She’s Not Your Average Professor

10 May

This Sweet Bling customer is a chic, smart Mama — and she surfs.

We’re actually not sure what your average professor is. We just know that Dr. Paula Peter is by no means average. She is a Sweet Bling customer who is an inspiration for women trying to walk that tight rope of family, career and self.  With Mother’s Day coming up, we thought this was the perfect time to celebrate an inspirational mother.

Peter with her son, Noah.

I’ve known Peter for ten years, through mutual friends. But until I interviewed her, I didn’t know how she came to be a Professor of Marketing. I wanted to know how she balances her career and family, and I wanted to know more about where she got her sense of style. So I went to interview Peter at her office at San Diego State University.

Peter oozes a cool European vibe – which isn’t surprising, because she is from Lugano, Switzerland. She has a beautiful accent which sounds a bit Italian since Lugano is on the border of Switzerland and Italy. Paula is married to Alessio, who she met her last year of high school (he is five years her senior). He is an ICU nurse and together they are raising two beautiful children, Noah and Alice (pronounced A-LEE-CHAY) in San Diego. Peter is the person women look at and say, “how does she do it?” She has a fun and satisfying career, a lovely family and an effortless sense of style.


Top left: Peter with her husband, Alessio. Top right: Peter coming in from surfing. Bottom: Alice, Alessio, Noah and Peter.

I ask Peter where she got her sense of style. She credits her mom, Leena, who was a model (no surprise here!) before she married Peter’s dad. She describes the carefree lifestyle her mom lived, going from city to city in Europe for modeling work. Her mom was originally from Finland.

Peter tells me of fond memories of dressing up with friends in her mother’s beautiful gowns. She also mentions that her grandfather on her mother’s side was a dressmaker.


Photos of Peter’s mom, Leena. Top left: in Amsterdam, bottom right in Lake Como.

When I was a kid and I was maybe 12 or so, I would play Runway at home with my friends and we would all wear my mom’s dresses. They were huge and puffy, but very pretty. My mom would wear these when she was in her 20s in Milan because she was completely out there in terms of her style.

I ask Peter if she thinks her style has changed since she moved to Southern California.

I don’t think so. It’s funny because I don’t get influenced very much. For example, I don’t follow fashion so much, but there are a couple (of designers) I follow. I follow Chanel and I followed Karl Lagerfeld. I also follow Alexander McQueen.

And about that balance in life. I tell Paula, that I’ve seen pictures of her surfing. She told me she decided to take it up after taking her seven-year-old son to a summer surf camp last year. It is something she enjoys doing for herself.

I love it because it’s you and the water. If I want to go in the water and just hang there I can do that — and enjoy the ocean and everything. So I truly love it. I’m not good at it but I’m not giving up.

We start talking about Peter’s 4 year-old daughter and how she likes jewelry, which leads into Peter’s  taste in jewelry. She is what I would describe as a jewelry minimalist. However, for her  21st anniversary (of dating her husband), she did ask her husband for two Sweet Bling Initial Bracelets, one with each child’s initial. Peter explains why she chose the delicate bracelets.

I like simple and subtle. So I love your bracelet (referring to me) because of that (the Baguette Gemstone Bracelet, because you have to look twice before seeing if there is something there. And I see your necklace (the Diamond Solitaire Necklace), it’s very teeny and I love that. I love when there’s  a sparkle but you have to have a double take to see — oh yes, there is something. I find that very chic and fine. It’s something I love to see.

Peter has been teaching at San Diego State University for just over ten years. She loves teaching young people and also empowering other women in academia. But, what I admire so much about Peter is the love and attention she puts towards her family. You see the thoughtfulness in the way she speaks to her children, how she loves laughing and playing with them and how content she is in her role as a mom. But you also see the happiness she exudes when with her husband, without the kids. Now career and family didn’t all fall in to place accidentally. Peter realized early on that she wanted to have a family — and a career as a Professor of Marketing would allow her to achieve both her dreams. I asker her how she decided to become a marketing professor.

Paula Peter, Ph.D at San Diego State University

So I don’t come from a family of known academics. My dad was a hockey player and my mom was a model, so no background related to academia. But they always told me “there is something nobody can steal from you —  it is knowledge. So we truly encourage you to go ahead and study.”

As a young woman, Dr. Paula Peter dreamed of being a competitive figure skater. Peter enjoyed and was good at the sport but not good enough to make a living out of it. So instead of pursuing a career in professional skating, she settled into life back home in Southern Switzerland (Lugano) and attended the Universita’ della Svizzera Italiana. While there, she met a visiting professor from Virginia Tech University. It was an encounter that would motivate her to change the course of her life.

While I was earning my bachelor’s degree, I met Dr. David Brinberg who inspired my love for the subject of consumer behavior.

When Peter chose to pursue a career in the field of consumer behavior, she moved to the U.S. to attend Virginia Tech, where Dr. Brinberg would continue to advise and mentor her during her master’s degree program and, later, her Ph.D. program. Upon completing her doctorate, Peter was named 2007’s “Outstanding Graduate Student” at Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business. 

During her time as a doctoral student, Peter realized that this profession would not only be satisfying as a career , but provide a lifestyle that she valued – one that would allow her to have a family, and travel.

My first conference as a Master’s student was in Jamaica, by myself. I remember my advisor was not able to come. So he said, “You need to go and you need to go by yourself.” So then I went there and I realized oh wow, people go to the conference but then they have fun on the side. And I realized wow, this is a lifestyle! I’m totally in!

Today, Peter is a tenured full professor at the Fowler College of Business at San Diego State University where she researches and teaches about the role emotions play in consumer behavior and how consumers are driven by those emotions in their decision making. Peter notes that her research leads her to believe that there isn’t necessarily a gender difference in the way that we experience our emotions, but that society has different expectations in the way that men and women express emotions.

Based on my research, women seem to have a higher emotional intelligence, meaning that they are more aware and calibrated on the emotions they experience. This is probably due to the fact that they are taught that from an early age it is okay to experience and express emotions. This is not necessarily the case for boys, but things are fortunately changing.

 Her interest in emotional intelligence and gender roles segued into her interest in the inclusion and promotion of women in academia.

I am very aware of the current statistics of women in academia and how we are still not where we should be, especially in the promotion of associate professors to the role of professors. When I earned the title of full professor in May 2018, I felt it was time for me to take action to improve things and initiate change in order to support women faculty and staff members at SDSU.

With this is mind, Peter launched the SDSU’s Women in Business Academia (WBA) employee resource group to support the well-being and advancement of women in business academia. Peter explains the role of WBA:

WBA addresses the unique issues that women in business academia face and the issues that impact their career, families and communities. The group is open to anyone on this campus who would like to see more gender equity in academic settings.

If Peter has made empowering women a part of her agenda at San Diego State, it was because she was raised by an empowered woman.

My mom is my hero. She left home at the age of 17 to be a model and she traveled from Helsinki to Milan. She had to become very street smart at an early age and despite the fact she is not college educated, I think she is the smartest person I have ever known.

While Peter’s mom loved the life she had as a model, she also treasured her role as a mom. But she often offered advice to Peter on the subject of family and career. 

My parents had a beautiful marriage, but she (my mom) always told me, encouraged me to be financially independent and decision-making independent. Where I come from, it was very rare that mothers would work. And actually the mothers who worked were not seen in a good light.

And that very much influenced Peter to find a career where she could be financially independent, as well as be a good mom. We’re proud to say that Dr. Paula Peter is a Sweet Bling customer.

 Have a sweet day!

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