Matthew Meeks (Class of 2015)

photo of Matthew Meeks

  • junior pre-med student with a Zoology major
  • minor in Global Health
  • from Massillon, OH
  • conducted freshwater ecosystems research
  • taught an outdoor leadership course to honors students after backpacking in Patagonia
"When it comes to a liberal arts education, it's all about being able to take courses wherever you want and not feel as if you have to be stuck in this rut where you can only study and focus on one thing."

Update: September 2014

Matthew Meeks with Maasai friends in Kenya

"During Summer 2014, between my junior and senior year, I again had the opportunity to study abroad. For the new Global Health Studies minor, all students are required to do an immersion experience for a minimum of 3 weeks, so I did mine in Kenya and Tanzania. While I was there I conducted public health research for the Kenyan Ministry of Health and worked under the guidance of researchers at the Great Lakes University of Kisumu, Kenya. We investigated the public health practices and a number of health indicators among the Maasai ethnicity of Kenya and Tanzania. Specifically, I was doing research on the role the environment plays in the health of a community.

"Living in Kenya was definitely a unique experience. Never did I think that I would wake up every day, walk out of a thatched roof hut with slingshot in hand, and have to shoot baboons with rocks all before breakfast. The sights were amazing, however. There were always too many colorful birds to keep track of, gazelle and zebra that would graze just a few feet away, and sunsets that looked like they were drawn by the artists of The Lion King. This experience opened my eyes to how much I sometimes take for granted; I met men and women who walked 15 hours for water and families who did not have the money to send their kids to school. This experience solidified the fact that I want to be a global health professional and a physician who is able to provide healthcare to communities in need."

Original Conversation: September 2013

Why Miami?

"I visited Miami in the spring of my junior year of high school. I had been to both big and small schools, but when I came here I just felt like it was the perfect size, and walking around campus solidified it for me. Everything was just so beautiful, all the students looked happy, and I felt very welcomed. During my campus tour they answered all my questions, making me feel that they wanted me to come here.

"I came in knowing absolutely no one. The first couple weeks were a little rough trying to get to know people and figure out college. I remember sleeping through one of my first classes that first week of school, that Friday. And I went up the next Monday and apologized to my professor. But I had the time of my life during freshman year, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. I got involved in a lot of different opportunities, extracurriculars, Greek life, and met so many new people that are now my best friends.

"In the beginning I wanted to be pre-med with a Chemistry focus, but I ended up switching to Zoology. As for my minor in Global Health Studies, it was interesting because one of my first classes at Miami was an honors course in African art. Our final culminating project was relating what we learned in that course to what we wanted to do in life. So, I talked about the society of a particular location in Africa, their medical practices, and related it all to how we could develop a new system of medicine there. That kind of got me on the track for where I am now."

Best Experiences as a Miami Student

"One of my favorite experiences has to be doing research on campus. I work in Dr. Craig Williamson's freshwater ecosystem lab over in the Department of Biology, where we study climate change. We look at freshwater ecosystems in the U.S. and internationally. Through this lab, I had the opportunity to have a paid internship out in the Poconos in Pennsylvania both summers of my freshman and sophomore year, where we lived in a historical cabin and sampled lakes every day. It was beautiful. It's something that a lot of my friends at other universities don't have the opportunity to do. [Read more about this research site in the December 2013 Miami press release NSF grant will enhance Lacawac Sanctuary as a "Hub for EONs" - ecological observatory networks.]

"I plan to attend med school after graduation, and because no one in my family is a physician and we don't have any close family friends who are doctors, my parents didn't really know the process of what I needed to take, what I needed to do. So many of my professors, including Dr. Williamson, Dr. Cameron Hay-Rollins in the Department of Anthropology, and Dr. David Pennock in the Mallory-Wilson Center [for Healthcare Education], have been excellent resources for me in this area. Dr. Pennock walked me through the steps of being pre-med, what it means, and how to really be the best applicant I can for med school.

"I would actually love to go on to graduate school first and get my Master's in public health administration, and that's actually a new development because of what I've been taking in my classes and what I've been learning. I fell in love with the idea of providing healthcare to places that may not have the access that we have here in the United States, so it'd be great to practice medicine abroad with an organization like Doctors Without Borders or Partners in Health—if I could do that the rest of my life, I would be perfectly happy."

Best Class at Miami

"The Miami faculty have been really helpful and instrumental in my learning, in my development as a person and as a student. They really care about you both inside and outside the classroom. In high school you get to know some of your professors, but here they really care about your life and want to help you.

"For a project in Dr. Hay-Rollins' medical anthropology class the first semester of my sophomore year, we had to interview somebody who had an illness. I had a really close friend growing up that was ill who passed away just this summer. I went and talked to Dr. Hay-Rollins because I was nervous about doing the interview and she kind of walked me through it. She was really instrumental and supportive. That was probably my favorite course by far that I've taken at Miami, although it was also the hardest because writing is not my forte and we did a lot of writing. The class wasn't about memorizing facts and regurgitating them for exams—for the papers you really had to think through things and consider different societies around the world and their medical practices. It made me a more culturally competent person.

