In the fall of 2020, UIC Business welcomed Assistant Professor Lez Trujillo Torres to the Marketing Department. A familiar face to many, Professor Trujillo Torres received her MBA and Ph.D. from the college. Her newest course, MKTG 485 Customer Experience Management, focuses on the creation of customer-centric business practices and is highly rated by students. We spoke with Professor Trujillo Torres to learn more about the inspiration for her research.
You received your MBA and Ph.D. in Business Administration from UIC. Describe what being a professor at this institution mean to you?
I am very honored and proud to be a professor at UIC. This fuels my commitment to give my students the best education possible. An essential part of UIC, whether as a student or professor, is the sociocultural and economic diversity of the student body. This allows for richer class discussions and gives students a chance to see a variety of world perspectives, which strengthens their personal and professional skills. Additionally, at UIC, we have a collective admiration for the student body’s efforts and accomplishments as they navigate a variety of family, work, and academic responsibilities and surmount obstacles along the way. We are all actively changing the course of students’ lives (a big thank you to the UIC professors that changed the direction of my career) and the socioeconomic standing of multiple generations ahead. This is our contribution to social and economic justice. I also have a great respect for my colleagues and the work they do. They do cutting-edge and relevant research that I want to emulate.
What sparked your interest in studying consumer and institutional behavior in the marketplace?
I became familiar with the innerworkings of the marketplace quite early, as my sisters and I grew up helping our parents with their market stand (selling chicken) in Peru during tough socioeconomic and political times. Overtime my family’s labor activism and my own professional exposure to community organizing cemented my interest in the enfranchisement of marginalized individuals and groups. Combined these experiences fueled my desire to understand consumers more deeply and also the social, cultural, and historical context that surrounds them. In particular, I am fascinated by the combined influence of government, non-profit and for-profit organizations, news media, technologies, and collective action have on how consumers think and behave. I consider marketing as a powerful vehicle that allows me to understand these dynamics, specifically in complex service settings like healthcare.
You spent over 15 years addressing social and economic justice issues. Is there a particular problem that captures your attention? Why?
Fundamentally, my professional and academic work are linked by my interest in how marginalized people, products, or organizations can become valuable and worthy of attention, funding, and respect in society. In my research, I focus on what makes categorizations of value possible and the effects these have over time. For example, while researching cancer treatment services, I find that people impacted by lung cancer are highly stigmatized and devalued. They do not have the same access to market and societal resources as people impacted by cancer types that are more highly valued in society like breast cancer and leukemia. Overtime these value differences have shaped dramatically the way people access medical treatments, media attention, government and philanthropic funding, and wield political influence. It’s been a slow process for the lung cancer community and also for people with advanced cancers to show that they are valuable and worthy of care and of living. These insights about what makes certain groups valuable or not, then, could help us understand how other marginalized consumers navigate a variety of complex settings such as education and financial services, and how institutions and policy makers can push for systemic changes that address these issues.
You have addressed the problems of affordable housing, consumer financial protection, and quality public education as well. How has this advocacy shaped the way that you approach your work as a professor?
Focusing on fundamental issues that impact communities and individuals have shaped my research and also my teaching. I know that a good number of my students and their families are making incredible sacrifices to get ahead. For example, one of my undergraduate students was working several part-time jobs to support his family and attend UIC. I also know that navigating higher education can be frustrating and discouraging, in particular when you do not have the economic, social, and cultural capital that other students may have. As a recent immigrant enrolled in a demanding academic institution, I knew this too well myself.
In my professor role, I strive to address some of these barriers by giving students one-on-one attention, supporting them with letters of recommendation, offering research opportunities, fostering student teams, providing class content that can spark their interest in a variety of areas, and giving feedback so they improve their skills. Racial and/or ethnicity representation also matters, I may be the first or one of the very few professors of color my students will see in front of the classroom. Collectively, these and other actions, going back to my research, tell students that they are valuable and worthy of a great education and of employment and/or entrepreneurial opportunities that enhance their lives and the lives of others. Coming from a family of educators, I truly believe education is a means to social, economic, and civic advancement. However, we need to strive for equity in resources to help students get there, recognizing that some groups need more help than others as in the case of first-generation students, racially and/or ethnically marginalized groups, and students from modest means.
What activities do you enjoy in your spare time?
I am a perpetual student, so I love learning in different ways. I read all kinds of high and lowbrow materials. I’ve been listening to more podcasts lately. In normal years, l liked to travel domestically and internationally. I am also an avid fan of sports and artisan cheese. My husband and I are licensed foster care parents. These days, we spend a great deal of time chasing our 3-year-old daughter, whose adoption we recently completed. I love learning from her and about the larger culture of parenting that surrounds us.