Who We Are: Benedicte Jeanson-Manwaring – a fortuitous journey
summit daily news
Benedicte Jeanson-Manwaring doesn’t know exactly where her roots lie, but she’s definitely from this planet.
“My father is French, my mother is Dutch, and I was born in Madagascar,” she said. “I don’t know where I’m from. I guess from Planet Earth.”
Now a professor of mathematics at Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge, Manwaring is happy right where she is. But, it took a little while to find her place.
Manwaring’s family moved to Europe from Madagascar in 1972, after it started becoming unstable. They tried to go to Holland first, but her father – who worked in the oil industry – didn’t speak Dutch, so they ended up in France. At the same time, Manwaring became sick.
“I had no immune system,” she said. “I had a virus that attacked my white blood cells, which meant that I caught everything you can think of at the same time.”
Manwaring had measles, rubella, mumps and hepatitis all at once and had to be isolated in a bubble for 18 months to regenerate white blood cells. She was only able to see her parents once every three months.
“That was not the best part of my life,” she said.
She recovered and was showered with attention when she got home.
“I guess I felt guilty, because I’m not sure that was nice for my siblings,” Manwaring said, who is the fourth of five children.
Manwaring said her illness and isolation stunted her growth socially, and she had a hard time relating to other people.
“I think when you are that young, you develop your social skills. I never got a chance,” she said. “I was so awkward in the classroom that teachers asked my parents if I should be in an institution for mentally ill people.”
But Manwaring’s parents saw things differently. They knew she was smart and that she would adapt at some point.
“I’m pretty sure I’ve adjusted since then,” she said laughing.
A boarding school experience – which she chose – helped develop her social skills.
“Boarding school is strict, yet you form some really good bonds with your roommate,” she said. “That was the first time I had some real friends.”
After boarding school, Manwaring went to college in the center of France, where she earned a degree in business.
“I studied business because I think anybody who doesn’t know what to study always picks business,” she said.
After college, she visited the United States a few times, eventually ending up in America on a student visa.
“I kept being drawn here,” she said.
She originally went to Miami because it sounded exotic, but found she couldn’t relate to the population.
“When you get there it’s really nice, but there’s a lot of people I never really associated with,” she said.
Manwaring said she’d never excelled at much – she didn’t play sports and didn’t have many friends – but, she could get an “A” in any class she took. So, she went back to school for business in Fort Lauderdale.
“I was never good at anything, but I was always good at school,” she said.
One of her professors recognized her potential and hired her as a consultant. It was then she recognized she wasn’t cut out for the business world; she lacked ruthlessness.
“I hated every moment of it,” she said.
So, she went back to school again. The third time around, Manwaring realized she should take some math classes, since it was a subject she’d always enjoyed.
“I just took every math course I could think of,” she said.
While in school, an instructor noticed she was mixing up numbers. Manwaring tested positive for dyslexia, but said the diagnosis was a good thing. Now, as a teacher herself, she understands when students make mistakes.
At the time, armed with her master’s in mathematics, Manwaring never imagined she would be a teacher. She was working at a college – the same one she graduated from – as a counselor for foreign students when she received a call. An instructor hadn’t shown up on the first day of class, and administrators wanted to know if she could teach that night. Manwaring ended up teaching the class for the rest of the semester.
“I think I knew after that first class,” she said. “I quit my job and said, ‘I have to teach.’
“I never dreamed I would be a teacher.”
That was 15 years ago, and Manwaring has been teaching college mathematics ever since. She said she loves her role and especially enjoys seeing the students’ faces transform when they start to understand something.
“I shouldn’t say this, but I would do it if they didn’t pay me. This is how much I love my job,” she said. “There goes my pay raise!”
Manwaring and her husband, whom she married in 2002, moved to Summit County after they bought a second home in Colorado. She loved it so much after their first visit, she told him she wanted to stay. She called Colorado Mountain College, and asked if they needed a math instructor. They did.
“It was meant to be,” she said.
Manwaring said her favorite thing about Summit County is the kind of people she meets here; people she had a hard time meeting in Florida.
“I’m just happy to be surrounded by unbelievable people in Summit County,” she said. “It blows my mind to meet this caliber of people.”
Manwaring said she’s met extraordinary folks through the Rotary Club of Summit County, where she currently serves as secretary. She said when she retires, she wants to spend more time there and emulate a few of the volunteers she looks up to. She wants to carry on with projects and fundraisers, and gain more access to world projects.
“I can’t wait to retire and do what they do,” she said. “That’s my goal.”
Manwaring said her parents were always involved in community projects, causing them to spend time away from home.
“I didn’t understand it at the time, but now I know how fulfilling it is to help,” she said.
She said she loves her job, but sees volunteering as truly gratifying.
“I also know I have a calling more than just teaching math. I know there’s another chapter.”
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