Gillings School: Ten months
What I do at UNC Gillings (and why I love it): I have the awesome job of connecting our alumni with our current students. On both sides, the people are so passionate about what they do, and I have the pleasure of finding opportunities to bring all those great passions together. Sometimes that looks like pairing a student and an alum for career coaching, or facilitating a mentoring relationship, or bringing alumni in for an expert panel discussion. I also help people connect electronically, especially since we have alumni working all over the globe. Sometimes, recent graduates want someone to get tips from when moving to a new city for an exciting public health opportunity!
My favorite part of this job is the people, hands-down. I like getting to know them and finding out what they love, what motivates them each day. Our donors and alumni have such a thirst to engage with current students in meaningful ways, and learning about their interests and passions is truly inspiring. The most fun part of my work is building on those interests to create excitement around work that supports the mission of the School.
I’m originally from: a small town in the Philippines, just outside of Manila. I was my parents’ first child and, when I was born, they had no name prepared and ended up finding mine in a dictionary! (My full name is Jessamine, a variation of “jasmine.”) I actually find that poetic, as my mom is a former teacher and a lover of words. She used to teach in a small private school, and she tells me I would sleep in a crib in one corner of the classroom while she gave lessons.
I lived in the Philippines until I was 12 years old. My dad was away 10-11 months of each year, working on contract as a mechanical engineer in the United States. The silver lining of this arrangement was that he used to bring us the most wonderful balikbayan boxes when he came home – that’s a Tagalog word that translates as “return [to] country.” These enormous boxes were full of American movies and music, chocolate and food, clothing and toys. He brought something for everyone in the village, and those gifts plus his presence made it feel like Christmas truly had come!
When I was 12, my parents decided we needed to be together as a family full-time, so my mother, two brothers and I moved to St. Louis. I lived there until I moved to Virginia for college, and then I made my way here early this year.
My first job ever: was bagging produce and dry goods in my family’s tindahan. A tindahan is a stall that’s part of a larger indoor/outdoor market, where most people in the Philippines buy fresh food to cook for dinner each night. That was fun – the whole market was very community centered, and we were friends with all our stall neighbors.
To start a conversation with me: you just have to bring up dogs! I’m a fairly new dog parent; my boyfriend and I have a 1.5-year-old Dachshund mix who we adopted from the SPCA. She is black and white and long and low! Her name is Ligaya, which is Tagalog for “happiness,” and she completely embodies that. She’s very social and sweet and she actually just won a “Dachshund Dash” race in downtown Raleigh!
You can also get me talking by bringing up travel or food. I love to cook, which I learned from my mom – but I’m still trying to figure out why my dishes never taste quite as good as hers.
My favorite books: are the classic Sherlock Holmes novels. I love mysteries, and those are entertaining but also have such a strong focus on the process of how Sherlock solves each case by paying attention to the tiniest details. For me, a good mystery is one where you’re compelled to try and guess who committed the crime, but there’s a twist at the end that you never could have seen coming! I’m really looking forward to seeing the new film version of “Murder on the Orient Express,” but I can’t watch it until I read the book. I’m a big believer that movie adaptations can be great, but you must read the book first.