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What It’s Like for New Faculty During a Pandemic

Three New Business Professors Reflect on ‘Challenging’ First Semester

New business faculty members JM Song, James Zheng and Lei Jia
New Manning School of Business faculty members, from left, JM Song, James Zheng and Lei Jia look forward to meeting their colleagues and students in person someday soon.

12/08/2020
By Ed Brennen

One of the last meetings Manning School of Business Dean Sandra Richtermeyer had in her office before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the campus in March was an interview with Ju Myung (JM) Song for an Operations and Information Systems (OIS) faculty position.

“We were so excited to have him on campus — and then the world changed,” says Richtermeyer, who ended up hiring Song as an assistant professor.

Song is one of three new faculty members to join the Manning School this fall, along with Asst. Prof. of Marketing Lei Jia and Asst. Teaching Prof. of Finance Qiancheng (James) Zheng.

Starting a new job can be challenging under the best of circumstances. Doing so during a global pandemic, when people are forced to work remotely from home on platforms like Zoom, presents a whole new world of obstacles.

But as their first semester at UML draws to a close, Song, Jia and Zheng all say they have managed to make it, thanks to the support of their new colleagues — and the impressive resiliency of their students.

“I have been amazed how everyone has been working so hard during this pandemic,” says Zheng, who joined UML after five years as an assistant professor at Emporia State University in Emporia, Kansas. He teaches Financial Management and Investment and Portfolio Analysis. 

Zheng’s research areas include mergers and acquisitions, IPOs, strategic alliances, innovations, executive compensation and corporate governance. One ongoing project compares male CEOs with female CEOs to see if one group is more overcompensated, and why.
“Starting this position during a pandemic is not as bad as you think. As long as we are willing to try, things will work out eventually.” -Finance Asst. Teaching Prof. James Zheng

Like many new faculty members at UML this fall, Song, Jia and Zheng took advantage of training and orientation resources like the Provost’s Excellence in Learning and Teaching workshop series over the summer.

“The workshops were very helpful,” says Song, who teaches Global Supply Chain Management and Logistics and Transportation. “It may be awkward that my students and I cannot see and talk in person, but we have tried to overcome those difficulties in a virtual environment as much as possible, and everyone seems to have adjusted well.”

Song, who joined UML from San Jose State University in California’s Silicon Valley, is currently researching how shipping arrangements may affect sellers’ decisions and coordination of a distribution channel during the holiday shopping season.

Jia, who earned his Ph.D. in marketing from Ohio State University this summer, is teaching Sales and Customer Relations.

“I try my best to make the lectures more interesting because I am competing for my students’ attention with a lot of things in their homes, and also with their Zoom fatigue,” says Jia, who joined UML because of its reputation as a “fast-growing research university.”

Jia’s industry experience includes developing marketing campaigns for clients including Google Hong Kong, Analog Devices and Jabra. 

One of his research projects examines how designing utilitarian products to look cute (such as oven mitts that look like bear paws) influences consumer attitude and purchasing decisions. Another looks at how physical height influences consumer creativity.

“I found that, relatively speaking, shorter consumers are more likely to adopt new products than their taller counterparts,” says Jia, who describes himself as a minimalist. “Even though I’m a marketer who encourages people to buy more things, I own as few possessions as possible. Personally, I value experience more than material things.”

While they have tried to get to know their colleagues and students virtually, Song, Jia and Zheng all look forward to moving into their offices and meeting people face to face.

“There are times when technologies make you feel a little frustrated, which happens even during normal times, but starting this position during a pandemic is not as bad as you think,” Zheng says. “As long as we are willing to try, things will work out eventually.”