By Gianna Gonzalez, Eddie Landeros, and Clerise Yumul
Background and Experience
For our interview, we met up with Dr. Jess Vega-Centano, an assistant professor at California State University, Fullerton’s College of Communications. Before pursuing a career in teaching, Dr. Vega worked as an account executive and marketing consultant at various companies for over 15 years. After graduating from Boston University with a Bachelor’s in Psychology, she continued to work in retail before going back to school for business. From there, she developed an interest in marketing and began working at various small agencies to build her experience. Dr. Vega took a break from teaching for a few years but came back to it in 2009 when she worked at Miami. Due to her extensive experience in the field, we chose to conduct a personal interview with her regarding advertising and its evolution throughout her career.
As a psychology major, Dr. Vega had little interest in advertising during her time as an undergraduate. It wasn’t until she went back to school where she took a marketing class and gained a strong interest in the industry. Inspired, she decided to build experience in the advertising industry to eventually become a professor herself and a positive influence on students.
Transition from Student to Teacher
With building her experiences in the advertising industry, Dr. Vega did not know exactly where or what she would be doing. She moved to a few places to gain more industry experience and, at one point, even gave up her idea of being a professor. Dr. Vega gave up teaching for a few years, and she had a very impactful transition in a period of her life that made her realize her true calling of teaching.
In 2009, Dr. Vega applied for a job position that she came across on Craigslist. The position was to teach classes at Miami International University, and she was very excited to finally grow in a career she began to love. The position drifted a bit from Dr. Vega with circumstances through the university; however that did not stop her. Her resilience with knowing she might not get to teach made her reach back to the university and that is what made her gain the position. From there, Dr. Vega only went up, and she moved to positions in her career to gain that experience. Some of her job experiences prior to Miami University included being an instructor at Florida International University, a Doctoral Student, and a Teaching Assistant at the University of Texas. They brought her to her current position at California State University Fullerton as an Assistant Professor.
Dr. Vega was lucky enough to work in the advertising industry during the evolution of traditional advertising, including printing, paper files, and older forms of media. With the ongoing changes she faced with joining the advertising industry, Dr. Vega dealt with more client-based work than agencies. Dr. Vega discussed that with her comprehensive background, she assessed client marketing needs and effectively delivered communication solutions that addressed those needs. Due to her experiences, she felt that she could learn so much and grow in the industry with that experience.
Diversity and Inclusion in Advertising
Dr. Vega believes that you have to speak a certain way with people with a medium like advertising. In her words, it’s not enough to just translate headlines and copy–the entire ad has to resonate and be culturally meaningful. Another trend Dr. Vega points out is that the process hasn’t been smooth. Instead, marketers have been taking small steps to become more inclusive. First, the focus was on being more culturally and racially inclusive. Now, marketers are still trying to figure out how to be inclusive of gender and queer identities. Overall, Dr. Vega believes advertising is still a long way from being fully inclusive of all identities, and the process of getting to that point has been gradual.
The Importance of Learning about Advertising
Dr. Vega points out the advertising industry is constantly evolving and changing. With changes in the industry come changes in the mindsets of incoming students who aspire to work in advertising. Dr. Vega says she has noticed that her students are becoming much more aware of opportunities and are already “graduated college students” in their minds. Unlike when she was a student, students nowadays are more knowledgeable about internships and gaining experience. With this new understanding of how education and the desires of her students are changing, Dr. Vega has used her abilities to adapt and educate students in more challenging areas, such as soft skills and conviction, as these are key elements in successful communication and advertising. She uses her teaching to help students navigate those opportunities and achieve their goals in their careers and education.
Dr. Vega believes advertising keeps society going. It is a powerful medium that affects mindsets in all aspects of life, such as work, travel, food, networking, fashion, beauty, and entertainment. Unfortunately, due to the industry’s lust for power and money, advertising has fueled negative impacts on the world, causing disruption in social interactions, mental health issues, and environmental disasters, and, with the evolution of technology, it has become very difficult to break away from this cycle of greed in advertising. Even with these challenging issues, however, Dr. Vega believes there is still hope. Her experience working in strategic communication planning and creative advertising has helped shape her teaching abilities and influence positive changes in each student she interacts with, preventing those systemic issues before they begin.
“I teach advertising because I want you and all of my students to know that you can make a difference in the industry. We’ve always had the power to make an impact on society with advertising, and if we have the ability to make a negative impact, we absolutely have the power to make a positive one.”