Dr. James Gentry joined the College of Business at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln in 1987 searching for a way to make a lasting contribution to marketing Ph.D. students. He found direction from Dr. Robert Mittelstaedt, a colleague that inspired Gentry to create a doctoral symposium which continues transforming student lives to this day.
Before arriving at Nebraska, Gentry, professor of marketing and Maurice J. and Alice Hollman College Professor, taught in several prominent business schools across the United States and Australia. He had already established a body of research featuring more than 15 articles, many in top publications.
“When I came to Nebraska, I stepped back and thought, ‘OK what’s next?’” said Gentry. “Then I saw Bob Mittelstaedt and realized there’s a lot of room for growth to be of his quality.”
Mittelstaedt chaired 26 doctoral dissertations in his career. Gentry immediately became impressed with how Mittelstaedt was revered by students for the way he nurtured their talents.
“One of Bob’s international doctoral students was feeling very sad her first semester being away from home. She cried sharing how Bob and his wife had her over for Thanksgiving, and for the first time, she felt at home in Nebraska. I call that the Mittelstaedt effect,” Gentry explained.
Gentry followed Mittelstaedt’s examples and laid the ground work for combining more social connections within the rigorous world of academia. He worked to implement the “Mittelstaedt effect” throughout the Department of Marketing.
“We work our students hard and demand a lot from them, but we also have fun,” he said. “There’s a status difference when you’re working with students in the office, so when you can get outside, it makes a difference. We would go out for free pizza at Duffy’s on Friday evenings and place dime bets on the weekend football games. It was a lot of silliness most of the time but a lot of fun.”
Gentry made his biggest mark by spearheading the inaugural Robert Mittelstaedt Doctoral Symposium in 1992. The symposium became a nationally recognized event where doctoral students from throughout the country arrived in Lincoln, Nebraska, to present their burgeoning research and develop relationships in the marketing field.
“When you’re a student in a doctoral program, that’s all you know,” Gentry said. “You think that’s all there is to a doctoral education until you participate in a symposium like this. Our students see that Nebraska is highly regarded in marketing research. They also get to know colleagues and develop friendships that last a lifetime.”
Mittelstaedt, who retired in 2002, endorsed Gentry’s efforts by returning most years to attend the symposium. He often reminded students the importance of making lasting connections.
“The dictionary defines a symposium as ‘a convivial party with music and conversation,’ or ‘a social gathering at which there is a free interchange of ideas.’” Mittelstaedt once told symposium attendees. “That’s exactly what Jim created at Nebraska.”
In May, Gentry retired from Nebraska Business. At his retirement party held in conjunction with the Robert Mittelstaedt Doctoral Symposium, Dr. Ravi Sohi, professor and Robert D. Hays Distinguished Chair of Sales Excellence and Chair of the Department of Marketing, announced the renaming of the symposium to the Mittelstaedt & Gentry Doctoral Symposium. Sohi recognized Gentry’s contributions to doctoral research and noted former students in attendance from as far as India and Turkey.
“Jim played a key role in our doctoral program. He chaired or co-chaired 26 doctoral dissertations at Nebraska, and several more elsewhere. He has been a mentor to many students including myself. When I was a first-year doctoral student at Wisconsin, Jim was a full professor and mentored me when I needed advice. The symposium has been a showcase event for our department and many participants went on to become successful scholars and senior leaders at their universities. For everything Jim did we rename the symposium as the Mittelstaedt & Gentry Doctoral Symposium,” said Sohi.
Nearly 20 attendees shared stories about the contributions Gentry made to their careers and personal lives. Dr. Lynn Matthews, ’18, assistant professor of marketing at Wichita State University, praised Gentry for creating a network of proud Nebraska marketing alumni worldwide.
“To see the kind of impact a Ph.D. advisor can have is encouraging as I start my career,” said Matthews. “I benefited from the legacy he left and built with everyone here. As one of his youngest doctoral students, I recognize and value the career Jim created by investing in students and building this tremendous alumni network we now have at this symposium. Jim has shown the way for all of us.”
To learn more about the Mittelstaedt & Gentry Doctoral Symposium, visit: https://business.unl.edu/academic-programs/departments/marketing/about/robert-mittelstaedt-doctoral-symposium/