Five minutes: with Weiwei Zhang


Editor’s note: The “Five minutes with” series focuses on a different person on campus. The interviewer spends five minutes speaking with a person each week to learn about them, their specialty or something they are passionate about.

Weiwei Zhang is a professor of sociology at South Dakota State University. Zhang is a state demographer and director of the state data center. She spoke on racial disparities in access to educational opportunities in South Dakota at the 28th annual Consider the Century event.

Q: You were one of the speakers at Consider the Century, how did you become involved?

A: I was contacted by Doctor [Mary] Emery, the head of the department. I’m from the department of Sociology. She worked with the program organizer, Richie [Meyers]. And then I was working with some of my collaborators on the K-12 education research. She thought it was a good fit. 

Q: Did your research directly correlate with Native Americans?

A: I’m a state demographer. What I work with is a lot of population statistics. Native Americans are 8 percent of the state population and the kids’ population is even higher. Around 13 percent of the kids’ population under 18. Inevitably I will look to the Native American population. Right now, my research is not directly correlated with Native Americans.

Actually, it’s my second year in South Dakota. I just graduated from Brown University in 2014 and I came here to work. To be honest with you, I haven’t really worked on any Native American research until I came here. I’m really learning.

Q: Are you finding anything that stands out?

A: I’m actually quite surprised by some of the findings, especially when you’re comparing many indicators, like housing and educational attainment. Today I just presented the education statistics which looked at the different school’s different races attended. Like Pine Ridge and Rosebud, when I first looked at their poverty rates I was very surprised, they are probably the highest in the country. They need a lot of investment and development. That’s probably not surprising to a lot of people around here.

Q: Do you think that Consider the Century is important for students to attend?

A: I think it is. The students should know the differences here in the state and the issues of the Native American population. It’s very important, not only for the Native American students but also for the students here in general. Because you should know, it’s in your community and in your cohort. But not only to know the trend and facts and also know who are the people who went to the classroom with you. It’s a good program and brings up interesting debate and discussion.