IDDEAS@Wharton Attracts Diverse Students to Business PhDs

By  - 
2023 IDDEAS@Wharton Scholars on Locust Walk at the University of Pennsylvania campus in Philadelphia. (Photo courtesy of Shira Yudkoff Photography.)

McKenzie Preston, a PhD student and incoming assistant professor at the New York University (NYU) Stern School of Business, didn’t originally plan for a career in academia when he was an undergraduate.

He first began to consider working in higher education when one of his advisers suggested he apply for IDDEAS@Wharton, a two-day professional development program designed to inform and attract diverse students into the field at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania (Penn).

Through the perspectives of more than 10 faculty and several PhD students, Preston was able to envision his future career.

“All of [academia] just seemed perfect for what I was looking for — a career that is intellectually engaging, where you get to meet a lot of interesting people and you have a lot of autonomy and flexibility,” he says.

Each year, cohorts of 12-15 underrepresented undergraduates from a wide range of institutions travel to Penn to take part in IDDEAS@ Wharton. They are introduced to the faculty career path through one-on-one engagement and panels presented by professors and PhD students, while developing long-lasting friendships with fellow IDDEAS scholars.

Participants further their knowledge through a mini master class. Wharton faculty present their own research and answer questions and lead an exercise where current doctoral students meet with IDDEAS scholars and discuss specifics of the students’ research so participants can, in turn, present findings before the class, emulating a doctoral seminar.

The process dissipates the myster-iousness of a PhD, says Maggie Saia, IDDEAS@Wharton director and co-creator, and director of Wharton Doctoral Programs at Penn.

“For some of these students, they might not have a graduate program at their undergraduate institution, or they might not have a specific area that they’re interested in, and they’re finally sitting in a room where other people are asking the same questions, and that sort of spark ignites, and they say, ‘There’s really a way for me to study what I’m interested in and get paid to do it,’” she says. “It’s pretty profound.”

Launched in 2012, IDDEAS was inspired by an institutionwide initiative at Penn, known as the Faculty Excellence to Diversity Plan, aimed at attracting diverse faculty to the institution.

However, the effort is addressing the overall lack of diverse representation of business school faculty across the country. Although there has been a 7% increase in faculty from underrepresented groups over the last decade, nearly three-quarters of the workforce is still White, according to 2021 data by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

“The goal of a faculty person is to create knowledge, it’s a big goal, but that’s really what an academic does, and you need diversity to do that,” Saia says. “Without that, you’re really limiting the impact of what research can do.”

Since its inception, other business schools, including those at Stanford University, Northwestern University, and University of Chicago, have developed IDDEAS programs of their own.

As of this month, over 300 students from across the country have completed the IDDEAS@ Wharton program. So far, 46 IDDEAS alumni have enrolled in PhD programs and seven have graduated, Saia says. Preston will soon join that list.

Throughout his experience, it was especially encouraging to see an institution like Penn, with an esteemed reputation, invest time, energy, and resources to guide underrepresented students into academia, Preston says.

“The fact that it has now had this rippling effect all across the field where so many other, different universities are starting up similar programs. … It’s very entrepreneurial.”