As a child, Derek Pelland dreamt of becoming an astronaut. When Pelland learned that the Mars Desert Research Station was seeking people to take part in a Mars-landing simulation, he jumped at the chance of a lifetime.
Created to help develop key knowledge in preparation for human Mars exploration, the Mars Desert Research Station strives to determine whether it is possible to live and conduct field science in the harsh Martian landscape. Missions take place in a vast expanse of rocky terrain in Utah, and the organization regularly recruits volunteers in a variety of capacities.
Pelland applied for the crew position of executive officer. When he landed the job, he found that his experience in the Master of Arts in Social Entrepreneurship and Change program at GSEP was immediately useful.
“I knew the position was something where I could leverage all my different experiences,” Pelland said. “Everything I’ve been learning at Pepperdine has been about team dynamics, strategizing, and target audience.”
Pelland’s knowledge of connecting to an audience helped him find sponsors willing to contribute the funds he needed to participate. He also developed a social media campaign in Los Angeles and managed outreach and media components from the very small capsule where he spent the two-week mission.
Although the crew was confined in close quarters, Pelland said that the group fostered good working relationships and handled sleep deprivation well. He often cooked for the six-person crew, and implemented some social practices around mealtimes to develop friendships and a sense of team spirit.
“The rules were no computers at the table, and everyone had to be at the table even if they weren’t eating,” Pelland said. “Everyone looked forward to the meals and we had really amazing conversations at the table.”
When the assignment was over, Pelland wasted no time beginning a new adventure. By press time, he will have spent the first part of 2013 in Nepal, carrying out the plans he created as his global leadership experience: observing and devising ways to improve upon the operations of a preschool that teaches both Nepali and English. The school is run by V.I.S.P.E., an Italian nonprofit organization that provides care and meals for children who would otherwise be home alone and trains parents to be on-site teachers.
“In Nepal school begins at age 6, so children younger than that are often left at home to fend for themselves while their parents work,” Pelland said. “The operation wants to grow bigger, but they also want to make sure the process is a good one.”
Pelland has always aspired to work for international organizations. Not long after he returns from Nepal, Pelland will head to Geneva, Switzerland, to begin a new job with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“I enjoy being able to be a part of sending the right image to the rest of the world,” Pelland said. “The U.S. is not always perceived in a pleasant light, and I want to show everyone that we do care.”
Pelland credits Pepperdine with having shaped his goals and ambitions by providing real-life examples through his classes, although his motivation to advocate for others comes from his faith.
“I do feel that there’s a strong connection with God that gives me what I need to do more,” Pelland said. “I am a big believer in the fact that those who can get things done need to do so for the people who can’t do it for themselves.”