Photo: Rob Felt
Dionne Nickerson, a Ph.D. student in marketing in Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business, researches the way companies and consumers can promote positive social change. Her current work examines corporate sustainability efforts and how potential customers respond to these programs.
WHERE ARE YOU FROM?
I grew up on the South Side of Chicago and graduated from Brown University in 2000 with a B.A. in engineering. After graduation I joined AmeriCorps and worked as an elementary school reading tutor for a couple of years. Then I moved to France and taught English for a couple of years while taking some business and engineering classes at Universite de Technologie de Troyes.
When I moved back I started working for a small technology consulting firm in Providence. That’s where I got exposed to tech transfer and the business side of engineering and science. I really enjoyed it so I went back to school and earned my M.B.A. in 2013 from Providence College.
YOU HAVE A DIVERSE SKILL SET. WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO GEORGIA TECH?
When I was in my M.B.A. program I did my thesis on the adoption of mobile technology and mobile payment systems in Kenya and Tanzania. I looked at how it helped small entrepreneurs and interviewed microentrepreneurs in various industries in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. It was amazing. I loved it. My advisors suggested I think about getting a Ph.D. I applied to a ton of schools but Georgia Tech was the only place that brought me out to meet everyone in person. Also, at the time, my research interests were in mobile technology so I thought Georgia Tech would be a really good fit.
WHAT ARE YOU RESEARCHING NOW?
It is very important to me that if I’m going to work on research it must be something that betters our lives. When I got to Georgia Tech I wanted to explore something totally different. I thought about how my husband and I recycle and how we interact with the environment but wondered why we don’t buy more things that support sustainability. That got me thinking about how a company can make a business case for sustainability. How does a company make a business case for people to do the right thing and buy the products that will help all of us and the planet we live on?
HOW DO YOU DEFINE SUSTAINABILITY?
It relates to business practices that protect our planet for generations to come. This is more than just an environmental perspective. This also relates to workers’ rights, women’s empowerment, and investing in communities in ways that will benefit all of society.
My research will help companies understand what types of sustainability efforts and claims are a good match with their products and targeted customers.
YOU’LL COMPLETE YOUR PH.D. IN 2019. WHERE DO YOU SEE THIS RESEARCH GOING BETWEEN NOW AND THEN?
I’m working with Omar Rodriguez-Vila, assistant professor of marketing, to look at food products, specifically beverage companies because they publish annual sustainability reports. Some early research shows people will look at certain products more favorably after learning about sustainability efforts, such as supporting youth employment or clean drinking water. Another study will look at whether consumers’ willingness to purchase sustainable products varies depending on if they are in a public or private setting.
The next step is to look at luxury products. While a lot of sustainability research has focused on low-cost consumer goods, there has been some interest in the public that luxury brands engage in sustainability initiatives. — Laura Diamond