Alumni Spotlight: Derek Juracek

Photo Credit: Alumni Spotlight: Derek Juracek
Wed, 12/06/2023 - 12:28

Major: Geography
Minor: Global Studies
Graduation year: 2018

What were some of you favorite memories of being at UNL and your majors/minors?
When I first came to UNL I thought I was going to major in Nutrition and Exercise Science. As a sophomore, feeling a bit lost I was required to take a Geography class as a prerequisite. I remember talking with the professor about an assignment after class and she told me at the end of our discussion that, “I would be a great geographer. Geography needs someone like me.” From that day I changed my major and never looked back as my classes and trajectory were now about people, time, place and trying to make sense of it all. Geography and Global Studies provided me a home that further developed and brought out my curiosity and wonder about the world.

What were some of your favorite and/or most influential classes you took while at UNL?
One of my most influential classes at UNL, was actually my senior capstone for Geography by David Wishart (or really any class with Wishart for that matter, seriously take one if you can!). In this course we dissected the Geography of nearly everything, ranging from the Geography of Rock and Roll, water, even to the level of our own neighborhoods and Memorial Stadium. Here I learned a new way of thinking about what really goes into why things are the way they are and started to get a real sense of how to start asking the right questions about things. There are many things that stuck with me, but one is what he likes to call, “the rhythms of life.” About how you start to get a sense about what makes a place unique by it's everyday patterns, if you choose to pay attention to it.

On and off campus involvement:
I studied abroad in Port Elizabeth, South Africa for nearly 6 months my junior year. I took some pretty insightful geography courses ranging from Apartheid, Soil Erosion, and GIS. But also I got to meet a lot of wonderful people, travel on horse back in Lesotho, get chased off by Baboons and climb on the sea cliffs of Morgans Bay. I would recommend studying abroad to everyone that is remotely interested. It’s hard to carve this amount of time off after graduation.

Also, I was apart of Outdoor Adventures Center as a rock climbing instructor and Trip Leader. Some highlights are leadership training in the backcountry of Wyoming, rock climbing in Arkansas and hiking through Escalante. The Outdoor Adventure Center provided me friends I still have today, leadership skills, rock climbing and deep growth.

What have you been up to since graduation?
Since graduation, I become a Park Ranger for the Bureau of Land Management in Montana for 2 seasons near Helena. As a Ranger, I managed wildlife, responded to emergencies, built fences, took care of campsites and pretty much everything in between. After 2 great years, I realized I wasn’t getting challenged enough and decided to pursue GIS, showing my willingness to learn, I eventually got a job for the Nebraska Department of Transportation and developed many GIS skills over the 2 years that I was there. After that, I got a position as a GIS Developer for Accenture, performing work for the NYC MTA Subways System and got the opportunity to move to New York City and take the subway to Wall Street everyday from Brooklyn. And lastly, I most recently accepted a Geospatial Software Engineer at Leidos performing work for the FAA, building GIS software.

What is your advice for current geography majors?
If there’s any advice that I can give, is that you don’t have it all figured out yet, not even a little bit. You have your whole life ahead of you, you will figure it out as you go, I promise. The secret is we all are figuring it out as we go. The best thing that you can do is take your strongest interest you have at the time and follow it for awhile. As long as you have this, you have a direction to move towards and you will learn where to go next after you begin down this path. For me, I changed majors and I’ve made major careers changes and they’ve yet all been under the umbrella of GIS and Geography.

When I graduated, I thought I wanted to be a park ranger, until I realized I was missing a level of challenge that I like, so I pivoted to GIS and so on. Another piece of advice that you won’t see is that every pivot requires you to grow and learn new things. I had to really take the time to learn GIS, then software engineering and that only happened from the path I’ve taken up to until now. Good things take time and the greatest things take even more time. Really push and strive for what you want to do, but don’t feel defeated when life inevitably puts you down or that your dreams are taking longer than you originally thought. Also, be open to your dreams changing, too.

Lastly, just because something gets difficult, doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy it or have a passion for it. If you really want to get better at something you enjoy, it will often require time doing boring, frustrating and tedious tasks to get to the really good stuff. It can be easy to stay with something in the beginning, whatever that may be, but the real challenge comes when it gets difficult. Always have the courage to try new things, but make sure you gave the last thing enough time.