Derby is one of eight people to receive the Fulbright-Ngā Pae o Te Māramatanga Graduate Award for making impact in indigenous advancement research.
She's now researching ethnic studies in one of the most controversial places of political identity, the United States.
An alumni of the University of Canterbury and AUT, but currently researching at Colorado State University, Derby also has a thesis contributing to the literacy branch of the E Tipu e Rea National Science Challenge.
Derby's passion for ethnic studies comes from her mixed heritage of Māori and Pākehā, as well as wanting to create more understanding of New Zealand's cultural history.
"History contributes to our sense of identity and I think that, as a nation, that would go a long way to create unity amongst people in New Zealand."
Unity in New Zealand is another of her focuses while researching abroad. Derby wants to bring home a positive conversation about cultural similarities.
"Embracing diversity seems to be the fashion of the day and there's nothing wrong with that... but let's also talk about coming together around our shared humanity."
Derby's time in the States with other Fulbright award recipients from around the globe has opened to her eyes to creating unity through diversity.
She said it's important for people to embrace diversity but to also recognise the similarities we share, "otherwise we're just talking about our differences all the time... which isn't always very helpful".