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Chantre’ Smith ’15 with Maria Jimenez ’15 (left) and Gabriella Zewdu-Habte ’15 (right).

Background Research

Maria Jimenez ’15 wasn’t sure what she would discover. Majoring in business administration with a concentration in finance at St. Norbert College, Jimenez knew from U.S. census figures that the number of Hispanic entrepreneurs in the Green Bay area grew dramatically from 2000 to 2010, but she was surprised where that growth came from. It came from women.

“More Latina women are owning businesses and being entrepreneurs, which is so very different from what you find in Mexico and other parts of Latin America,” Jimenez says. “It was amazing to uncover that information and talk with business owners about their experiences.”

Jimenez’ survey was the first of its kind in Green Bay, furnishing valuable information on commerce in the city.

Her discoveries came through her participation in the McNair Scholars program, a federally funded program designed to encourage students from populations often under-represented in graduate programs to pursue doctoral degrees. Students participate in summer research projects and also receive information and assistance to help them get into graduate school. St. Norbert partners with Ripon College and Lawrence University on its McNair program.

Jimenez is one of three St. Norbert students in the program who considered their own experiences when choosing topics for their academic research. Jimenez, who is Hispanic, wanted to know more about Latina women in business; while Gabriella Zewdu-Habte ’15, who is Ethiopian-American, explored biracial issues; and Chantre’ Smith ’15, a member of the Oneida Tribe, looked at the role played by Native Americans in the civil rights movement.

“I’ve been impacted by my culture and have answered questions about my race and wanted to explore that same theme in literature,” says Zewdu-Habte, who is majoring in English with a minor in women’s and gender studies.

For her project, she analyzed the novel “Caucasia” by Danzy Senna and the problems the main character has when she’s labeled by others as white, even though she is biracial and self-identifies as black. Zewdu-Habte focused on what she calls “visual racism.”

“That’s when you’re discriminated against and defining someone else’s race using simplistic visual notions,” she says. “Some people say we’re in a post-racial society, but that’s not the case. It was great to find this in a literary setting and then bridging out from there.”

Smith, who is majoring in communication with a media concentration, had always been curious about the lives of Native Americans during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, as well as how they were affected by Jim Crow laws. During her research, she talked with tribal elders about their experiences.

“When you read about the civil rights movement, it was mainly focused on African-Americans, but I wanted to learn more about what Native Americans were doing and what they were thinking at that time,” she says.

“That era is rarely talked about and I wanted to bring awareness to it. Everyone knows about the struggles of African-Americans during that time, but what about Native Americans? Did they endure the same poor treatment?”

Smith discovered differences in discrimination between the northern and southern United States, and that Native Americans faced mistreatment similar to that of African-Americans.

“I was shocked by what I found out. It opened my eyes,” she explains, adding that she hopes other eyes will be opened, too, as she shares what she found out during the research process.

In her research, Jimenez learned that cultural differences in the United States and Latin America make it easier for women to venture out on their own and launch their own businesses in the States. “There’s more support here for people, especially women, who are starting out,” she says. “There’s also more acceptance.”

Beyond providing students with the tools and support needed for their research project, the McNair program also helps students prepare for graduate school admission, including getting ready for the GRE exam and getting support as they fill out application forms.

“Without McNair, I would not have known where to start regarding graduate school,” says Jimenez, who hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in business administration with a concentration in international business or finance. “The help has been invaluable.”

Zewdu-Habte echoed those statements, particularly noting the GRE preparation.

“Applying for grad schools is daunting,” she says. “McNair has been a huge help in preparing me for the kind of research grad school requires. It also increased my confidence and helped me find focus on what I want to research in grad school.”

April 17, 2015