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Stephen Zimmer Dives Into Research

Published Monday, March 04, 2024

Stephen Zimmer Receives the Library Research Award from Māra Wiggins
Stephen Zimmer Receives the Library Research Award from Māra Wiggins

Stephen Zimmer is no stranger to the library at SMSU and is well acquainted with the resources available there. A senior from Marshall, Minnesota. Zimmer is majoring in political science with a double minor in management and public administration.

As he began his final year, Zimmer enrolled in the Political Science Senior Seminar last semester. The professor, Dr. David Sturrock, required each student to do a research project related to public administration. The topic needed to focus on an issue affecting Greater Minnesota. Sturrock also encouraged students to prepare to present their research at the Undergraduate Research Conference in December.

"I participated in the undergraduate research conference and my topic was ‘The Greater Housing Problem of Greater Minnesota,'” said Zimmer. “I first read about it [the topic] in the paper summer when the city of Marshall had applied for a subsidized housing grant. I got to thinking about what that could do for the community to help fill the gap in affordable housing.”

“It sparked my interest in this topic because I know it affects Marshall directly,” he said. “I thought it would be great to study the issue in the City of Marshall, Lyon County as well as Greater Minnesota.”

He learned that several significant hurdles exist in access to affordable housing. One is the challenges in land acquisition within Minnesota due to current zoning laws and coding legislation. The second is the shortage of labor in the construction trades, not a lot of people are going into those construction trades. And finally, due to inflation, it’s hard for many first-time homebuyers to secure financing. Together these hurdles make it very hard for people to afford to own a home or even to rent because a mortgage payment or rent is higher than their income.

In his research, Zimmer found some possible solutions, but only if partners across the community and the region come together.

“I interviewed Lauren Deutz, EDA for the City of Marshall. She said one solution could be having the city partner with the local schools and community colleges to prepare more individuals for trade fields,” he said. “We could begin by offering courses in high school to introduce students to construction, electrical, and HVAC careers. Then the community colleges could offer classes and even scholarships to help incentivize students to stay within the area, help pay for their school, and then eventually have them live within the area for a couple of years after graduation. This is modeled after South Dakota’s Build Dakota scholarship program.”

By helping pay for education, these programs become a pipeline to keep talent in the community, increase the local workforce, and help address the shortages in certain professions, all of which help support a stronger community and keep the population growing.

Zimmer also reached out to state experts who are well-versed in the issues contributing to the housing crisis, including Scott McMahon, who lobbies for issues impacting Greater Minnesota. Zimmer also worked with Pam Gladis and Māra Wiggins in the SMSU McFarland Library to tap into the resources available through the library.

"I asked a lot of questions, like what advice do they have in preparing for the URC? What were some interesting topics they thought I could incorporate into my presentation? And so finally, when it came to November, I was able to get all the information I needed from both the interviews and the articles,” he said. “Then it was a matter of going through the information I had, identifying key topics to put on my research presentation poster.”

“Once I had my poster finished, I added that information to my final paper and then just built from that with more detailed information. Then it was a matter of memorizing the key points I wanted to cover when people stopped at my poster to talk about my research project.”

Zimmer was the recipient of the $250 Library Research Award which goes to a student who participates in the Undergraduate Research Conference. The SMSU librarians choose a deserving student who they feel has made the best use of library resources. The award is applied to the spring semester tuition for the recipient.

Zimmer explained that he applied for the award in September. Then as he dug into his topic in October, he reached out to librarians like Pam Gladis and Māra Wiggins to ask them for advice on how to further develop his research. They were able to direct me to specific resources and how to identify key information, as well as recommend different websites and data sources to explore both in and out of the SMSU Library.

“One recommendation from Pam that I found very valuable was a website called Policy Map, which the SMSU Library added to their digital access a year or two ago,” he said. “What you can do is view the entire United States and drill down into very specific topics, one of them was housing.”

I was able to dive into the statistics within the city of Marshall and Lyon County, specifically the demographics like renters, homeowners, and those who qualify for housing assistance. I also explored legislative and government websites for any information on bills, legislation, and regulations that had been passed which ended up being very helpful in my research.

“When they announced that I was this year's recipient, it was very meaningful to me, to know that all the research I put into this work paid off because this is a topic that I ended up enjoying a lot,” he continued. “The more I learned the more curious I was.”

Zimmer encourages students to be curious and make the most of every opportunity available including asking for help. He first reached out to the library staff as a freshman.

“I think because I wasn’t afraid to ask questions when I didn’t know how to do something, the connections I made and people I met helped me navigate college from the beginning. I appreciate now how important those relationships ended up being for me,” he said.

“Pam and Māra, I would say are rock stars at what they do and just a lot of fun to interact with,” he said. “As a freshman, I started as a marketing major before switching to political science. My final project was to write a paper. I met with Pam to ask how to do APA format in my paper. She made a big impact on me from my first semester.”

“I also remember going to Māra that first semester because I was taking Intro to Honors and we had to write a 10-page paper as our final project,” Zimmer explained. “I asked her about library websites, good search engines, and journal sources. I ended up writing about the importance of a liberal education.”

Looking back when I was a freshman in college, I always made it a priority to get out there, get involved, and try to meet as many new people as possible. And I know it’s tough, you get to college as a freshman, it's like you're starting over again. All my friends went to other schools,” he recalled. “It was a bit tough at first, but eventually I met the right people who helped me along the way.”

“I feel like I've been able to accomplish the mission I had as a freshman to make the most out of my four years,” he continued. “You have no idea where some of these individuals will take you in life. My biggest piece of advice for incoming freshmen is to get involved as soon as possible and in as many things as possible because, at the end of it all, it's amazing to look back and see where these relationships have taken you.”

Stephen Zimmer will be graduating in May and plans to continue his education by pursuing a master’s in public administration. He hopes to work in local or state government, perhaps in city administration or economic development, especially if it involves finding solutions for housing needs.


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