Professor Irene Lange: KTU has allowed me to come home

University | 2019-06-10

“Homecoming means coming home to what is in your heart. KTU has allowed me to come home. It means the world to me”, says Professor Irene Lange, Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) Honorary Doctor who has been supporting our university since the beginning of the independence, in 1992.

After Lithuania regained independence, higher education was overcoming a complicated period of changes and reforms. In these times KTU was immensely helped by overseas Lithuanians who contributed to the University’s becoming a part of European and world arena of science and studies. Professor Irene Lange has left an important mark in KTU’s life.

The longest serving faculty member of the California State College at Fullerton, previously chairwoman of the Department of Marketing, Member-at-Large CSUF Emeriti Association, Irene Lange has contributed to reforming and modernising Social Sciences studies at KTU. Thanks to her, many a member of KTU community, including students and staff had an opportunity to participate in internships in the U.S. Prof Lange has been teaching at KTU for many years as a visiting teacher, and has significantly contributed to the founding of the then Faculty of Administration, to reforming study programme structure and was consulting students’ final projects in bachelors and masters.

In 1998 Prof Irene Lange was awarded Honorary Doctor of KTU. Professor has been providing financial support for the University for many years, and is planning to bequeath part of her assets to KTU.

Below – the interview with Professor Irene Lange about her career and the long term friendship with our University.

You were born in Lithuania, but during World War II emigrated to the USA. Could you please tell us more about your childhood in Lithuania and your roots?

KTU Honorary Doctor Irene Lange at the Room named by her at the KTU Faculty of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities

I was born in Lithuania, to German/Russian parents. I spent my early years in Germany, attending German and Lithuanian schools. After the end of the war, my mother and I emigrated to the U.S. where I completed all my degrees in Marketing and Economics at the University of Illinois. Because of my international background, my master’s thesis was on the role of marketing in the former Soviet Union, and my dissertation dealt with the role of marketing in the Economic Development of Puerto Rico.

My early background involved the loss of lives and material things and led me to dreams of being a student, traveling, speaking foreign languages, and working in the international arena.

You have made an impressive career in a then-considered “male field” marketing. Tell us more about it.

I have a passion for learning new concepts, methods and ideas and then disseminating them. Another area of excitement for me is seeing students apply what they learn as they pursue their careers. With this in mind I have been establishing and encouraging the use of internships, live cases and speakers. I am always interested in the latest trends in Marketing, including social media, sustainability, social responsibility, etc., and incorporating them into the curriculum.

My love for foreign languages led me to collaborate with faculty from the foreign language department and establish a BA in International Business with a concentration in foreign language. When my travels took me to teaching environments abroad, I was often amazed to find that marketing concepts were taught in the same way everywhere, by quite distinguished professors. I really struggled with that! For example, the context of many U.S. case studies has little meaning in socialist countries. So, I had my Lithuanian students work on a spur-of-the-moment case about how to run a soup kitchen in the early years of Lithuania’s independence, when the Russians cut off all energy during a very harsh winter. This made a lot of sense to the students, and taught them well many of the principles that we cover in the U.S.

My passion for education extends to my faculty. I served as Chair of Marketing for more years than I care to remember! But I have to say that having a great faculty made the job very easy. Many of the other chairs at Cal State Fullerton envied me because we had a great group of professional and committed faculty. We were a team and pulled for each other.

You were one of the first professors, who helped to establish and develop the Faculty of Administration at KTU. How had it happened?

In 1992, Dr Stasys Backaitis from Washington, D.C. learned that I was a professor of marketing and of Lithuanian birth. Over a telephone conversation he explained that a new College for women was forming at Kaunas University of Technology and that the Dean Viktorija Barsauskiene had a vision that young women would be studying administration, services and marketing. He thought that it might be of interest to me to become a member of the Advisory Board. At first, I envisioned it as a secretarial school but was soon convinced that the goal was to have women educated and trained to take on the new challenges of businesses that were forming in Lithuania.

My first trip to Lithuania was during the summer of 1993. I was met by a young assistant Dean Virginijus Kudirka in Vilnius and taken to a language camp that was being held in Palanga. I met Viktorija there and was very much impressed by her vision. The young women in Palanga were participating in a language emersion course. After the program was completed, we went to Kaunas and, as you can imagine, it was a great revelation to me. Here I was, for the first time back in the city of my birth and had an opportunity to imagine the life of my parents who spent their best years here in Kaunas. While walking along Kipro Petrausko Street I recognized our house. I had formed an image of it from the photos that my mother showed me.

You are acquainted with KTU since 1992. How do you see the university has changed during that time?

I always envisioned similar goals for Lithuanian students as I had for our students at California State University, Fullerton, especially for young women in a post-soviet economy. However, at that time mostly men were in positions of planning and execution. The early understanding of Lithuanian professors and professionals was that the University would prepare women for staff positions. I thought that was a good start but soon felt that this vision needed to change for Lithuania to become a serious player in the world economy. Goals changed to include accounting, finance, human resources, as well as quantitative methods in decision making as necessary requirements for the degree.

The Dean is certainly in a good position to elaborate on specific changes at the university since 1992.

You have been supporting the students and the University since. What does this mean to you?

Since 1992 I have been visiting KTU every year and got quickly involved in discussions on curricula, teaching materials, professional development and student life. My proudest moment came when I was awarded the Honorary Doctorate in 1998. My work with the faculty administrators and above all, Viktorija, has been most rewarding. To share my education and experiences from the U.S. with everyone here I will treasure forever. I do not have any relatives in Lithuania, but all of you have become my colleagues and friends, like a substitute family. Like an unknown author once said, “Homecoming means coming home to what is in your heart”. KTU has allowed me to come home. It means the world to me.

What would you like to wish for the community of KTU for the future?

I wish and trust that KTU will grow and be a leader in education. To do so it is important to understand and cater to the needs of the society around it. While this is true for any country, it is particularly true for a young democracy like Lithuania striving to make its mark in a world that is rapidly evolving technologically and geopolitically. KTU has made remarkable strides in a rather short time and I would like KTU to continue to lead.

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