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A Focus on Education
Nita Umashankar
BSBA Marketing and Entrepreneurship ’04
BS Molecular and Cellular Biology ’03
Assistant Professor of Marketing, Georgia State University

By Eller College

Both of Nita Umashankar’s parents are faculty members at the UA, but when she began her undergraduate studies, she focused on another industry.

“I went the pre-med route,” she says, “but then I took a business class and I loved it.”

She finished her degrees in molecular and cellular biology, then graduated a year later with degrees in marketing and entrepreneurship. “Right after school, I took some time off and traveled to India,” Umashankar says.

It wasn’t the first time she’d been. Growing up, her parents made a point of keeping her connected to her heritage. “My parents have given me strong cultural roots that have impacted so many areas in my life,” she explains. While in India, she did some nonprofit work, which opened her eyes to many of the social problems the country faces.

“The most marginalized populations are poor women and sex trade workers,” she said. “They’re enslaved, essentially. It’s difficult seeing how helpless the situation is, but inspiring to see how strong they are in spite of it.”

Umashankar returned to the U.S. to pursue doctoral studies in marketing at the University of Texas at Austin. “I wasn’t interested in the corporate route,” she says. “One thing that appeals to me about academia is that you’re always learning — the idea is to continually push new thought forward.”

In the fall, she’ll begin teaching at Georgia State University as an assistant professor. Her research focuses on firm behavior, and her dissertation won the 2010 Fisher IMS & AMA SERVSIG Dissertation Proposal Award.

“It’s about how firms can generate revenue through customer service,” she says. When a product doesn’t perform as expected or fails, customers contact help lines. Often they’re very angry. “But under certain circumstances, the customer service can be translated into a profit-making center.” For example, Umashankar says, perhaps a customer service representative can sell a consumer on another product or service protection plan.

Although Umashankar is focused on the new role she’ll take on in the fall at Georgia State University, she also participates inthe nonprofit organization she founded with her parents several years ago,ASSET India Foundation.

The mission of the organization is to educate children of sex trade workers in technical and computing skills. “It’s hard because you realize how big this problem is, and feel overwhelmed,” she says. “But things can get done quickly. The interesting thing about India is how cities operate in a state of organized chaos; it’s phenomenal to see it in action as a way of living.”

The ASSET Foundation has seven centers across India now. “I have to credit my parents with making it happen,” she says. “They really took it to another level.”