Pepe Lee Chang: Haunted houses, shopping malls and music tours pave a unique path toward professorship
Becoming a college professor can be a fairly straightforward path for many aspiring instructors: earning bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees, spending time as a teaching assistant, conducting and publishing research, and writing dissertations.
Pepe Lee Chang chose to take a less traditional route in her higher education journey. Her resume includes her current role as an associate professor in the Carlos Alvarez College of Business Department of Management, but also lists haunted house design, radio and touring musician.
Despite the pitstops along the way, Chang always knew that her last stop would ultimately be academia.
"I wanted to stay in school, and I wanted to be as educated as possible," Chang said. "I always knew I was going back to school; it was just a matter of when."
After earning a bachelor’s degree in business marketing from the University of Utah, Chang’s first job out of college was in special events. Specifically, she was an assistant to a woman who created haunted houses from the ground up. Originally an arts major before transitioning into business, Chang enjoyed the creative aspects of the atypical job.
“That’s not something that business majors think of doing, but for me it was just really artistic,” Chang said. “It also felt like I could learn from this woman, and she was a very strong female role model.”
Following the seasonal stint working in haunted houses, Chang got a job on the marketing team of a local shopping mall in Salt Lake City, where she helped advertise their concerts and events. After being impressed by her success in the role, a city radio station offered Chang a job in their marketing department as a promotions director.
While the station’s genre of music—smooth jazz—wasn’t what she personally enjoyed, Chang’s position at the radio station led to the next stop on her road to becoming a professor: a music career. Using her role at the station as a prime networking opportunity, Chang connected with record labels and music industry professionals to promote music for her electronic indie hip-hop band, Furthermore.
The band got signed to Tooth and Nail Records and eventually Universal Music Group, and even went on tour with other indie punk rock groups.
“From the radio station I was able to contact record labels and then promote my own band,” Chang said. “It was a great experience."
Chang and her bandmate during her days in Furthermore.
After spending four years working several unique jobs and fulfilling her musical aspirations, Chang returned to the University of Utah to continue her studies. One of her first graduate school assignments sparked her interest in writing, and she became determined to find a program that would allow her new-found passion to grow.
“I started out in communications, and for one of the assignments I wrote a paper using Star Wars as the foundation, since I love Star Wars. When I realized I could do that in graduate school, I looked for programs with a focus on writing,” Chang said. “Philosophy had a program that was business ethics focused, and they recruited me to get a Ph.D. instead of a master’s. I jumped on that train and applied and got in. By the second year, I kind of just fell in love with philosophy.”
Chang joined the UTSA faculty in 2007 after completing her Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Utah and was promoted to associate professor with tenure in 2013. She currently teaches business ethics to undergraduates, including students in the Honors College, and graduate students in the Master of Business Administration program.
An overarching goal of her classes is teaching her students—future businesspeople and entrepreneurs—where laws and norms originate, and how those laws fit into capitalism and the pursuit of wealth.
“Most business majors are taught to maximize profit as long as they follow laws,” Chang said. “But from a business ethics point of view, there’s more to being ethical and right than just following laws. That’s what I try to teach my students.”
Although her work experiences departed from a more conventional path toward becoming a faculty member, Chang carefully chose positions she enjoyed while gaining valuable knowledge and experiences that propelled her into the next step in her career. Chang takes the lessons learned during her journey of diverse career experiences into the classroom as an example of how life-long learning can lead to unexpected and rewarding endeavors.
“I’m a strong believer in finding a job that you’re good at and something that you like, versus just looking for a paycheck,” Chang said. “For my students who are trying to figure out what to do with their lives, I tell them to pay close attention to what they are good at, because people usually end up happier working in an area related to what they are good at. Working for money is important, but it is much more sustainable if you are also happy doing it."
Chang teaches the following courses:
- GBA 2013: Legal, Social, and Ethical Issues in Business
- MGT 5253: Ethics and Globalization
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