How has minority entrepreneurship shaped communities with low economic development, and does female entrepreneurship exist in these communities?
These were key questions that inspired Texas Tech University kinesiology graduate Kiera Nevels-Washington to conduct research. She completed her research through the McNair Scholars Program with assistance from her faculty mentor, Ronald Mitchell, a Rawls College professor of entrepreneurship and the Jean Austin Bagley Regents Chair in Management.
"I've never really seen female entrepreneurs in the lower-income communities," she said. "So my question was literally 'What does it look like?' because I've never seen it. Who are they, what do they do and where are they?"
She has since uncovered answers that will better help minority and female entrepreneurs. Nevels-Washington and her research team conducted the research through several interviews with a diverse set of entrepreneurs in Detroit, Michigan, who come from poor neighborhoods or have experienced financial distress firsthand.
"The minority entrepreneurs interviewed felt as if it was their job to change the image of the city; and that is the reason for making an investment back into their community," she said. "Thus, after this analysis, I came to the realization that I had a misimpression of minority entrepreneurs, which I believe is what caused me to have negative opinions about them."
She said her misimpression gave her the insight that if she has these initial thoughts and stereotypes, then the rest of society likely does too.
She said she discovered that female entrepreneurs are fighting their own separate battle.
"Essentially, they are fighting a war on two fronts," Nevels-Washington said. "My analysis revealed that they are fighting to obtain a voice for female entrepreneurs in addition to dedicating more time to having an impact in their communities."
The goal of the McNair Scholars Program is to increase graduate degrees awarded to students from underrepresented segments of society. The program enables participants to experience graduate level research and provides advising on graduate school preparation.
The program provides workshops that culminate in an eight-week research summer program where students, with a chosen faculty mentor, complete a research project that simulates graduate level work.
Mitchell gave valuable insight and assistance to Nevels-Washington throughout her journey, she said.
"He was supportive and understanding," she said. "Doing research was him teaching me instead of telling me, making me expand my vocabulary and think outside the box. He helped me grow as an individual in my academics and in my work ethic; he definitely put in a lot of time for me."
Nevels-Washington has an engaging personality and a natural inquisitiveness, Mitchell said.
"Kiera decided to conduct qualitative research to examine the experience of minority female entrepreneurs as expressed in their own words. As a result, we were able to attain insights that otherwise may not have been possible," he said. "People talk about the benefits of diversity, and Kiera's work delivered those benefits by increasing society's collective understanding of situations that otherwise might not be accessible."
Mitchell said he believes the McNair Scholars Program is a great contribution to Texas Tech University because it provides a proven structure to enable individual talent, which otherwise might not be discovered, to be surfaced, developed and mobilized for the benefit of all.
"It opened so many doors, networks and opportunities," Nevels-Washington said. "I learned research can be about everything and anything, it really opened my eyes to the possible opportunities."
Dr. Jon Crider, director of the McNair Scholars Program, said Nevels-Washington is a hard-working student who learned valuable knowledge through her research.
"She understood that she needed to gain more experience in research and understanding of the graduate school application process," he said. "Through her research, she learned that not everything goes as planned and that you need to be able to adjust to changing environments."
Striving to become an entrepreneur herself, Nevels-Washington plans to own a rehabilitation center in the future. She is attending graduate school at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center this upcoming fall. Crider said he is proud that she is pursuing her goal and believes her resiliency is an example for all students.
The McNair Scholars Program will begin recruiting for its next cohort in spring 2020. A new program will also begin for first-year students and sophomores in fall 2019, and that is the McNair Explorers Program, which will introduce students to the idea of graduate school and doing research. McNair Explorers will be given priority for acceptance into the McNair Scholars Program.