For the Allreds, Ph.D.s are a familiar family achievement.
Nathan Allred’s graduate school letter of intent began with a line befitting the son of a tenured professor.
“The first words I learned after ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ were ‘revise and resubmit.’”
Allred received his Ph.D. in marketing from the Penn State Smeal College of Business in May, 24 years after his father, Brent, received the same degree in management from the college.
Their journeys were different — Brent’s began when Nathan was a few months old, and Nathan’s ended with Brent sitting beside him at commencement — but the curiosity and the passion for teaching they share are familiar.
Brent Allred came to State College in 1994 with his wife, Kristyn, and two young children — Nathan and Jessica — partly at the recommendation of his friend and fellow Brigham Young University undergraduate classmate, Shawn Clark. At the time, Clark was pursuing his own doctorate; he is now Michael J. Farrell Endowed Professor for Entrepreneurship and director of the Farrell Center for Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Smeal.
Brent had already earned an MBA from BYU and worked in the software industry for several years, but something somewhere along the line sparked in him a desire to become a professor. As the Allred family grew — Rachel and Sean joined Jessica and Nathan during the five years in State College — so did Brent’s teaching experience and appetite for it. In those days, Smeal doctorate students were required to teach two courses per semester — half of what a full-time professor did — while completing their coursework.
“I have more individual course preps from my time as a graduate student than I did in 23 years (as a marketing professor) at William and Mary,” he says.
Brent took to the classroom, though. While completing his dissertation on country-level effects on domestic innovation and studying under management and organization professor Charles Snow (now emeritus), Brent received the college’s Fred Brand Jr. Graduate Student Teaching Award in 1999, and confirmed that his new career path was the one for him.
“It’s kind of rare for professors to have their children become Ph.D.s.
To have it be from the same school … that seemed pretty special.”
“It really clicked in a way that I said, ‘I loved this,’” Brent says.
Brent Allred says he enjoyed his time in the community and on campus, where he worked out of an office in a modified residence hall. In the evenings, he would play with and read to his children and, as they grew older, included them in a dinner-table game he called “Will this business survive?” Whenever a new business popped up in town, they rated its chances for success based on location, what it sold, and various other factors.
“They got inundated with this sense of business in general,” he says. “It was just ‘Be curious.’”
The Allreds spent much of Nathan’s childhood in Williamsburg, Virginia, where Brent was a marketing and strategy professor at William & Mary’s Raymond A. Mason School of Business (He now holds emeritus status at the school and teaches marketing at Utah State). Like his father, Nathan Allred did his undergraduate work at Brigham Young’s Marriott School of Business, where he took a three-credit course on preparing for a Ph.D. program.
When it came time to apply for admission to a Ph.D. program, Nathan Allred looked for the ideal option for himself as well as his partner, who was pursuing a master’s degree in speech therapy. Ultimately, that became Penn State.
During his undergraduate days, Nathan Allred had a roommate who was a regular reader of InfoWars and wasn’t shy about discussing various conspiracy theories. Allred, who considered himself “middle-of-the-road politically,” thought it might be interesting to study the potential business applications of those theories, but he filed it away for later as it didn’t fit his coursework at the time. At Penn State, much of his initial research was with Gerald I. Susman Professor in Sustainability Karen Winterich; he received a Best Presenter award at the Albert Haring Symposium for Doctoral Research in Marketing in 2022 for his work on a paper co-authored with Winterich titled: “Replace or Repair?: How Companies Can Signal Unused Utility and Decrease Product Replacement.”
For his dissertation, Nathan Allred partnered with Professor of Marketing and Anchel Professor of Business Administration Lisa Bolton on how scientific literacy affects people’s conspiracy theories and how that, in turn, affects their consumption. Though the COVID-19 pandemic presented some challenges when gathering data, it also allowed him to eventually attend conspiracy conventions in Pennsylvania, where he — after securing permission from the event directors — would play attendees short videos about correlation and causation and then see if he could get them to move off some of their unsubstantiated claims.
“I was surprised in general how receptive people were,” he says. “There are so many people that came up and thanked me afterward. Part of it might have been confusion; they thought this kid was doing surveys for their cause.”
Nathan taught two semesters of consumer behavior — one remote, one in-residence — during his time at Penn State and says he learned a lot about the type of classroom environment he hopes to cultivate.
“You can lecture students, but the real learning sometimes comes from the application,” he says, “which I feel like is them teaching themselves and you trying to guide.”
Nathan would occasionally pick his father’s brain about ideas for group projects for his class and keep him up to speed on his research. It was Bolton’s idea to ask Brent to join her as part of Nathan’s hooding ceremony at commencement; since he had a Penn State diploma, he was permitted to sit with his son and then join Bolton for the hooding.
“It’s kind of rare for professors to have their children also become Ph.D.s,” Bolton says. “To have it be from the same school, and then to come and participate, that seemed pretty special.”
Father and son both had appreciative words for the other as they waited for Nathan’s name to be called.
“I underestimated how much I would feel the moment, I think,” Nathan Allred says.
“I was more touched than I imagined,” Brent Allred says.
Brent says he was initially surprised that Nathan had decided to pursue a Ph.D. but that it wasn’t long until he realized it was a natural fit. Without Brent, Nathan says, there is “almost a zero percent chance I’d be an academic. His example is what brought me here.”
Nathan Allred has taken a position as an assistant professor of marketing at Texas Tech, and will teach a consumer behavior course and, he hopes, a course on international marketing that is similar to the class his father teaches at Utah State.
“I thought that’d be fun,” he says. “We could share notes again.”