Dr. Paula Peter
As a young woman, Dr. Paula Peter dreamed of being a competitive figure skater. Peter enjoyed figure skating and was good at it, but not good enough to make a living from it.
So instead of pursuing a skating career, she settled into life back home in Lugano in Southern Switzerland and attended the Universita’ della Svizzera Italiana. While there, she met a visiting professor from Virginia Tech University – it was an encounter that would motivate her to change the course of her life. “While I was earning my bachelor’s degree, I met Dr. David Brinberg,” said Peter. “He inspired my love for the subject of consumer behavior.”
When Peter chose to pursue a career in the field of consumer behavior, she moved to the U.S. to attend Virginia Tech, where Dr. Brinberg would continue to advise and mentor her during her master’s degree program and, later, her Ph.D. program. Upon completing her doctorate degree, Peter was named 2007’s “Outstanding Graduate Student” at Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business.
Now prepared to research and teach consumer behavior, Peter said she “applied for academic positions all over the world, but after meeting Drs. George and Michael Belch and the rest of the SDSU marketing department in San Diego, I knew this was the place!”
Today, Peter is a recognized tenured professor at the Fowler College of Business at San Diego State University (SDSU) where she researches and teaches about the role emotions play in consumer behavior and how consumers are driven by those emotions in their decision making. Her work at SDSU has earned her the Teaching Excellence Award from the Fowler College of Business in 2017 and she was recently nominated for the Senate’s Excellence in Teaching Award.
Peter noted that her research leads her to believe that there isn’t necessarily a gender difference in the way that we experience our emotions, but she has found that society has different expectations in the way that men and women express emotions. “Based on my research, women seem to have a higher emotional intelligence, meaning that they are more aware and calibrated on the emotions they experience,” she said. “This is probably due to the fact that they are taught that from an early age that it is okay to experience and express emotions. This is not necessarily the case for boys, but, fortunately, things are changing.”
Her interest in emotional intelligence and gender roles segued into her interest in the inclusion and promotion of women in academia. “I am very aware of the current statistics of women in academia and how we are still not where we should be, especially in the promotion of associate professors to the role of professors,” she said. “When I earned the title of full professor in May 2018, I felt it was time for me to take action to improve things and initiate change in order to support women faculty and staff members at SDSU.”
With this is mind, she launched the SDSU’s Women in Business Academia (WBA) employee resource group to support the well-being and advancement of women in business academia. “WBA addresses the unique issues that women in business academia face and the issues that impact their career, families and communities,” said Peter. “The group is open to anyone on this campus who would like to see more gender equity in academic settings.”
If Peter has made empowering women a part of her agenda at SDSU, it was because she was raised by an empowered woman. “My mom is my hero,” said Peter. “She left home at the age of 17 to be a model and she traveled from Helsinki to Milan. She had to become very street smart at an early age and despite the fact she is not college educated, I think she is the smartest person I have ever known.”