Community, Engagement, Belonging and Access; Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business

College of Business invests in future through PhD Project


Phebe Davis probably put it best by saying “when you diversify in the front of the classroom, you will in turn have more diversity in the classroom seats.”

Staff, faculty staff the Clemson booth at PhD Project conference
Helen Diamond Steele, Janis Nelson, Phebe Davis and Delancy Bennett represented Clemson at the PhD Project annual conference.

Davis, a clinical assistant professor in the School of Accountancy, was referring to the College of Business’ commitment to recruiting diverse doctoral candidates and future faculty by embracing the PhD Project. It’s a non-profit catalyst for African American, Hispanic and Native American professionals to return to academia, earn their doctorates and become business professors.

Davis credits the program for her leaving a corporate career after 15 years and returning to the classroom at Clemson University, where she received her master’s degree in 1996.

“I wouldn’t be here today without the PhD Project,” said Davis, who received a doctorate in accounting at Florida Atlantic University, near where she was employed by Big 4 accounting firm KPMG. “It provided a network of support I wouldn’t have had, both emotional and financial. The emotional was especially important because minorities oftentimes are the only ones in their departments. Knowing I wasn’t alone in this really helped me get through the process.”

Janis Miller, graduate programs director, said the College of Business has long participated in the program to place students in its two Ph.D. programs — Management and Economics. She said for many years, funding for participation was gleaned from department budgets.

“This year, the college stepped up its game with the PhD Project when Dean Wendy York funded full participation in the non-profit’s conference, held annually in Chicago,” said Miller, who is a long-time Clemson supporter of the project.

Helen Diamond Steele, the business school’s director of Student Enrichment, was one of four attendees at this year’s November conference. She added that the dean’s foresight and generosity in fully funding the College of Business’ attendance at the event shows that she puts a priority on inclusive excellence.

Delancey Bennett talks with doctoral candidates
Delancy Bennett talks with PhD Project candidates at the organization’s annual conference.

“Because of the dean’s funding, we are now maximizing our impact at the conference and can talk to four times as many students than in the past,” Steele said. “By fully committing to this event, we are not only recruiting economics and management doctoral students, but future faculty members as well.”

The PhD Project annual conference hosts between 300 and 400 aspiring business doctoral students looking for a school that would be the right fit for them. Four current faculty members, Davis (accounting), Delancy Bennett and Jesse Moore (marketing) and Jhacova Williams (economics) are products of the PhD Project.

Bennett, who served in marketing roles with Unilever and the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, has a long history with the PhD Project, having become familiar with it while an MBA student at Wake Forest in 1999. A staunch believer in how it can affect both students’ and educators’ lives, Bennett has been one of its strongest advocates since receiving his doctorate at UMass in 2013 and beginning his career at Clemson.

“The program opened so many doors for me that I am compelled to do the same for others who like me might leave business and return to school,” he said. “The Ph.D. journey is challenging, especially for a minority because you’re a needle in a haystack among a field of haystacks.”

Bennett said the dean’s commitment to the program not only allowed Clemson to “paint the conference orange,” but also signals her commitment to achieving classroom diversity.

“The College of Business’ participation in the PhD Project is a long-term investment that aligns with the priorities set forth in Clemson Forward,” York said. “Not only does it enable us to recruit prospective doctoral students, it helps in recruiting future faculty and puts us on a path to reaching inclusive excellence.”

Steele said the PhD Project has been successful in placing minority students in doctoral programs around the country. The number of minority business PhD’s in the U.S. has more than quadrupled from 294 in 1994 to more than 1,300 today.

“Our long-term investment in the PhD Project is one way we can achieve our goals around diversity and inclusion,” she said. “KPMG’s Foundation originally funded this initiative on the premise that advancements in workplace diversity could be achieved by increasing the diversity of business school faculty.”

Davis still remains connected to the PhD Project as a faculty member and has forged many lifelong friendships through the program.

“The project doesn’t only support you through the process of receiving your doctorate. It still supports me on my job through a faculty association they’ve developed. And, some of my best friends are those who I went through the program with. We live in different parts of the country but will forever remain connected through our involvement in the project.”

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