Julie and Ken Kendall make a big ask.
The husband-and-wife duo of Rutgers University-Camden business professors encourage minorities who are leaders in the business world to give up good salaries and a whole lot more to spend years in school getting a doctorate so they can enter academia.
“(These individuals) are usually having to be supported by other family members, so they do make sacrifices,” Ken Kendall said.
But there’s no question it’s changing the landscape on the academic side of business.
“Two decades ago, there were hardly any minority professors for students to look to as role models; we’ve seen an improvement since then,” Kendall added. “You see it in the students themselves. They’re choosing schools that have more diversity — we don’t have to tell them, they do it on their own.”
The Kendalls hope to bring about even more change in this regard through their work with The PhD Project, which was started with the help of accounting firm KPMG in 1994. The program prepares men and women for graduate school and everything involved in being a university professor, in hopes of them then attracting future generations of minority business students.
When the initiative began, there were less than 300 minority business school faculty members nationwide, according to the KPMG Foundation’s website. Around 20 years later, there were well over 1,000 minorities serving as business school faculty.
The program, and the Kendalls’ involvement with it, starts with an invitation to step away from a current career — including top-level executive spots — to teach the business leaders of tomorrow.
“For those whom we (target that outreach to), 15 percent upon hearing that message will go on to get a Ph.D. in business,” Julie Kendall said. “And credit goes to them for the success of this program. It’s not that common with a Ph.D. that everyone stays with it, and yet 90 percent of them do go on to get their degrees.”
Ken Kendall, who along with his wife is a distinguished professor in the area of management information systems, described the candidates this way:
“These are people who have many business skills and, in some ways, they’re better than professors to start because they’re accomplished in their fields and they’re out there practicing business principles. But when they make the decision to be professors, they do need a little help in understanding what research is, how to write dissertations and deal with scholarly journals.”
So the Kendalls and other volunteers with The PhD Project provide guidance and give feedback.
After 20 years with The PhD Project, the Kendalls consider former program participants — whom they meet with annually — to be like family. They have also gotten pleasure out of seeing those individuals achieve full professorships and even become deans in a few cases.
The Kendalls, who received an honor in November for their commitment to The PhD Project’s goals during the organization’s annual conference, most prize being able to see diversity appreciated in higher education.
“Over the past few years in particular, we’ve seen universities take on diversity as a core value,” Julie Kendall said.
“Businesses are really catching on, too. They see that diversity is good for business, that diversity lets them be better equipped to handle changes in the environment and the economy.”
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