Sandra Shelton (second from the right) poses with other PhD Project alumni who now teach at DePaul's Driehaus College of Business. From left to right: James Mourey, Stephani Mason and Willie Reddic. Kelly Pope Richmond is also an alumna of the program.
There were only eight of them, but to Sandra Shelton, their
presence was immeasurable. It was the early 1990s, and Shelton was three years
into a four-year PhD program in accountancy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
She was one of only eight minority PhD candidates in accountancy nationwide, and
they were all together for the first time.
KPMG, the powerhouse auditing and accounting firm, had flown
Shelton to their headquarters in New Jersey to speak to business school deans
about diversity in faculty. The PhD candidates became the foundation for what
would later become The PhD Project, an award-winning nonprofit dedicated to
increasing minority faculty in business schools and, ultimately, minority
business school graduates.
KPMG executives reasoned they’d have a more diverse
workforce if business students were taught by a more diverse business faculty. But with less than 10 minorities enrolled in accountancy
PhD programs nationwide at the time, the prospect seemed daunting.
“I can remember each of their faces, their names, everything
about them because I was just so happy to see them,” says Shelton, now a KPMG
Distinguished Professor of Accountancy at DePaul. “I didn’t even know another
person of color who had finished their PhD in accounting. I had never seen one.
And I was determined that once I finished the PhD program, I was going to make
it easier for other people of color to get a PhD in business.”
Currently, there are more than 1,200 minority business PhD professors
across all business disciplines throughout the U.S., as compared to 294 when
The PhD Project began. Shelton, who has been with The PhD Project since its
inception in 1994, was recently inducted into the organization’s Hall of Fame. She will see the fruits of her legacy on Nov. 19, when the new crop of nearly 400 potential
doctoral candidates converge on Chicago to attend The PhD Project’s annual conference.
Shelton’s legacy includes helping DePaul’s Driehaus College
of Business attract the highest number of PhD Project members as faculty
“I am certain that Sandra’s presence there at DePaul has
made a huge impact on the university’s ability to recruit and maintain faculty
of color,” says Bernie Milano, president of The PhD Project and the KPMG Foundation.
The Road Less
For many people, minority or not, the road to professorship
is filled with roadblocks. And the biggest barrier is securing a PhD.
Shelton knew of people with doctoral degrees.
Family members had doctorate degrees in divinity. Others in her family had doctorate degrees
in education. But an African-American woman with a doctorate in accounting? That was just unheard of at the time, she
says. So, how did Shelton get the doctoral fever?
Shortly after getting her MBA and CPA, Shelton was working
full-time for Deloitte LLP, when a friend at a Chicago college recruited
her to teach a night class.
“I started teaching and I loved it,” Shelton said. “I got so
much fulfillment from it. I thought, ‘This is my calling.’ I decided right then
that I wanted to bring the best to my students. I wanted to contribute to the
body of knowledge that I was teaching, not just interpret it. And that meant I
had to get a PhD.”
But for Shelton, the business doctoral path was the road
less traveled. Getting a doctoral degree requires more research, ingenuity,
stamina and strategy than many people realize. And for someone who had never
met another doctoral candidate in accounting, the task seemed daunting. Shelton ended up
applying to University of Wisconsin-Madison.
She was the first African-American accountancy doctoral
student the university had accepted since 1972. And for the next five years she
commuted three hours each way from Chicago to Madison and back to attend
“I wish I had The PhD Project when pursuing a doctorate,” Shelton says, “What took
me two years to learn about the doctoral process, the students who attend our
annual conferences learn in the first day. For me, the process was this huge
A Pioneering Legacy
Ten days after Shelton successfully finished her PhD program,
The PhD Project had its first official conference. Prospective candidates from
all over the country came to meet business school deans, PhD mentors and
employers and to learn about the PhD process. At that meeting the nonprofit
group celebrated Shelton’s doctoral degree.
Today, this tradition continues with PhD Project alumni like James
Mourey, an assistant professor of marketing, who joined DePaul’s faculty in
2013 after being mentored by Shelton.
Growing up in rural Illinois, Mourey says academia was never
on his radar. “I knew no professors growing up,” Mourey said. “Most people enter
into adulthood not even realizing there’s this amazing opportunity for people
to be original, creative, scientific, analytic and instructive all in one.”
But thanks to the support of Shelton, The PhD Project’s annual
conferences and networking opportunities with other minority PhD candidates,
Mourey says he was able to master the PhD process.
“The PhD Project serves an extremely important role
spreading awareness about this wonderful profession, particularly to segments
of the population less likely to have experience with the field earlier in
life,” says Mourey.
Mourey was highlighted in Bloomberg Businessweek last year for
being the 1,176th minority professor hired by a U.S. business
school. The milestone is significant because it marks the quadrupling of
minority b-school faculty since The PhD Project began in 1994. Stephani Mason
and Willie Reddic, both assistant professors of accountancy, and Kelly Richmond Pope, associate professor of accountancy, are also
among PhD Project alumni who now teach at DePaul.
It’s easy to peg The PhD Project’s impact to just
individuals. But Milano says the program's successes extend far beyond the
minority candidates who earn doctorates.
“Having minority PhD faculty changes the culture on college
campuses,” Milano says. “Faculty members of color are a source of inspiration
and encouragement to all students. They allow students to experience workplace
diversity way before they enter the corporate world.”
Mourey says it’s no accident DePaul’s Driehaus College of
Business has the most PhD Project professors of any b-school in the nation.
“DePaul clearly is committed to hiring diverse educators,
perhaps reflecting the wonderful diversity we have within our student
population,” Mourey says. “And those of us who chose to come to DePaul are living
The PhD Project's mission. We want be at an institution where we can help
change the world for the better, where we can reach out to a diverse audience
and help them find their paths to success in life.
There's something special about DePaul, its students and
its commitment to service for all people that make it such a wonderful place to
work, to research, to teach, and to create lasting change.”
For her part, Shelton has spent the better part of two decades
focused on change. Her mission is to ensure future minority PhD candidates will
never have to weather the PhD gauntlet alone. Thanks to The PhD Project and her
own tenacity, Shelton has met her goal.
“The PhD Project has given me the opportunity to give back,”
Shelton said. “I am so grateful to the program and KPMG. It has definitely made
a difference. I have been able to mentor students in ways I could never