By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer
After 20 years as an information technology executive on Wall Street, Ana Sierra Leonard will be University of Cincinnati's first graduate in a national program called the Ph.D. Project.
The program, which began in 1994, is an information clearinghouse for minorities interested in pursuing a Ph.D. to become business school professors. It's a coalition of foundations and business schools concerned about minority under-representation in the ranks of business school faculty.
When the program started, there were fewer than 300 minority faculty members out of the 22,000 business school faculty in the United States. There are now 630, with an additional 387 people in doctoral programs preparing to enter academia, statistics from the Ph.D. Project show.
Today, the 50-year-old Leonard will join their ranks as she accepts a Ph.D. in management. She'll be among 4,357 UC students participating in commencement ceremonies this weekend. Leonard will attend the doctoral hooding ceremony before the all-university commencement that begins at 1:30 p.m. at Shoemaker Center.
"Something inside me turns on when I'm in front of a class," she said. "It seems to be something I do well. Being in front of a group of people energizes me."
After eight years as vice president of finance and accounting systems at Kidder Peabody, Leonard saw an ad in the New York Times and attended a corporate recruiting fair for the Ph.D. Project. For almost a decade, the Ph.D. Project has held an annual, invitation-only event that answers professionals' questions about what a doctoral program entails and how to apply.
Having minority faculty in front of the class not only attracts more minority students to Ph.D. programs in business, it also better prepares non-minority students for the corporate world, said Bernie Milano, president of the KPMG Foundation, which administers the Ph.D. Project.
"When you look at the numbers, the growth, we've had incredible success," he said.
The conference led Leonard to Cincinnati in 1995 to begin work on her Ph.D. in UC's College of Business Administration. She took the skills she learned in the corporate boardroom and applied them to the classroom.
In 2002, she won UC's university-wide award for excellence in graduate teaching. During her Ph.D. studies, she taught about 20 classes at UC and Miami University.
A Hispanic woman, Leonard is one of eight minority Ph.D. candidates among about 35 in the college of business administration. The other seven came in under the GE Faculty of the Future program, a similar minority-development program.
Ralph Katerberg, a management professor and contact for the Ph.D. Project at UC, said the program has seen success nationwide. But it has also had an impact locally. Since the program began, eight minority students have enrolled in business doctoral programs at UC. That compares to only one in the 10 years before the project started.
"Just being part of this larger thing has really gotten us on that map," Katerberg said. "This is certainly one of the most satisfying things I've seen in my career.
This summer, Leonard will teach an M.B.A. course in leadership at UC. She also has a two-year appointment as a visiting faculty member at Miami University's business school. After that, she will apply for other academic jobs.
"I've found my niche, but it was exhausting," she said. "I really had a very naive perspective about how difficult it would be to do. And having overcome so many obstacles and barriers in my corporate life, I thought, 'How hard can that be? It's just school, right?'
"The doctoral program was much more difficult than I ever imagined. But I did it."
Teaching is the right career for her. The feedback she gets from students proves it, she said.
"They write me letters saying, 'Thank you so much for telling us stories in class. It's so nice to have the textbook brought to life,'" she said. "This is what I'm supposed to be doing."
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