Marketing Professor’s Research Allows Her to Give Back to Her Community

January 9, 2024

Nita UmashankarOpen the image full screen.
Nita Umashankar
Part of the mission of San Diego State University is “to contribute to the solution of problems through the excellence and distinction in teaching, research and service.”

These are precisely the words Nita Umashankar lives by each day, both in her work as a marketing professor with SDSU’s Fowler College of Business and in her daily life.

Specifically, she focuses aspects of her academic research and her community service work on advocating for at-risk children in the local foster care system and, separately, for young women in India victimized by sex trafficking. 

Family Legacy of Community Service
After finishing her undergraduate degree at The University of Arizona, Umashankar spent a year in India and became acutely aware of social issues facing women. After returning to the U.S., Umashankar and her family started the non-profit, Achieving Sustainable Social Equality through Technology (ASSET) India Foundation. They established the foundation to provide technical training and conversational English skills to young Indian women who were rescued from traffickers and children of women whom sex traffickers may still exploit.

“Although I had visited India regularly, I had not fully realized the plight of many women until I spent considerable time there,” said Umashankar. “Given how fortunate I was, I wanted to play a small role in giving opportunities to some of the most marginalized communities in the world: Women who have been trafficked.”

Nita Umashankar, SDSU Marketing Professor
“Donating time and money to community service not only helps others, but it helps us become good citizens. It is a win-win.”

Umashankar wanted to help these women, but she also needed help with finalizing data gathered from her academic research. To satisfy both these needs, she asked her father to connect her to the Building Entrepreneurs to Stop Trafficking (BEST) program, which rehabilitates and offers employment and entrepreneurial opportunities to those women who have completed the English language and technical skills training part of the program.

“After I collected the data for one of my research projects, I hired a few BEST employees for the data cleaning stage, and they completed the work successfully and efficiently,” said Umashankar, who also teaches Marketing Research (MKTG 470) “The small sum of money I paid one of the employees enabled her to leave an abusive household and start college.”

Advocating for Foster Youth
Umashankar’s desire to help and empower others extends to the San Diego community with her volunteer role as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for San Diego’s foster care youth. In this role, Umashankar is first assigned a case by a San Diego juvenile court judge. After reviewing the case, she meets with the child, their caretaker, and their teachers to fully understand the child’s emotional, social, and physical well-being.

“As a mother of two children, I see the amount of love, support, and resources children deserve to thrive,” said Umashankar. “I have become more aware of how families grapple with a lack of resources and struggle to meet their needs due to various external factors. I want to do my part to help those families and their kids.”

Umashankar (left) with the director of the BEST program, Tanmay MukherjeeOpen the image full screen.
Umashankar (left) with the director of the BEST program, Tanmay Mukherjee
To qualify as a CASA, Umashankar was required to provide several letters of recommendation, submit thorough background checks, and complete a 40-hour training program. She currently meets with a foster youth every two weeks to monitor the child’s progress, and she also takes the time to plan activities that are fun for the child without triggering upsetting memories or experiences. “Many foster children have experienced abuse and neglect, and their trauma runs deep,” she said. “I have had to learn to support the child’s specific needs rather than offer them the support that I offer my own children.”

Serving Her Community Through Academic Research

Umashankar’s community service has significantly impacted her academic research. She says, “I now focus my studies on the intersection of marketing and well-being by examining problems that, when solved, will benefit society.”

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