After graduating from Gross Catholic high school in 1992, Susie Jankowski McGuire went on to study Biology at the University of Nebraska - Omaha. She was a unique student in her field. Most of her classmates were studying to become doctors, but Susie wanted to work with animals. Susie accomplished this and much, much more.
After graduating from UNO with a Bachelor’s of Science in biology, Susie was employed at the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo where she focused on conservation. After a couple of years working as a zookeeper, she began working as a lab technician in the genetics department of the zoo's Center for Conservation and Research. There she participated in research, community involvement, and education. In addition, Susie was able to mentor over 35 international students. She quickly realized the need for coexistence between people and animals, believing education is the key component to conservation.
In 2005, Susie traveled to Madagascar with the Madagascar Biodiversity & Biogeography Project to collect lab samples from lemurs. Lemurs are primates that are unique to Madagascar. Currently, all lemurs are endangered species, due mainly to habitat destruction through deforestation and hunting. Traveling to Madagascar provided Susie with a firsthand look at poverty and destruction in a biodiversity hotspot. “With two-thirds of Madagascar’s population under the age of 20, I realized I had an opportunity to educate and influence,” said Susie. She created a 200-page conservation-based coloring & activity book entitled Lemurs: Your National Treasure. In 2007, 15,000 books were distributed to Malagasy primary school children living amongst endangered lemur species. This book serves as a reflection of Susie’s desire to use education to initiate positive change. Following distribution of her book, lemur hunting significantly decreased.
While in Madagascar, Susie learned that over 80% of the country’s plants and animals are found nowhere else on earth. The island is the world's fourth largest, about the size of Texas. Madagascar is home to over 800 species of frogs, compared to just 80 species of frogs found in all 50 states of the U.S. Sadly, less than 10% of the original forest cover of the island remains. This means that all that biodiversity must survive in a shrinking environment. Susie said, “Madagascar is a world of its own, like an excerpt out of a Dr. Seuss book. Everything is so unique, including the people and the culture.”
Over a five-year period, Susie educated thousands of kids, empowering them to take responsible action for the future. She worked to instill ownership and engaging them and their communities to create an awareness and understanding of the world’s unique biodiversity. Always passionate about animals, science, the environment and kids Susie soon found the perfect niche in connecting children to the environment and was ready to expand her vision and her dream.
In 2010, after 13 years at the Henry Doorly Zoo, Susie launched an educational non-profit organization called Conservation Fusion. “It has been a challenge to learn all the business aspects of managing a non-profit. However, mistakes can be great! They provide new perspectives and learning opportunities. My passion is the driving force behind my work. It is important to me to operate on what I see as core values: always wowing kids, teachers and communities by educating in fun, unique ways while inspiring and motivating. We must be adventurous, creative and pursue growth. Identifying passions and promoting individual and team growth, while embracing change, supporting sustainable business, and treating others with respect is also very important,” said Susie.
To date, the Malagasy students from the region’s only secondary school, have participated in water conservation education through multiple educational programs provided by Conservation Fusion, including interactive water games, posters, songs and demonstrations about the water cycle and addressing recycling, conservation and the awareness and avoidance of water-borne illnesses.
Susie believes it is important to connect local Omaha children with kids in Madagascar providing a unique opportunity for kids to explore new cultures and conservation endeavors. Children must understand how changes in the environment in a country across the globe affects us here. Conservation Fusion engages not only children in Madagascar, but entire communities, from local people and government officials, to teachers in schools.
Susie truly believes in our Cougar motto, Dux Esto…Be A Leader. “My experiences at Gross Catholic have taught me not only to be a leader, but how to work together with others. It has been an underlying strength and when you know you have a strong team, anything is possible. I took with me lifelong values of helping others and service, and that is what motivates me and inspires me each day to continue my work with Conservation Fusion. Failure is not an option because people are depending on the life-changing programs, opportunities and experiences,” said Susie.
Susie plans to take Conservation Fusion worldwide, implementing programs internationally. She would also like to conduct teacher and student exchange programs and see communities sustaining their own programs due to the education Conservation Fusion provides. In conclusion Susie states, “I have accomplished things I never dreamt possible. If we can change a child, we can change the world. I am driven by inspiring kids to believe in themselves and the power of their ideas to change the world!”