February 11, 2019

Researching Retail

For University of Wisconsin-Superior students Opeyemi Omiwale and Obiageli Ekwunwa, involvement in the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program quickly turned into a project that not only benefited them, but also the City of Superior.

For University of Wisconsin-Superior students Opeyemi Omiwale and Obiageli Ekwunwa, involvement in the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program quickly turned into a project that not only benefited them, but also the City of Superior.

Two UW-Superior Students Help Superior Identify its Retail Future

Access to learning materials can come in a variety of ways. From library shelves filled with books and research materials, rooms with computers, research labs with the latest equipment, to instructors with years of experience in their field. While classroom learning remains a core component of education, the ability to put knowledge to the test in real world situations provides exceptional learning opportunities. When that opportunity involves a mayor and several city and county representatives, the chance to learn becomes even greater.

For University of Wisconsin-Superior students Opeyemi Omiwale and Obiageli Ekwunwa, involvement in the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program quickly turned into a project that not only benefitted them, but also the City of Superior.

The SURF program at UW-Superior provides a unique opportunity for undergraduate students to spend the summer working on a research or scholarly project or creative activity with the support of a faculty or staff mentor. Students submit proposals and successful applicants receive a stipend to support them while they complete their project during a 10-week period in the summer. Supported by the UW-Superior Foundation, awards range from $1,750 to $3,500, depending on the size of the project. For their SURF project, Omiwale and Ekwunwa chose to examine the retail outlook for Superior.

Omiwale and Ekwunwa, both seniors from Abuja, Nigeria, majoring in economics and business administration with minors in communication, were able to see the current retail situation in Superior through a fresh perspective.

“When I came [to Superior] in 2015, Target was here, but it left, and then Younkers left,” Omiwale said. “So, we were thinking what is the impact of these big-box stores leaving and how can other stores fill the gap?”

“We wanted to carry out the project in a way that could actually help revitalize the retail industry of the City of Superior,” said Ekwunwa.

Through their research they learned about assistance available to potential business owners.

“While doing our research we found that there are many organizations in Superior that actually give loans and help small businesses, but people are not aware of that,” said Omiwale.

They were also able to identify where some businesses falter.“Many business entrepreneurs just go out there with a one-year plan and think they’re going to be successful, but that’s not how it works,” said Ekwunwa. “You need to have a long-term plan and goal.”

This nearly four-month research project, which was sponsored by The Shippar-Beam found from the School of Business and Economics at UW-Superior, was completed under the mentorship of Sakib Mahmud, UW-Superior associate professor of sustainable management and economics. As the research stage of the project wrapped up, he found it important that the information be presented to those who may be able to find a solution.

“I decided to approach the City of Superior Mayor Jim Paine,” said Mahmud. “He immediately agreed that this is definitely an issue he is interested in and wants to explore.”

Omiwale and Ekwunwa presented their research titled “Retail Industry Outlook of the City of Superior” to Mayor Jim Paine and several representatives of the county and various organizations on Oct. 22, at the Superior Government Center.

“These students have an opportunity to serve their city, to use their knowledge of economics, their research-ability, to help us solve very important social and political problems,” said Paine.

The presentation provided an overview of the current status and future outlook of the retail industry for Superior. The findings are based on literature review and expert interviews which helped identify some possible causes why the retail industry is facing substantial transitions, not only in Superior, but throughout the U.S.  

“This is a very complex challenge,” said Paine. “We’ve been trying to solve it with common sense, with basic brainstorming, and that hasn’t worked. We need actual science, we need actual researchers to work this problem and that’s what they’re doing for us.”

While city leaders are still sorting through the data and determining the best course of action, Omiwale and Ekwunwa, who are set to graduate this spring, share in the excitement that their research has been taken to this level.

“This is a small school and I don’t think I would have been able to do this kind of research in a big school,” said Ekwunwa. “Your professors know you personally and know what you’re capable of doing.”

“The small size of this campus is really important, especially for undergrads and if you’re thinking about doing research,” said Omiwale. “The professors here actually get to know each student one-on-one and are able to offer help based on your needs.”

For University of Wisconsin-Superior students Opeyemi Omiwale and Obiageli Ekwunwa, involvement in the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program quickly turned into a project that not only benefited them, but also the City of Superior.

For University of Wisconsin-Superior students Opeyemi Omiwale and Obiageli Ekwunwa, involvement in the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program quickly turned into a project that not only benefited them, but also the City of Superior.

Project funded by the 2018 Shippar-Beam Economics Undergraduate Summer Research Stipend under the Economics Program of UW-Superior. View UW-Superior Student Research on the Retail Industry Outlook of the City of Superior


 

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