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Alumnus becomes CNN meteorologist


When he was a child, Derek Van Dam built a tree fort in his front yard and climbed it every day. 

One day, while watching a blustery thunderstorm from the window of his childhood home, his tree fort was knocked over. Frustrated but full of wonder he developed a passion for science, the atmosphere and the weather.

Van Dam is working for CNN as a meteorologist during the night hours. Graduating from Central Michigan University in 2006, Van Dam has already created a name for himself. From being in high school and taking AP science and math courses to get ahead and working for NBC during his senior year in college, Van Dam has gained knowledge and experience that has brought him to his success.

“Even before high school I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to be on television," Van Dam said. “I picked Central because they have a broadcast and cinematic arts and meteorology department, plus it's in-state. Having both focuses was something that wasn’t offered anywhere else, so it was clear where I needed to go. I was the meteorologist for the college television station for four years straight.”

After graduating, Van Dam got promoted to morning meteorologist for NBC during weekends. He went through the qualifications to become a TV meteorologist, was certified in broadcasting meteorology and moved to South Africa where he would work as chief meteorologist at News Channel Africa, a 24-hour news channel. He worked in Cape Town for seven years.

“It was a unique moment in my life,” Van Dam said. “I don’t believe in coincidences, but I guess that’d be the best way to describe it. I got the opportunity to move and go to a completely different part of the world. Life is measured in the things you do and don’t do. I would have had regrets if I wouldn’t have done it.”

The opportunity to work in Africa came to Van Dam through his work on the board of directors for a non-governmental organization called Compassionate Life Foundation. The group focuses on HIV/AIDS affected widows and orphans in southern Africa. This also helped him adjust to the culture in Cape Town.

“Without the experiences I had being involved with this organization I wouldn’t be in the place I am now,” Van Dam said. “The work they do is incredible and being part of the decision making and seeing how NGO’s operate and how impactful they were really changed the people’s lives and my life.”

Van Dam moved from Africa and accepted a job with CNN as a meteorologist. Half his day is spent doing research and preparation with a behind-the-scenes team of producers, fact checkers, and graphic designers.

The other half is presentation and knowing what to say and how to appear on screen. When there is breaking news, he has to use his past experiences.

“The hardest part of my job is probably being on call for those breaking news or extreme weather moments,” Van Dam said. “When you work in broadcasting you can’t control what happens in the world, so if there’s a tsunami or earthquake, that requires man power in terms of TV. My wife and I were on vacation in New York and the blizzard happened and it turned out to be half vacation and half work because of the storm. It was kind of frustrating but extreme weather is always exciting for someone in the field.”