It took some convincing to get her to leave Toronto for the University of Pennsylvania, but four-time squash All-American Jessica DiMauro is now the one trying to convince others to do the same.
Jessica DiMauro wound up at Penn through happenstance and found something schools in Canada can't provide. Now she shares what she found with young Canadians, "I interview kids for Penn admissions," she says. "The kids have such diverse talents and interests. I love how Penn supports all these things. It prepares them better for the real world than Canadian schools, which are academics only. Penn supports the whole person."
DiMauro visited Penn for the first time when she was playing in the U.S. Junior National Squash Championships. She had never played outside Canada but one of her friends had gone to Penn, so she decided to visit and play in the tournament. She won, and attracted the attention of squash coach Demer Holleran, who then went to Toronto to help convince DiMauro that Penn was the school for her. Even so, it required a lot of convincing from her parents as well to get her to leave Canada for Philadelphia.
Holleran was very persuasive. DiMauro recalls, "She told me about all of the benefits of the city and the school and made great promises about training and academics. She kept and exceeded all the promises she made to me. She was the best college coach with her own very strong past of competing and academics at Princeton."
After allowing herself to be convinced, DiMauro started at Penn, promptly won the national singles title freshman year, and reached the finals in each of her next three years. In 1999, she became the first squash player to win the prestigious Father's Trophy -- Penn's top senior award for women -- in nearly three decades.
A four-time first-team All-Ivy and All-American, when DiMauro started the Quakers were the ninth-place team. When she graduated they were third, behind Harvard and Princeton. A match from her junior year, when Harvard defeated Penn five matches to four, remains one of her favorite college memories.
While she was leaving her mark on Penn squash history, DiMauro was also double majoring in biology and environmental science. She began working with Dr. Daniel Janzen while still an undergraduate and earned a masters in Conservation Biology one year after her bachelor's degree.
DiMauro did extensive undergraduate research for Dr. Janzen. "I began to work in his lab whenever I had the time," she says. "I had a key, so I would go in at really odd hours. Dan thought I was crazy for the hours that I was there. We built a great relationship. He was able to find funding to cover my entire summer doing research in Costa Rica twice." She used that Costa Rican research to write both her undergraduate and masters theses.
After graduation she worked in Philadelphia and then Toronto as a biologist, and started coaching squash in her spare time. She enjoyed that so much that she became a full-time coach at the Granite Club in Toronto, a 10,000-member organization. She says "I love being a full-time coach/athlete. I have built great relationships with great kids and athletes. I still compete seriously in squash doubles and have been the assistant coach for the Junior Girls National Team for three years."
One day, DiMauro would love to be head coach of the Canadian National Team. And she wants to keep playing squash. Currently she is on a three-year win streak for the Canadian National Women's doubles title and has won the Canadian Mixed Doubles title two years running.
As an alum, DiMauro has attended both class and squash reunions. She says, "I am still in contact with so many of my Penn friends. Going to Penn shaped my personality. It built my confidence and my independence. It was definitely the best decision I ever made."
She continues to encourage Canadian kids to go to Penn and experience a broad focus, whether it be athletics or other extra-curriculars. DiMauro tells the kids a school like Penn will help them grow in every way, not just academically. She adds, "it's unbelievable to meet some of these candidates. It makes me proud to know that I went to a school where such amazing kids would like to go."
— Suzanne Eschenbach