Debra L. Stephens, PhD, MA | University of Portland

Debra L. Stephens, PhD, MA

Associate Professor of Marketing, Pamplin School of Business

stephens_900.jpgFor Debra Stephens, the study of Marketing is really the study of human behavior. “Humans are fascinating, and there’s nothing more fascinating than what causes people to do what they do,” she says. “The field of consumer behavior encompasses everything from your morning routine, what house you buy, pet ownership. It really gives you a comprehensive picture of a person.”

Before her career as a professor of marketing, Stephens received both an MA and a PhD in Behavioral Sciences at the University of Chicago. She took a job as a researcher with a grant from the Marketing Science Institute and studied the best methods of presenting nutritional information on supermarket labels. “We wanted to see how to present that information to help consumers make wiser, healthier decisions,” she explains.

After writing a paper on misleading advertising and its effect on purchasing power, she realized that she was interested in pursuing different work. She shifted her focus towards academia, and went on to hold teaching appointments at Columbia, Villanova, and University of Michigan. She credits her fellow Villanova professor and friend, Ronald Hill, for her decision to come to University of Portland.

“Before I left Villanova, he got a job as Dean of Business Administration at UP, and offered me a visiting professor position,” she says. “I’d never considered living on the west coast, but I was looking for a different fit, and I’ve come to love Portland. I feel so lucky.”

In her time as a Marketing professor over the last 22 years at UP, she has been hard at work passing on her enthusiasm for consumer behavior and marketing to the next generation. “At other schools I’ve taught at, research was emphasized at the expense of teaching,” she says. “I developed here as a teacher because it was emphasized from the start. I was able to dedicate my time to it.” In addition, she’s written a textbook on consumer behavior with the goal of making the topic “less dry” for her readers.

“I want to share my curiosity and excitement with my students,” she says. Her students, in fact, are one of her favorite parts about teaching at UP. “The students here are genuinely nice human beings,” she says. “They’re not cutthroat, and they’re avid to learn new things. I get to help them think about things they normally wouldn’t think about.”

In her retirement, she looks forward to traveling, continuing her volunteer work the Humane Society, and is considering Spanish lessons. But she’s also not sure she’s ready to give up teaching altogether.

“I really do love it,” she says. She’s been thinking about finding a part-time teaching position. “It would be really weird to give it up completely.”