Minnesota native Margaret “Meg” Maurer had found a home to put her passion for wetlands, science and nature to work when she became one of few selected as a Newcomb scholar at Tulane University in New Orleans.
The 21-year-old native of Forest, Minn., was studying ecology and evolutionary biology at Tulane at the time of her death in a freak accident Tuesday at a rest area off Interstate 10 in Jackson County.
“She was going to do an exhibition of her work in the next couple of weeks,” Aidan Smith, the director of the Newcomb Scholars Program, said Wednesday. “We are thinking of still doing that with her artwork.”
Maurer’s death has devastated those who knew her.
“I worked with Meg from the time she was a freshman,” Smith said. “She had so many interests. She loved nature. She loved science. And she was one of the most compassionate and kind people that I’ve had the opportunity to teach. She will missed by both her peers and faculty here. Her loss is tremendous.”
Tulane professor Thomas W. Sherry worked closely with Maurer and called her loss “heartbreaking.”
Maurer had been using her artistic talents to create a series of illustrations for a book Sherry plans to publish on tropical insect-feeding birds.
“We meticulously worked on concepts, sketches, draft pieces, and revisions of each piece of artwork, paying attention to both the biology and the art,” Sherry said. “She (Maurer) had enormous talent, motivation to improve and see better, and curiosity; and we were discussing possible post-graduation options, including schools with biological illustration programs. We were working on an exhibit of her art scheduled for a month from now. She was the top student, by far, in my General Ecology class last year.”
Maurer and her friend were on the way to a hiking trip in Georgia wen she was killed.
Since her death , her friends and family have set up a memorial GoFundMe account in honor of Maurer’s “great passion” for plants and wildlife.
Her family and friends hope to raise $20,000 that her family and friends will use to “honor her passion “for conservation, plants, language and scholarships.
Gautier police are investigating Maurer’s death.
She was one of three New Orleans-area college students who had stopped Tuesday afternoon at the rest area between Exit 61 to Gautier and the Pascagoula River Bridge.
Maurer died when she was struck by tires that broke off a tractor trailer traveling westbound on the interstate, police said. She was walking back to her car on the east side of I-10.
The truck’s driver realized something had detached from his tractor trailer, got off the interstate and turned around to find out what had happened.
The driver, identified only as a driver for Dana Transports, Inc., out of Avenel, New Jersey, stopped at Exit 61 (Mississippi 613), where authorities interviewed him.
When police spoke to the driver, Capt. Casey Baxter said, there was no indication of any wrongdoing on his part, including any signs of impairment.
“This is just a horrible event,” Baxter said. “The hearts of everybody at the Gautier Police Department go out to this family. They will be in our prayers.”
A blood draw for toxicology testing on the driver was not performed because no criminal wrongdoing is suspected, Baxter said.
Meanwhile, Tulane officials said, there will be some type of memorial for Maurer in the coming days. The university is out of session this week for spring break.
Prior to her death, Maurer had used her talents to create illustrations about ecology and biology. She was looking forward in the near future to put her talents to work as an illustrator.
“She might do the type of illustrations you find in a science textbook,” Smith said. “She would draw pictures of birds and plants and insects. Her work is really amazing.
“She really did have a passion for wetlands and botanical studies. She really found a home here in the Gulf Coast region. It is really just a shame. Who knows what she would have been able to do?”