By Doug McPherson
How does a high school dropout end up winning one of Metropolitan State University of Denver’s highest awards for student achievement?
Meet Derek Brekken, who’s happy to tell you how. It’s his story. In fact, it was while he was at MSU Denver that he discovered and sharpened his natural talent for telling stories. It has transformed his life.
But yes, starting out, life wasn’t nearly as good as it is now for Brekken, who has just been named MSU Denver’s Spring 2021 Provost’s Award winner.
“I dropped out of high school when I was 17,” Brekken said. “Dropping out wasn’t an uncommon experience in my neighborhood. And I spent the next 10 years of my life learning things the hard way.”
Brekken, who grew up in Security, near Colorado Springs, said that decade was filled with bouncing around in entry-level positions in landscaping, health care, printing and customer service.
“And during that time, fear was the primary factor motivating my decisions,” he said. “Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear limited my ability to identify purpose and commit to anything meaningful for long enough to experience a benefit. At some point, I realized nothing would change unless I did.”
He started that commitment with education, enrolling at MSU Denver in 2018, at first studying journalism.
“I really value the role journalists play in helping inform their community on the issues that matter,” he said, “and MSU Denver’s documentary-journalism program stood out.”
But after a few of the required public-relations classes, Brekken learned that the value of storytelling within organizations also shapes communities.
“When you combine that revelation with the passion, talent and skill of the PR instructors, it’s easy to see how my transition into the PR program took shape,” he said.
Brekken, 31, who’ll graduate in May with a degree in PR and a 3.95 GPA, said eventually the value of education “emerged as a road map” to personal accountability and new motivations.
“Shedding the belief that someone from a low-income, single-parent household wasn’t capable of success took me a while,” he said, “but I’ve come to learn that identifying your values, taking personal accountability and accepting change can make what I want to accomplish possible.”
He said MSU Denver gave him plenty of hands-on training through curricula, student organizations and clubs.
“For me, my time at the Office of Student Media, or Met Media, stands out as one of the places that offered me a ton of practical experience in the media world,” Brekken said.
There, he hosted a podcast that highlighted MSU Denver leaders including President Janine Davidson, Ph.D., and many others.
He then rose to the general-manager post at Met Radio, a role that he says allowed him to support students in developing their own practical experience in podcasting and radio. The Met Radio job then led to an internship at United Launch Alliance, the country’s most experienced space-launch service provider, where he produced, edited and hosted a seven-part series introducing the company’s newest launch vehicle.
On winning the Provost’s Award, Brekken said he’s “humbled to be recognized … and I feel extremely supported by the University.”
“My mom told me she hopes winning the award helps me to see myself in the way that others do. She practically forced me to apply for the award in the first place,” he said.
After he graduates, Brekken plans to attend law school and hopes to work in media law.
“But I am open to future opportunities and excited to see what’s next,” he said. “I also feel I have a responsibility to show the world what an MSU Denver Provost’s Award winner is capable of.”
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