In the business program at Florida A&M, Pettis Kent started as a marketing major. In the last of his three required internships, he worked at Ford Motor Company in a supply chain position. “I was intrigued by that area,” he recalled. When he graduated in 2000, he chose a position in purchasing at Procter & Gamble. He stayed for 12 years, managing various supply chains. “I started to see issues as I was working in various projects. I thought, ‘There has to be a better way. I wonder how other companies are dealing with these types of issues?’.” His interest in research combined with a lifelong interest in academia, and Kent decided to pursue a Ph.D. He’s now in his second year at the Carlson School of Management. He’s also active in the Ph.D. Project, which supports minorities pursuing doctoral studies in business.
What is supply chain management?
You have a company that sells a product to a consumer — a box of Tide detergent or a bottle of hair spray. There are various ingredients and materials needed to bring that product to the marketplace. Supply chain management is coordinating the efforts of the various suppliers that get the product to the shelf.
Why are you pursing a Ph.D.?
I don’t think you get a Ph.D. to go back into corporate America. Most Ph.D.s want to go into academia. People want to teach, or do a combination of research and teaching.
Which are you more interested in — teaching or research?
Beforehand I would have said “I’m going to love being in the classroom more than research,” but I have grown my research interests. I now get excited about both. Hopefully the research helps inform the teaching — you can deliver a better product to your students because you’re reading and interacting with other scholars. The research we do here in Minnesota is empirical — talking to companies about their real-world problems.
Why do minority students need extra support from the Ph.D. Project?
It’s getting better, but minorities are still grossly underrepresented in business schools. In Carlson, I’d say there’s a total of 80 or 90 Ph.D. students. I’m the only African-American student. There are no African Americans on the faculty. There are no Hispanics.
What are the barriers to a Ph.D. program for minority students?
There would be more interest and more people going if they could learn more about it or knew more people doing it. This does have to be a labor of love. If you’re in corporate America, and you’re doing well, making six figures, to say “I’m going to put that on hold,” that’s a sacrifice.
How does the Ph.D. Project help?
The summer before we started the program, a group of first-year folks went through a session on “treating it like a job.” They told us that even though we’re not in corporate America, there are a lot of similarities. You need to manage your time, you need to manage your relationships with your professors. The support and the networking are a big part of it. You realize you’re not in this by yourself. It’s a safe environment to learn and grow. You’re not worried about backlash. People are trying to help each other. The summer conference includes three or four days together, networking, sharing ideas, getting feedback. It’s a must for me. □