Associate Professor Lee Chun Wah received his BSc in Communications Marketing Management and Political Science at the University of Portland in 1986. Following this, he attained his MA in Mass Communications at the University of Colorado in 1988, and Ph.D. in Mass Communications at Ohio University in 1992.
As a member of the pioneering team that launched the original Mass Communication Programme at the National University of Singapore, Dr. Lee returned to NTU to help launch the undergraduate Communications curriculum – which included the conceptualization of the Professional Internship (PI) scheme and the Final Year Project (FYP) system.
“The idea of the PI programme was to connect students with a range of professions in the industry, while they were doing their undergraduate studies,” Dr. Lee explained. “And the FYP system was introduced to allow students to showcase their talents and skills in executing what they’d learnt – sort of like a capstone project for the undergrads.”
Dr. Lee’s vision in administering the two schemes has certainly come a long way. He recently finished with the examining of the FYPs for the Graduating Class of 2015 – which saw an impressive assembly of over 50 projects spanning the five different track specialisations offered at Wee Kim Wee.
Of the 50, Dr. Lee handled five campaign FYPs – a given considering his background in advertising.
“I’ve been involved in various areas of advertising for a long time, and not just the industry practice or academic preparation,” said Dr Lee. “In many things that I do, it’s related to advertising; and how I look at it, advertising is more like a business.”
“There’s the creative side of advertising – the writing and designing – but many of us tend to ignore the business side of it,” he explained, pointing out that to run an entire operation, money is needed to hire copywriters, designers, photographers, and the like. Hence, his interest in how marketers allocate their resources to utilise these services to promote their goods and services, and ideas – traditionally and online.
And this deep-seated interest he attributes to his familial upbringing. “Part of my family’s operations was in that area – both the production conceptualisation as well as the account servicing,” he let on. “So from a young age, I was exposed to the different operations of advertising – or should I say I’ve been tutored in that area,” he chuckled.
When asked about his research projects, Dr. Lee revealed an unconventional side to his profession in academia. “I am not the traditional academic folk, as people may assume,” he said. “I don’t overly indulge myself in writing papers.”
Instead, Dr. Lee believes strongly in the need to consider how one’s academic product can be transformed into commercial use – going from the theoretical idea into something that is understood by the user and usable in the marketplace.
Hence, he is currently a board member of numerous companies in various sectors of the economy, including food, cosmetics, and retail – but particularly cosmetics.
With his father managing accounts for a cosmetics company, and his mother working as a beautician who serviced brides, it’s no surprise that Dr. Lee was introduced to the cosmetics industry at a young age – which he took to almost immediately.
“I was so amazed as to why young working women were so engrossed with personal cosmetic products – I was especially fascinated with lipstick at the time,” he recounted, citing his impressive knowledge of the “different tones of red and pink – and its eventual foray into pinkish-purple”.
Certainly, this interest in cosmetics advertising has fed into his charge as a board member – Dr. Lee just wrapped up his board work at a Japanese cosmetics company. In priding the importance of being able to marry theoretical ideas and practical solutions, he sees his work as a board member as his industry contribution, and will be joining two more companies in the summer.
It is with this same real-world mantra that Dr. Lee first entered the education industry. “I didn’t prepare for it, but they were looking for people to help set up the mass communications programme, and I became involved in conceptualising the PR and Advertising tracks” (then subsumed under the Public and Promotional Communications division) he said.
Currently on a teaching break, Dr. Lee will return to teaching this August 2015, teaching communications campaigns and the FYP Seminar, among other areas in marketing communication.