College close to home opened doors to China, Cairo, and two degrees

Camille Ridgeway
Degree: BA Economics, BA International Studies
Hometown: Milwaukee
It’s a Fact: From 2010-12, Camille Ridgeway played first violin in the University Community Orchestra at UWM.

Between her resumé and her passport, it’s been an intense five years for econ/international studies double major Camille Ridgeway. She served in student government and interned for the U.S. Department of Commerce.

She learned conversational Mandarin in China. She avidly recalls the intense energy of Tahrir Square, 2012, as a UWM junior in Cairo.

“It’s a tenuous situation being an American in Egypt. Things can get intense very quickly.”

But what she remembers most vividly is the thriving community surrounding Tahrir Square: artists, protestors, performers, the museum.

“The Egyptian Museum is left completely untouched. There could be fighting all day, but no one would touch the museum.”

Not bad for someone who went to college just a few blocks from her parents’ home, and just down the street from her high school alma mater, Riverside University High School. In fact, her road to the Middle East began there.

Riverside high achievers are invited to take a course at UWM their senior year. Enthralled by the language’s elaborate, elegant script, Ridgeway took an intro course in Modern Standard Arabic (MSA).

But MSA study only goes so far outside the college classroom, as Ridgeway learned her first week in Egypt.

“Egyptian or Tunisian dialects are completely different from the Arabic I had just spent three years learning.”

Student life in Milwaukee was equally complex – her preference – for the Chancellor’s Diversity and Leadership Scholar.

Two years as the Student Association Finance Committee chair gave Ridgeway a front-row view of the segregated-fee allocation process.

“It’s one of the more vocal positions in student government and a committee that works intimately with the university administration. There can be some disagreements, but I’d like to think I set the stage for students to be more active in their university’s affairs in a more critical and constructive way.”

Her interest in economics truly flourished in the McNair Scholars Program, where she studied Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the Middle East with UWM Economics Professor Swarnjit Arora.

“I learned to think of FDI as a gateway indicator that tells you everything you need to know about the health of a country’s economic and political situation.”

Eager to test her knowledge in a professional setting, Ridgeway landed a 2013 internship with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Milwaukee Export Assistance Center.

Synthesizing declassified intelligence data, marketing leads and supplier information on business markets abroad occupied the first semester of her senior year. Her work proved useful to the center’s client base of Milwaukee companies looking to expand exports.

“That’s been a game changer for me, applying what I’ve learned in my degree programs to work with real companies that have real needs.”

Next is a year of reflection and preparation as Ridgeway applies to political economy PhD programs. The ideal program will blend data mining and statistical analysis with cultural studies, negotiation and interpersonal communications.

Her target schools are in Chicago, D.C. and New York. Her applications are well under way: GREs taken, letters and statement of purpose completed. Much of that process was funded and supported by McNair. “One of the things I value most about my time at UWM is the McNair Program,” Ridgeway now says.

Her world-view, of course, is evolving.

“I was definitely not in the Middle East long enough to say I ran the place,” Ridgeway laughs. “But my time in Cairo inspired me to see the region for what it is and what it isn’t. I’ve realized how I interpret things is so dependent on my American identity.

“I’m working on how to take that lens off, to be more neutral and less biased.”