When Bernard J. Milano, BS ’61, led the formation of the PhD Project in 1994 to support African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Native Americans in attaining their business PhDs and becoming professors, there were fewer than 300 people of color in the country with doctorates in business.
As the PhD Project celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, more than 1,230 minority professors teach in business schools (slightly over 4 percent of the total), and there are about 330 minority doctoral students in business disciplines.
“We’ve multiplied the role models and the awareness, and more and more students are going to experience seeing a faculty member of color, which means that if they’re a person of color this might be a career they aspire to because they’ve experienced it firsthand,” said Milano, who in May 2014 received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the Fox School’s Department of Accounting.
The PhD Project includes five minority Doctoral Students Associations (DSAs) to support members who are pursuing business doctoral degrees in accounting, finance, information systems, management and marketing. The organization hosts summer conferences for doctoral students in conjunction with meetings of professional associations — for example, the American Accounting Association — so current doctoral students and those who are about to embark on their programs can establish their networks from the beginning.
The PhD Project also leads an invitation only conference in the fall for those considering applying to doctoral programs. Last year, the over 350 attendees could network with more than 100 U.S. doctoral programs.
“A doctoral program is like walking into a house with lots of rooms,” Milano said, emphasizing that for many students it’s a complete departure from their careers to shift focus to academics. “You don’t know what’s in the next room, and you might be shocked at what you see. We open all those doors so that even before a person starts, they know what happens at each successive stage so they have more confidence and more courage.” The supportive network pays dividends:
The completion rate among doctoral students affiliated with the PhD Project’s DSAs is approximately 90 percent. And 97 percent of PhD recipients who come through the PhD Project stay in academia, serving as role models and mentors on business-school faculty.
When Milano started the PhD Project, he was leading national recruiting for KPMG. During the five decades Milano has been with the firm, he has held positions of increasing responsibility, including national partner in charge of university relations and national partner in charge of human resources.
He is currently president and board member of the KPMG Foundation, which supports business schools and students with special emphasis on accounting programs; the KPMG Disaster Relief Fund, which provides funds to qualified charitable organizations and to KPMG partners and employees who have suffered financial losses due to natural disasters; and the PhD Project.
“People in the academic world have said this is the most powerful, most successful diversity initiative they have experienced, and when you think about it, we’ve put in a sustainable, long-term change,” said Milano, who was awarded the American Association of Blacks in Higher Education’s 2013 Advocacy Award.
“We know that when a person becomes a professor and stands in front of that classroom and teaches three sections a week over a 20-year career, they’re going to be impacting thousands of lives,” he added. “Almost all of us can point to a teacher or a professor who has turned our head and given us confidence to pursue a certain direction.” –Brandon Lausch