Business schools from the Big Ten universities are teaming up to increase diversity in their PhD programs. Rebecca Hann, assistant dean of doctoral programs and accounting professor, is leading the charge at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. The effort aligns with a long-term goal for Smith faculty and for the university, one that has taken on new emphasis since President Darryll Pines took the helm in July 2020 and declared a commitment to creating an inclusive, diverse campus environment a top priority.
The Big Ten business schools — 14 mostly public, large universities in the NCAA athletic conference — are pooling their resources, to broaden their recruiting reach among master’s and undergraduate students who may eventually be interested in pursuing a doctoral degree in business.
“If you look across all schools — not just Smith’s program — the percentage of underrepresented minorities in PhD programs is very small,” says Hann. “There are a lot of talented candidates out there. The question is how can we increase this pool of applicants.”
The schools, in an effort spearheaded by Indiana University’s business school Dean Idie Kesner, held a kickoff meeting in September. The group’s first action will be to hold a webinar to connect with master’s students and undergraduates to introduce them to PhD programs and what they entail, how to be better qualified to apply to one, and the next steps to pursuing the degree.
“What we want is to get the students to start thinking about it — a career in academia requires a passion for both teaching and research — and we really want them to reach out to the faculty around them,” says Hann. “If they have that interest, it would be good to have a mentor. It’s a process. The webinar is really just an introduction.”
The Big Ten group’s webinar and future activities will complement The PhD Project, an effort to increase the number of Black, Indigenous and people of color in business school faculty positions, started in 1994 by the KPMG Foundation, Citi, AACSB and GMAC. That program hosts an important annual conference that Maryland Smith regularly attends. The Big Ten schools’ efforts will help achieve a common goal of introducing potential underrepresented minority applicants to PhD in business programs.
“Even if they aren’t going to apply right away, the idea of planting the seed is very important,” says Hann.
Hann says the summer’s intensified Black Lives Matter protests spurred the group to act now.
“We have had ongoing conversations among the faculty about what we can do to increase diversity. With the recent developments in the Black Lives Matter movement and President Pines’ call for creating a more inclusive environment, it’s even more important that we emphasize our commitment towards representation in our underrepresented PhD applicants,” says Hann. “This is a long-term project and over time, we hope we can accomplish this very important diversity and inclusion component in academia.”
Increasing diversity is critical in all settings, says Hann, and especially so at universities and business schools, which teach future business leaders and shape thinking with their research. Achieving diversity among the faculty starts with diversity in PhD programs and that’s why the Big Ten initiative is so important, says Hann.
“It’s not just about attracting students to our program. It’s about attracting students to this community that matters at the end of the day,” she says. Although Maryland Smith will be competing with other programs for the top students, students who end up entering a PhD program at another school will have Maryland Smith’s blessing, says Hann. After all, they could eventually end up as faculty members at Smith.
“It’s just the general notion of having more underrepresented minorities in this profession. It doesn’t matter which academic institution they end up at. To get that light bulb to go off in their head, to plant that seed, that’s all we want.”