SNR Student Spotlight: Derrick Meier

Derrick Meier with his wife and two Indonesian locals dressed in traditional clothing. (Courtesy photo)
Derrick Meier with his wife and two Indonesian locals dressed in traditional clothing. (Courtesy photo)

Derrick Meier is a wanderer.

"I have lived in Mexico and have been to Africa a couple of times already," said Meier, a senior geography major.

It's no surprise, then, that it took a little wandering for him to find his academic home.

"I spent a year at UNL taking different general classes trying to figure out what to major in," he said. "I think I came across a brochure in Hardin Hall about geography, so I signed up for human geography. After about a week, I knew that geography was what I wanted to study – I loved it."

Now set to graduate in December, Meier said that his geography major complements his curiosity about different cultures.

So when an international organization that leads community development efforts around the world invited Meier to travel to Sumatra over the summer, he accepted.

"I picked Sumatra over different opportunities because of the relationship I had with people that were already working there," Meier said. "Also, Sumatra has some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, so that didn't hurt."

For one month, Meier ventured across the Indonesian island. He went snorkeling in the Indian Ocean and took a few Indonesian language classes.

"Also, I drank a lot of Sumatran coffee," he said.

But the trip opened up Meier's eyes to much more than a good cup of java.

"Anytime you travel and take yourself out of your normal perspective, you grow," he said. "I was taken aback by the level of material poverty that I saw in some places. But I also learned that there are other kinds of poverty."

Conversations with locals and others on the trip exposed Meier to a broader understanding of what the term "poverty" really means.

"I learned that we all have some kind of poverty in our lives," he said. "It is just easier for people to see it and point it out when it is material poverty."

Life in Sumatra also awoke memories of Meier's earlier geography studies.

"I found myself being taken back to Geography 155 classes, thinking about plate tectonics and oceanography," he said. "For me, it was like the lessons and principles that I had learned about in the classroom were on display for me to see on a really grand scale."

David Wishart, professor of geography, said that Meier is an exemplary student.

"He is one of our very best geography majors," Wishart said. "He has a genuine interest – and concern – for other people and places, and a keen interest in how they live their lives and shape their landscapes."

That passion for learning about other cultures led Meier to help start Connect, a student organization that helps bring international and American students at UNL together.

The group hosts parties and events as a way to bond students from different backgrounds.

"It has been awesome to get to know people from all over the world here at UNL, break down stereotypes, make real friends and share real opinions with each other," Meier said. "Not everyone can travel around the world, but the world is here. We should take advantage of it."

As graduation approaches, Meier plans on pursuing a career in community development – inspired by both his recent trip to Sumatra and the education he has received at SNR.

"There is no doubt that my education here will prepare me for the future," Meier said. "I have incredibly powerful tools like GIS at my fingertips to utilize and make new discoveries about places and people that need help."

— Mekita Rivas, Natural Resources

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