Engineering schools’ alumnus sets course for leadership role in sustainability
“I’m told I was on job sites while still in the womb,” Meek says.
The job sites were those of his family’s custom-homebuilding business, Desert Star Construction based in Scottsdale, started by his father and grandfather 33 years ago.
But entry into the family company has not been automatic. “I’ve had to work hard,” Meek says. “That’s one thing my parents instilled in us, that if you want something or want to achieve something you were going to have to earn it.”
Work began at 9 years old, cleaning up project sites for a dollar an hour during summers breaks from school. The decisive step toward a career came when Meek was ready for college.
He chose to major in construction management after graduating from Scottsdale Christian Academy, where he was a top academic performer who had served as president of student government and the school’s National Honor Society chapter.
His achievements gave him a lot of options among top-ranked universities across the nation. He had offers of support from every school to which he applied.
His choice was Arizona State University’s Del E. Webb School of Construction, now part of the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.
“It gave me everything I wanted in terms of what I would study as a construction major and in quality programs for a business minor and study abroad,” he says. “Plus, I’m keen on the Phoenix area’s warm, sunny climate.”
His record earned him the Del E. Webb Memorial Scholarship to support his studies, as well as scholarships from the Construction Management Association of America, the Urban Land Institute, the Associated General Contractors and the Sigma Lambda Chi Construction Honors Society, among several others.
While at ASU he took leaderships roles in student chapters of three construction industry organizations, and took advantage of one of the university’s foreign exchange programs to study for a semester at Queensland University of Technology in Australia.
He traveled to Mexico and South Africa as a volunteer for construction projects to aid developing countries, and founded the Construction Students Abroad group at ASU.
He received an ASU Star Award, given to students for their community service efforts in addition to academic success.
Meek was chosen as the construction school’s graduate of the year when he earned his degree in 2009, and selected as the featured student speaker at the engineering schools’ commencement ceremony.
The next step was a leap into some rarified air in the academic world. Meek was selected among high-achieving students worldwide to study at England’s renowned University of Cambridge to earn a Master of Philosophy in Engineering for Sustainable Development.
He describes the experience as a revelation. The program’s faculty members “told us right at the beginning that they were not there to give us answers,” he recalls, “they were there to teach us to ask better questions.”
With 35 fellow students from Asia, Africa, South America, the Middle East, Europe and elsewhere, Meek delved into sustainability from the perspectives of environmental science, public policy, economics, law, business and culture.
“You learn as much from getting to know the other students and faculty as what you learn at lectures and in classes, which is by design,” Meeks says.
He gained a deeper understanding of sustainability as far more than an industry niche. “It is a complex subject, and being sustainable is a holistic challenge,” he says, “but it comes down to common sense about being responsible with the resources you have, keeping the long-term consequences and a growing global population in mind.”
With his degree from Cambridge, Meek “is more prepared to become a visionary leader in the construction industry,” says his primary mentor at ASU, associate professor Avi Wiezel, the interim chair of the Del E. Webb construction school programs.
“His success shows the opportunities in the construction profession that can open up for motivated students who capitalize on our culture of integrating rigorous academic studies with internships and other experiences in the field beyond the classroom,” Wiezel says.
Meek is applying his advanced studies as the sustainability programs manager for Desert Star Construction. His training at ASU aids him in also handling business development, marketing and project management for the company.
He’s also teaching a Sustainability in Construction course at ASU to seniors and graduate students. He co-taught in the 2011 spring semester with Howard Bashford, associate professor in the Del E. Webb construction program. Meek is teaching the course solo in the 2012 fall semester.
Meek foresees the definition of sustainability steadily evolving. It will ultimately be about “figuring out how to provide basic living needs on a global scale in the midst of population growth and increasing consumption of resources,” he says.
A member of the Arizona chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, Meek is part of the sustainability experts group for Discovery Triangle, a not-for-profit public-private partnership working on a concept for economic development for a 25-square-mile area that includes neighboring parts of Tempe and Phoenix.
The project offers an opportunity to participate in devising sustainable solutions beyond merely the construction realm, Meek explains. The Discovery Triangle vision encompasses not only business-growth planning but a design for enhancing arts and culture in the area, along with education and healthcare facilities, expanded transportation systems, technology industries and environmental stewardship.
He’s also practicing social sustainability through community service. Meek volunteers at the Phoenix Dream Center, a nonprofit that aids the homeless, low-income families and others in need of resources and opportunities. He’s involved with PhoenixONE, a collaboration of churches that sponsor worship nights throughout the metro area each month.
Meek has no doubt about the relevance of his higher education. “The realization is taking hold,” he says, “that a sustainability mind-set must be at the core of everything we do if we truly want to make life better for everyone.”