Most of us end up with no more than five or six people who remember us. Teachers have thousands of people who remember them for the rest of their lives.
I was honored to be inducted recently into the PhD Project Hall of Fame. The PhD Project was started in 1994 to increase the number of traditionally underrepresented minorities (African-American, Hispanic American and Native American) with doctorates in business.
Bernie Milano, now president at theKPMG Foundation and one of the founders of the PhD Project, saw very few minorities in management positions in corporate America. He believed that if there were more minorities in front of the classroom, it would lead to more minorities advancing in corporate America. Following in the footsteps of the Minority Student Initiative program at the University of Michigan, he started the PhD Project.
The MSI program, with which I was involved as a doctoral student, aimed to increase the number of undergraduates who chose to pursue a Ph.D. in business. However, that effort did not get immediate results, although a number of those students did pursue the Ph.D. much later.
The vision of the PhD Project, which concentrates on minorities with graduate degrees instead of undergraduates, is to prepare "a significantly larger pool of highly qualified African-Americans, Hispanic Americans and Native Americans for positions in management."
The PhD Project's mission "is to increase the diversity of corporate America by increasing the diversity of business school faculty ... (who) serve as role models attracting and mentoring minority students while improving the preparation of all students for our diverse workplace and society."
This honor caused me to reflect on the changes that have occurred in business academia as a result of the work of the project. When I obtained my doctorate in 1994, less than two handfuls of African-Americans earned doctorates in all business disciplines. Blacks, as a whole, were less than 1 percent of the business professors, and most of them were in historically black colleges and universities or went into industry. Most predominantly white business schools did not have any underrepresented faculty; their diversity consisted primarily of professors of Indian and Chinese origin, most of whom were born in Asia, or non-U.S.-born whites.
Today the number of minorities in business schools has almost quintupled as a result of the PhD Project.
When I started teaching, I assumed that the minority students would seek me out. I was surprised to find that not only did they seek me out, but my white students, Asian students, European students and others also sought me out. I had a diverse "posse" of students who would stop by my office to chat and hang out.
Lest one think they were just buttering me up for a grade, I found that not to be the case. Students invited me to their graduation parties. Students stayed in touch through email and phone calls after they graduated. They would take me out to dinner or lunch, not letting me pay, some on a fairly routine basis, proud of the fact that they were making good money with good jobs and could do so. I am still good friends with quite a few of my students who are all over the world.
Some of my students felt comfortable talking to me about race. One Asian student told me that he had always had a negative view of blacks based on what he saw in the media, but that changed after he had me as a teacher. As a result, he told me, he looked at his black employees differently. Tim and I are still friends more than 15 years later. Other students have expressed such sentiments in their own way.
Having minorities in front of the class makes a difference for minority students, but my experience is that it also makes a great difference for many non-minority students. For the first time, they see minorities in positions because of their intellect, who don't fit the stereotypes of gangsters or buffoons or sports figures they routinely see in the media-not just in the this country but all over the world because of the pervasiveness of American TV. I have often been shocked to see some of these shows in other countries.
I know my fellow underrepresented colleagues have had similar experiences. As professors, they have touched their students in ways they might not have imagined when they started out. Together, we are changing how people think, not just about the subjects we teach but because of who we are and what we do. And many of us do so not only here in America but all over the world when we teach in other countries.
The story of the PhD Project and what it has accomplished is the untold story of one of the most effective change agents in this country, perhaps even the single most effective. The PhD Project is having a long-term, profound impact on this country, and it is responsible for changing the face of business education. When I finished my Ph.D. program in 1994, most business schools did not have minority faculty; today one would be hard-pressed to find a school that doesn't have any.
The story does not stop there. More recently, through its Project AHEAD initiative, the PhD Project is encouraging minority faculty to consider academic administration. And more and more of us are going into academic administration-including becoming deans of business schools.
dt ogilvie is dean of the Saunders College of Business at Rochester Institute of Technology.
10/25/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.