Pioneer Spotlight: Dr. Hao Chen connects marketing with the modern media age

Dr. Hao Chen

Dr. Hao Chen is celebrating his 10th year at UW-Platteville. Chen found his love of media and advertising at malls in his childhood when living in China. Visiting stores with his parents exposed him to the colorful and eye-catching world of visual marketing, and later, the influence of digital media in relation to business.

Chen teaches Advertising and Consumer Behavior in marketing along with Business Analytics in the general business area. He also teaches Introduction to Mass Media, Web Development, and Visual Communication in the Media Studies area. Chen hopes to find more ways for business students to be engaged in their communities by understanding the needs of local businesses. He encourages students to establish professional relationships with those same businesses to prepare them for their careers after college. He received both his master’s degree and Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

What inspired you to pursue teaching?

Firstly, my parents; they were my first teachers. They showed me the importance of lifelong, continuous learning and how that is beneficial for personal growth and for seeking the meaning of life. Secondly, my professors I encountered here in the United States; they are my family. I traveled a long distance from China to here to pursue my education and later my career. It was a really unfamiliar place at first because I was far away from home. But the professors here welcomed me in and offered me a lot of assistance. They made me feel relieved as a newcomer to this culture, to a very different system. That comforted me. Aside from passing on their knowledge, they also helped me fit in. The nurturing and care happen both inside and outside of their classroom. They set up a good model for me. They changed my mind about what a good teacher should be. For both of my parents and professors, I intend to follow their path to pass on their legacy. I hope my students can feel the same way and learn from my experience and hopefully, one day, I can inspire some of my students to pick up the torch and pass it on. I would be really proud of that.

How did you become interested in your field of media and marketing?

I was about six or seven, and I enjoyed going to the shopping mall with my parents. I developed a fascination for fine brochures for popular brands. Being a young kid, I had to pluck up my courage to talk to the sales person alone to get a copy of a brochure to put into my collection. What I learned from this was that I had a good impression of these brands. I was not the target audience, but the image I had of these brands is very good. These companies use their publications to communicate very abstract ideas. How would you understand a brand in a shopping environment? You would “see” it through a publication, a piece of paper, a book. You start to “see” what this company is, what it stands for. I find it fascinating because it comes down to the media power. Marketing is about communicating this message through all kinds of channels to establish these ideas to light the bulb in consumers’ minds, to plant an idea in their head. Oftentimes when you watch a good advertisement on TV you will not immediately jump out of your chair and go out to get that product. Instead, you let that idea sit in your mind, then, say, when you are about to purchase a product in the future, you invoke it and put it in the consideration set. This will change your list of what you are looking for and it will narrow your focus. That is successful marketing. This I find very interesting, so I wanted to learn more and that is how I started my journey.

What kind of hands-on projects or opportunities do you provide your students?

The Pioneer Engagement Scholars Projects allow professors to make connections between students and community partners with hands-on projects. In my projects, students learned how to make full-feature websites. Websites are the central hub of digital marketing and communication. Aside from acquiring the skills in developing websites, my students also learned to work with clients. They need to meet them in person and to understand their needs. This is good experience to have. Moreover, we reflect regularly on what we have done well and what we have done poorly. To repeat this process helps students hone their skills.

What do you hope students take away from your classes?

In my teaching philosophy, I emphasize hand-eye coordination. I talked a lot about getting students’ hands “dirty”—to apply what they have learned. Also, I emphasize trying things over and over, because practice makes perfect. Classroom lecturing cannot replace these types of personal experiences. Professors should encourage their students to work with their hands—to apply the theory; students should learn to work from their experiences—to see the theory through their own eyes.

What do you like about working in a university environment?

I love it. That is why I have stayed here for 10 years and counting. The university environment here has a lot of autonomy and diversity. I think those two are related. In our university, professors have a lot of freedom in what classes we want to teach following with our discipline and our own experiences. Each professor is unique so when you are taking Freshman Composition, you will have different experiences with different professors. We each bring our own perspectives to our classes. In the meantime, the students are also unique. In my opinion, education is personal. We should offer different learning experiences to students even when they are in the same classroom. We do not want to mold students into a pre-made version of learning. We have to keep track of each student’s progress and make sure we know how each one is taking in the information. The lecture is not the only way to communicate the material to the students. Discussions, projects, peer-reviews, and brainstorming sessions are other activities that have their own impact on the students. Students should also be proactive too. As I mentioned earlier, they should be finding ways for connection of their own experiences to what they learn in the classroom, developing their own systems, and putting all the pieces together in their minds. Our university encourages this and students need to realize it and take advantage of that freedom. They need to do research and reach out into the community. All of these things are waiting to be discovered by the students. Today our university is preparing students for a future that we do not have all the information about and I am trying to do my part to help this goal.


To nominate someone for the Pioneer Spotlight, contact