He was hired as the newly created social science program director, and Stanislaus State Associate Professor of Geography Matthew Derrick has big plans.
In addition to coordinating the 12 disciplines that comprise social sciences and making the major something more than a catchall for prospective high school social studies teachers, Derrick is inspired to help the Stockton Campus, where he is based, and Stockton itself, evolve.
“One of the reasons I’m attracted to Stockton is it’s a really fascinating place that has a lot of potential, I would say unrealized potential,” said Derrick, who accepted the position after teaching geography for 11 years at Cal Poly Humboldt. “It’s a fascinating place to observe and be part of something.”
Derrick has observed there is more to Stockton than headlines about crime would indicate. Similarly, there is more to social science than a landing for future teachers.
“The goal is to communicate the strength of interdisciplinary study, so students come here not because it’s the path of least resistance, but because they get to think in different ways, combine different lenses to take on real-world issues,” Derrick said.
Extended and International Education has long offered an accelerated Bachelor of Arts in Social Science program to Stockton students, and social sciences has been offered as a traditional major for decades.
Derrick’s newly created program director role is to increase awareness of that traditional Bachelor of Arts in Social Science.
“What I've been focusing on is getting a better grasp on the curriculum and how it operates, who our students are, and what attracts them to the major,” Derrick said. “I want this to be a destination major, something students seek out.”
Social Science, as Derrick views it, is about bringing together a variety of disciplines to better approach issues and find solutions.
Although a geography professor with a Ph.D. in the subject from the University of Oregon, Derrick is a living example of the breadth of social science.
He majored in English as an undergraduate at Augsburg University in Minneapolis, a long way from his Southern Oregon home. He taught English for two years in Slovakia, then served in the Peace Corps in Estonia, where he learned Russian.
“I didn’t know what graduate school was,” said Derrick, a first-generation college student. “Somebody helped me apply. I got a full ride to study Russian Studies at the University of Oregon. I wanted to come back to Oregon. I took a geography class for the first time. I was astounded by the way people think in spatial terms. I realized when I was reading novels and stories that I was interested in the way places were described, and that relationships between people and places were a constant in my life.”
As he worked toward his master’s in Russian Studies, he lived in various cities there. He published numerous articles, then pursued his doctorate in geography and landed what he called a dream job teaching the subject at Humboldt.
His interest in Russian Studies never waned. He earned a Fullbright Scholar grant and spent a year’s sabbatical in Kyrgyzstan in 2017-18.
Geography is about more than a place or terrain.
Derrick’s courses have always been research-based, and he said he learned about California, and Stockton specifically, from papers his students produced.
One student from Stockton researched the housing crisis, giving Derrick an insight to how the global financial crisis of 2008 compounded the city’s problems.
“I heard about Stockton’s reputation, and frankly, it attracted me,” Derrick said. “I’ve found Stockton to be very welcoming and I’m enjoying learning about it, exploring it and also learning about it from my students.”
Stockton is unlike the “most miserable city in the county” as Forbes Magazine once declared, Derrick said.
“There’s a warmth to the people,” he has observed. “The students are eager to learn, and they are quite polite. It’s been a pleasure to learn with them.”
Inspired by his move to Stockton, Derrick recently listened to the audio version of Leonard Gardner’s classic 1969 Stockton-set novel, “Fat City,” that New York Review Books described as the story of “defiance and struggle, of the potent promise of the good life and the desperation and drink that waylay those whom it eludes”
Derrick wants to update that Stockton story.
“I’d like to do an oral history project of Stockton,” Derrick said. “The idea is to start with Leonard and continue with other people. I have this idea about centering it around fighters.”
Stockton was known as a boxing town from the 1950s into the ‘80s. Alvaro “Yaqui” Lopez fought for the light middleweight crown five times in the 1970s and early ‘80s, and more recently, the city produced the Diaz brothers, successful professional mixed martial artists.
They are part of Stockton’s landscape, part of its geography, which Derrick is anxious to explore.