After Frank Igwe picked up his doctoral diploma at Penn State in May, he promptly handed
it to his parents. He wants them to see it at home “and know that their son made a mark
in this world, bringing honor to the family name.”
There’s one more “family” for Mr. Igwe to thank for supporting him through the crucible
of graduate school: The PhD Project, a mentoring network for African-Americans,
Hispanics, and native Americans on the path to becoming business professors.
Since its formation in 1994, The PhD Project has helped triple representation of these
groups among the faculty of American business schools – from 294 to 903. Another 400 are
working toward their doctorates.
That signals “tremendous growth,” says Thomas Kochan, a professor at Massachusetts
Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management in Cambridge. “Too often,
underrepresented minorities don’t have access to those networks [in academia], so this
provides more of a leveling effect.”
Universities still have a long way to go to bring a wide range of backgrounds to business
teaching and research, experts say. The three minority groups represent less than 4
percent of the roughly 26,000 business professors with PhDs.
With so few role models, many minorities don’t even consider a PhD, preferring instead
the more popular MBA – until they’re drawn in by the project’s recruitment web. Each
year, the nonprofit invites potential career-changers to an introductory,
all-expenses-paid conference where professors, deans, and current minority doctoral
students demystify the PhD pursuit.
With funding from university and corporate sponsors, The PhD Project pays each year for
minority doctoral students to meet in advance of national professional conferences in
particular disciplines such as accounting and management. But the network operates
year-round. That helps explain the project’s 92 percent completion rate, compared with
about 70 percent overall for business doctoral programs, Milano says.