NIU sociology graduate student learns lessons from local women entrepreneurs

NIU sociology graduate student Dana Peterson has been picking up a lot of business tips and life lessons from local women business owners this past academic year. Peterson has embarked on a collaborative project between NIU, the non-profit organization DeKalb Area Women’s Center (DAWC) and the local business community to explore the road some local women took on their path to become business owners.

The project started with the compilation of a DeKalb County Directory of Women Owned and Co-Owned Businesses. This was a fundraiser for the historic restoration of the DeKalb Area Women’s Center’s former Finnish Hall building. Diane Rodgers, associate professor of sociology had created the directory and began hearing bits and pieces of the local women business owners stories when they were arranging for their ads to be placed in the directory. In Fall 2016, Rodgers enlisted sociology graduate student Peterson to start a project in recording interviews, transcribing and posting them on the DAWC website.

Rodgers noted that graduate student Peterson was a natural at interviewing the business owners, after going with her on the first two interviews. “Dana was an excellent active listener and very professional. She made the women owners feel comfortable enough to tell their stories on how they ended up owning a business.”

Peterson reflects on her interviews, “Getting the chance to sit down and speak with these women about their experiences has been a really enlightening opportunity. All of these women have such unique stories as to how they got their ideas for business, as well as how they continue to be successful. Interviewing them has taught me that flexibility in life is key – that your willingness to depart from your “future plans” for yourself can bring about some amazing rewards. I’m incredibly grateful for the time I’ve spent with these women and for all that they’ve taught me.”

The sociology department teaches students quantitative and qualitative research methods, including the art and science of interviewing. These classes translate into solid marketable skills for NIU sociology students after graduation. Peterson is getting a good start in practicing these interviewing skills and networking in the community. So far twelve interviews have been posted to the DAWC website and more are on the way.

The directory has also been distributed at various sites in the community and has been promoted as a helpful guide for shoppers supporting local businesses on Small Business Saturday. NIU’s collaboration with the community is vital for an engaged learning experience for students and also provides support for the community. It is a dynamic relationship that is mutually beneficial.

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