Matthew Meeks in Patagonia

"Besides that, I would say another course that I really loved was called Outdoor Leadership, which I took in preparation for a study abroad backpacking experience in Patagonia, Argentina over winter break of my sophomore year. The course wasn't necessarily about what you can learn, what you can read from a book, but it was more about how you can be a leader in your everyday life and in the outdoors. We applied what we learned to this actual backpacking experience, and then we came back and taught the same course to other honors students. So all of the students who went to Patagonia came back the next semester as instructors."

Miami and Liberal Arts Education

"I think the advantage of being a liberal arts major is the fact that I'm not restricted to one area of study. With plans to go to med school, when I get there that's all I'm going to be studying. Here, I have the opportunity to take an African art course, even take a winetasting class if I wanted to. There's just such a breadth of learning and for me, I just absolutely love to learn.

"Having all of those opportunities instead of having to strictly be so focused is important for me. I get to grow not only in my field but also take part in these interdisciplinary courses within liberal arts, all of which allow me to grow as a person. And it enables me to do a lot of other things that are important for my overall education here at Miami—I do research on campus, I'm in a pre-medical fraternity, and I'm on the Mock Trial team. Liberal arts education allows me to have a wide variety of ways to stay busy."

Outdoor Leadership and Backpacking in Patagonia

"The Outdoor Leadership course I took was classroom-based, where you answer questions and determine how you can work well in a group. But when it comes to the outdoors there's a lot more stress that you have to deal with, with people getting hungry or tired, because sometimes we hiked 6 miles a day. You really have to adapt your leadership style to be able to deal with those people. It's interesting because all of those skills that you learn can then be taken back and applied to a classroom where you don't have that environmental stress.

"About 19 of us took the class here at Miami, and then over the holiday break we went to Buenos Aires, Argentina, celebrated New Years there, and then flew down to Patagonia for about a week and a half. Patagonia is very mountainous, and we had the opportunity to see beautiful scenery.

"The coolest thing is that the streams and the lakes are so pristine because it's all glacial melt; you don't have to purify the water at all. You can just stick your water bottle down in the stream and drink it. I was in Boy Scouts in high school and did a lot of backpacking back then too. I'm so used to having to purify my water and learn about all the infections that can come from it—but the water in Patagonia is some of the cleanest in the world."

Developing Connections and Leadership Skills as a Pre-Med Student

"Greek life here on campus is a very big aspect of student life. But it's more about just making connections and meeting people, and the pre-med fraternity gives you the opportunity to focus on meeting people who are in your same major and are along the same career path as you. It's geared toward getting to med school—what you need to do, how we can help each other, how upperclassmen can provide guidance for younger students. So now that I'm a junior, I'm there to help the younger students through those first steps like older students did for me.

Matthew Meeks at the podium

"When it comes to my Zoology major, I would say sometimes it is difficult to balance everything, but I wouldn't trade it for the world because when it comes to my career path and even me as a person in general, every single thing that I do has developed me as a leader. I'm on the Mock Trial team, which has a lot of pre-law students and not so many pre-med, but it has developed me as a better public speaker and a more critical thinker when it comes to looking at a case and being able to analyze the facts of that case. All of these different organizations have helped me in some aspect of my life—whether it's academic with a pre-med fraternity, social with a social fraternity, or developing leadership skills and critical thinking through both research and Mock Trial.

"What I hope to take away from these experiences is the opportunity to be able to give back to other students who, like me coming into college, didn't really have anyone there to guide them. And that's how I met most of my friends, from these different organizations. I just hope to be a better leader, a better friend from learning and taking away from all of these experiences from my undergraduate career."

Advice to Students

"Don't be close-minded. When it comes to a liberal arts education, it's all about being able to take courses wherever you want and not feel as if you have to be stuck in this rut where you can only study and focus on one thing. I feel like when a lot of students come to school and they already have a plan, that's all they want to stick to. They just kind of want to get in, get out. For me, being open-minded was the best thing and actually made me realize what I wanted to do when I came to school. But even more, it solidified that passion for me. That's what I would tell anyone who wants to be in the College of Arts and Science.

"I would also suggest trying not to be everything for everybody. That's a very difficult thing, especially growing up in high school where it's very easy to be in hundreds of different organizations and learning new languages and being in sports and extracurricular activities, whatever it is. But when it comes to college, it's very different.

"During my freshman year I tried to be in so many organizations. I went to Mega Fair, and I put my email down for almost every single club that I was interested in. It takes a while for students to learn how to say no. Before you can give back to an organization, you have to be happy with who you are and where you are in your own life.

"That's one of the hardest lessons that I had to learn my freshman year right away, and I think that if students would take away that message early on it would be beneficial for them in the long run."

[September 2013]