As a child, Tesia Chang, MSJCA ’15 was always intrigued by detective and cop shows. Her father used to read her Nate the Great books, a children’s detective series about a young boy who solves mysteries written by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat.
“I always knew I wanted to become an investigator,” says Chang. “I wanted to follow in my mother’s footsteps.”
Chang’s mother passed away when she was three-years-old. It was always her goal to carry on her mother’s legacy.
Her mother had started as a clerk, until one of her supervisors recognized that she had an ability to do even more and go on to bigger things. Her supervisor encouraged her to seek higher education, so she got her college degree and advanced to become an investigator with the State of Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.
There was a time in Chang’s life, toward the end of her undergraduate career, when she considered becoming an attorney and going to law school. She studied hard, took the LSAT and applied for law school—but those doors didn’t open.
She didn’t know it at the time, but it was a blessing in disguise. She’s now an investigator with the State of Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, just like her mother used to be.
After graduating from college and realizing she was not going to become an attorney, Chang felt lost. She got a job working at a law firm as a file clerk while she tried to figure out her next move and worked at McDonald’s on the side. She used the opportunity to gain life skills, and to try to change the way she had been thinking about things.
“The one major thing that the whole process taught me was to think about things differently,” says Chang. “It helped prepare me for my current line of work. We’re often confronted with a wide range of complaints—some are very simple and others are very complex. It regularly requires analyzing things from a different perspective.”
Then, one day her father let her know about Chaminade’s Master of Science in Criminal Justice Administration program. He had friends in the law enforcement community who highly recommended it.
Chang enrolled, and got accepted. She kept her job at the law firm, and through Chaminade’s program she found an internship at the Honolulu Police Department in the Crime Scene Unit.
“I was shadowing evidence specialists,” recalls Chang. “There’s a lot of thought about how the scene was when you found it, and you have to use a lot of science and deductive reasoning. That was a really great opportunity.”
The experience re-ignited her passion for becoming an investigator and set her back on the career path she had always thought she’d follow.
Today, Chang talks about how the program gave her direction and believes it can give other students direction also.
“If you go through Chaminade’s program, it will definitely give you better direction or at least confirm where you want to be,” she says. “This is definitely the program that’s going to help you realize what you want to do.”
Toward the end of her time at Chaminade, she became a student helper at the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, and when she graduated, the folks at the department let her know about a temporary emergency hire—someone from the unit was being deployed and they were looking to fill the position in the interim. A few months later, she became a permanent employee and has been there ever since.
Chang spends her days investigating consumer complaints about unfair and deceptive acts.
“We investigate a broad spectrum of different scams,” describes Chang. “Mortgage rescue fraud scams, refund and exchange laws and more. If a store doesn’t post proper signage, then that could be considered an unfair or deceptive act or practice.”
Chaminade taught her how to process information and think critically about a subject. She learned how to pick a topic and research it, and how to go about gathering information to support or disprove a theory. She finds herself using that knowledge on a daily basis.
“It’s the same process when you receive a complaint,” she says. “You analyze it and process it into pieces, and that allows you to analyze the evidence effectively. Based on that, you can draw a pretty good conclusion.”
She particularly remembers her courses with Professor Collin Lau, a lecturer of criminology and criminal justice.
“His classes forced you to cut down on the flowery stuff and get straight to the point and to the meat of the issue,” says Chang. “The complaints we receive give all sorts of information and you need to be able to cut through to get the who, what, when, where and why. Professor Lau’s courses taught me to dissect through all the information.”
Chang truly believes the experience she had at Chaminade has helped make her a better investigator. “I honestly feel like I wouldn’t be as effective of an investigator if I hadn’t gone through Chaminade’s masters program, and I can see that as I continue to work here.”
She thrives on the thrill of her job. She loves that it keeps her on her toes, and she never knows what kind of complaint she’s going to get next. Her favorite complaints involve refunds and exchanges, because she often goes undercover on site inspections.
“Being incognito is part of the fun,” says Chang excitedly. “We can dress up and pose as customers. We’re able to have a different experience that’s pretty close to how a customer would experience it.”
Her job has definitely impacted the way she shops and it’s made her a much more wary consumer. She’s learned to ask a lot of questions, something she always encourages other consumers to do. She believes questions are one of the best defenses against scams.
“If there’s one thing this job teaches you, it’s to not take anything at face value,” says Chang. “This job definitely opens your eyes to a lot of things that you wouldn’t have been aware of if you were just a consumer. Knowledge is definitely power.”
Despite all of the excitement and thrill she finds on a daily basis at work, Chang’s reasons for loving her job are very personal. Knowing that she’s carrying on her mother’s legacy has been way more meaningful than she ever anticipated. She’s found a closeness to her mother that she hadn’t known before.
“Because I was so young when she passed away, the reality of not having her in my life didn’t really kick in until I started working here,” shares Chang. “Once I started working here, I could actually imagine working with her.”
Sometimes, she plays through different scenarios in her head about what it would have been like to work with her mother.
“Sometimes I think ‘wow, if we worked in the same office, we could have been taking lunch breaks together, come to work together, left work together,’” says Chang. “It definitely helps me in my mind create a stronger connection to her.”
When she gets sad, she tries to focus on the fact that she’s helping people, just like her mother did.
“Whether we’re helping someone get some sort of restitution, or helping them by filing a complaint, our office is able to take action and stop the respondent from hurting anyone else,” she says. “It feels great when we’re able to help a consumer.”