One Latinx educator’s efforts to influence BIPOC faculty to leadership positions.
Fashion designer Vera Wang has the titles figure skater, dancer, and journalist on her resume. Buzzfeed founder Jonah Peretti used to teach middle school computer science. And world-renowned chef Julia Childs got her start in advertising and marketing.
As evidenced by these trajectories, sometimes a simple job change isn’t enough to unlock someone’s potential. Sometimes professionals need to embrace a career transformation to find fulfillment and success in their work.
Career transformations are more common than you might think. In fact, according to a recent survey by job search site Indeed.com, nearly half of respondents have made a dramatic shift in their careers, with unhappiness in their sector as the top driver for the change. While career transformation can be a risk, it can also pay off on many levels. Just ask Indeed’s survey respondents–88% said they found happiness and satisfaction in their new roles. But it’s not always easy getting to that point.
The team at The PhD Project sees that struggle, and ultimately that fulfillment, every day as they talk to Black/African American, Hispanic American/Latinx and Native American professionals who have or are considering leaving corporate America or their current role for a career in academia. Founded over 25 years ago by KPMG US Foundation, Citi, AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) and GMAC (Graduate Management Admission Council), the project’s mission is to increase the diversity of business school leaders and faculty, who, in turn, help mentor, motivate, and educate the next generation of leaders and serve as role models for students of color who see someone who looks like them in the classroom.
Transformation in Action
The project’s members come from all walks of life, like Dr. Jorge Perez, a second-generation Cuban scholar who serves as associate vice president for the University of Tennessee System. He is the only Latinx educator in a senior position at the University of Tennessee System, which boasts campuses in Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Memphis, among others. He is associate vice president of institutional effectiveness, and a fervent supporter of The PhD Project. His advocacy earned him an induction into its Hall of Fame during the group’s 25th anniversary gala. Throughout the years, he’s appeared on panels, mentored Ph.D. students and more, to support the mission of the program.
“I go to The PhD Project conference year after year,” says Perez, a secondgeneration Ph.D. who completed his degree in information systems in 1997 at Florida State University. “At this point in my career, I don’t need anything from it–except the chance that I can help somebody.”
Before joining the academic world, Perez worked as an IT specialist and found it uninspiring. After earning his Ph.D., he taught IT at North Carolina A&T and Kennesaw State universities, then headed to the University of Tennessee. His current position as associate vice president became effective January 2020. He sees his latest achievements as a victory for the Latinx community.
“I’ll bet you that there weren’t a lot of Hispanics teaching information systems when I was at Kennesaw State,” says Perez. “I bet there are not a lot of Hispanic professors in general in information systems. I know I inspire a lot of students, some Hispanic, some not. But now, I think I am better positioned to influence BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) faculty and let them see that they can also excel and ascend to a leadership position.”
Perez wants to contribute to Project AHEAD, a program within The PhD Project that encourages tenured BIPOC faculty to explore positions in administration. “We’ve already established that we need more people of color in faculty positions,” he continues. “Once they move through those positions, they need to move to more leadership positions. We need more people of color in leadership positions. Someone in that position will more likely hire more faculty of color and increase the representation of people of color in the faculty more so than someone who does not have that background and experience.”
Beginning the Journey
While the prospects of getting a Ph.D. may seem daunting, many candidates are surprised by the requirements, support and benefits that go along with a Ph.D. program:
■ Most universities do not charge tuition and do provide stipends to business doctoral students. The level of stipends can vary between $15,000-$40,000 per year.
■ A master’s degree is not required to enter a business doctoral program.
■ Accounting professionals have access to several organizations, including The PhD Project, that provide support during each phase of advanced degree pursuit.
■ Academic salaries can be very attractive.
■ Experience and maturity gained in the corporate world is highly valued.
If you are interested in a second act in academia, visit the website for more details about the process and to apply for The PhD Project’s annual conference for potential doctoral students.
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