Nikki Brown discovered her passion for politics, cross-cultural sociology, and pop culture through an American Identities class during her freshman year. Now a junior in the McNair Scholars program, she’s conducting interdisciplinary research on Latinx voting and political attitudes in the 2020 election. And in her roles as a University Academic Support Centers (UASC) peer mentor and president of the Latin American Student Union (LASU), she’s working to serve Latinx and first-year students at the university.
Meet Nikki and learn more about how she chose her majors and minor, how diversity in the classroom shaped her college experience, and a word of advice for her freshman self.
Where are you from? And why did you decide to come to KU?
I am from Kansas City, MO and I decided to come to KU because of the sense of community that KU fosters. My mom who’s from Lima, Peru also came in the 80’s as an international student to study English at KU!
Why did you choose your majors and minor?
I choose my majors and minors because of my interests in political movements, elections, governmental systems, cross-cultural sociology, and popular culture. I feel that they all overlap in ways that better help me understand each topic in a different perspective.
The moment I knew I was going to study my majors was in my first year during a required class, American Identities 110, needed for the program I was in called Hawk Link. I originally came in with the idea that I was going to be a dentist and study biology because I didn’t know much about college. Both my parents did not have a traditional experience with college, and I did not have any older siblings/relatives that could help me with that major life decision. I knew that I had to choose a degree that was commonly associated with the idea of success and money, and when you grow up in a typical Latinx household, you are used to putting others’ needs ahead of yours.
Luckily, I realized my first semester I did not want to be a biology student and that I needed to study something that made me happy. In Hawk Link, I was able to meet other minority/low-income students that were studying all kinds of majors from Art History to Neuroscience. This inspired me to change my perspective and pursue the topics that interested me.
What is the most exciting part of your programs?
The most exciting part of my majors is open discussions that are created in the classroom. In each of my majors I notice that while my professors teach, they also allow us to express our opinions on each topic we cover in class. In social sciences, input from multiple folks is crucial to have since we all have different and multiple identities which impact the way we approach our lives. I feel like I learn more about each subject every semester with all the variety of classes that are offered, and I can choose from.
What is the benefit of being in the KU College alongside students studying sciences, arts and humanities?
The availability to be surrounded with a diversity of students who all think differently is very eye opening. Also being able to take classes that divert from my usual major classes is sort of a fresh breath of air! Being able to have those interdisciplinary experiences has made my academic career grow and expand to what it is today.
What has been your favorite class at KU? And why?
My favorite class at KU so far has been Sociology of Immigration 342 with Professor Danny Alvord. Immigration has always been a topic that has interested me and with the political spotlight that has been placed upon immigration at the Mexican-U. S border, learning about the foundations of immigration policies was crucial to study. Professor Alvord also made the class very interactive and allowed for all his students to have an open discussion which made me look forward to each class.
Give a shout-out to a professor, mentor, advisor, or someone at KU who has helped you.
My mentors Veronica Rodríguez-Méndez and Dr. Megan Brooker.
Veronica, thank you for being such a happy presence all the time in the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA). You have made the OMA feel like a home away from home for me and have encouraged me to always do my best.
Dr. Brooker, thank you for presenting me with such incredible research opportunities and being so patient with me on my ongoing project. Her experience and knowledge of understanding how to prepare a research study has made me realize how difficult but fulfilling research is.
Have you done any internships, study abroad programs, or been involved in any campus or community organizations?
I am a part of the McNair Scholars program. Being able to have the opportunity to compose my own research project over Civic Engagement and the Latinx community has been very fulfilling and beneficial as I was able to look at political attitudes and potential insight into the Latinx voting pool for the 2020 election. McNair has connected me to many resources on campus as well as presented me opportunities to present my project/further my research as I am now conducting a second part to my research.
I am Vice President of Kappa Delta Chi which is a Latina founded but not exclusive sorority. I am very proud to belong to such an empowering and uplifting organization. We are service based and strive to help promote Latinx issues into the community as well. Being able to have found a sisterhood on campus has been one of the most important experiences that I have had at KU so far.
I am President of the Latin American Student Union which serves the greater Latinx population of students on campus. My experience so far has been an uphill challenge as we have struggled with the pandemic; however, we have collaborated with organizations like Student Senate and ACSA to promote Hispanic Heritage Month via zoom sessions on colonialism/talking about brown student issues.
Finally, I’m also a part of the Peer Mentoring team at the UASC. Being able to be a resource for first year undergraduate students has helped me provide a sense of guidance for other students that were in my similar position their freshman year.
What would you tell your freshman self?
If you worry about what everyone else is doing, you won’t see the accomplishments and milestones that you’re completing on your own academic journey. Imposter syndrome is very real, make sure to surround yourself with people and resources that care about you.
What do you want to do when you graduate?
I would like to pursue a joint JD/PhD program.
What motivates you?
Being able to give back to community and my family because they have pushed me to do great things and further my knowledge.