Life On The Brady Bunch Screen Of An Online MBA

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Ana-Laura Diaz, left, met up with classmates to attend the National Society of Hispanic MBAs Career Expo in Orlando

When the 18 members of the Class of 2013 pick up their MBA diplomas on July 13th, they will have completed a highly unusual two-year adventure at the University of North Carolina. They’re the first graduates, the guinea pigs so to speak, from Kenan-Flagler Business School’s online program dubbed MBA@UNC.

Over the course of 24 often grueling months, the 18 students produced several babies, endured two cross-country moves, and announced a few engagements and  weddings. Clearly, life didn’t get in the way of this ambitious bunch. Now they’re just weeks from getting their MBA degrees.

Consider Ana-Laura Diaz, a 31-year-old attorney who is using the online program to switch careers. With a demanding job and her MBA studies, she had little time to prepare for her own wedding in Barcelona, Spain, this May. Diaz began her search for a wedding dress just two months before the ceremony. When she walked into the boutiques, the sales associates would inevitably roll their eyes. “They were all like, ‘Girl, don’t you watch Say Yes to the Dress?'” Diaz recalls laughingly.

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For Jaime DeMaria, a 40-year-old vice president of marketing and strategy and father of two, the MBA experience could be grueling. After a client dinner on a business trip, he would return to his hotel room, ready to kick back and flip on the television. Instead, he hit the books. But the neuroscience Ph.D. says he wouldn’t do it any other way. 

For some, the payoff has already occurred. Mike Orazi, a 28-year-old strategy associate for Lockheed Martin, will be moving into a new job in Washington, D.C., shortly after commencement.  “I credit the UNC program for giving me the credentials that were required for that promotion,” he says.

Poets&Quants caught up with these three members of the class to find out about their experiences. We asked them why they chose the program and how they managed to balance it all. 

Ana-Laura Diaz, 31, Attorney

I graduated in 2003 from UNC Chapel Hill with a degree in music and psychology, but I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do.  So in 2006 I went to the University of Miami School of Law. I had about five years of experience in bankruptcy law before I was promoted to a more supervisory role where I headed up a department.  I realized that there was a gap in my knowledge and experience that didn’t include balancing budgets or acting as an advisor. I wanted to fill that gap somehow.

Ana-Laura Diaz, second from right, with fellow cohort members at the Chapel Hill immersion weekend

Ana-Laura Diaz, second from right, with fellow cohort members at the Chapel Hill immersion weekend

I looked at part-time and online executive programs and explored the top 20 online schools.  The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times ran stories about UNC@MBA. After reading them, I reached out to the dean, Doug Shackelford, and asked him to add me to the mailing list announcing the application process.

I explored other part-time programs, including those at Northwestern, the University of Miami and the University of Indiana.  But I only applied to UNC.  I’ve been a Tar Heel before, so I thought let’s see if I can get in. Luckily, I did.

I continued working as an attorney throughout the program and only quit at the beginning of March. I was also teaching American government online as an adjunct professor for Colorado Technical University. It was really challenging to balance everything. I practiced very careful time management – some days I organized my schedule by the tenths of an hour.  Then I’d realize, ‘Oops, I didn’t schedule a bathroom break.’ But I approached the program with a ‘no pain, no gain’ outlook.  I knew it was going to be rough to balance everything, but it was the path that I needed to take. So far it’s yielded greater returns than I ever imagined.

I also relied on an extensive support system – my husband, who is fantastic, and my classmates.  We were all going through the program and major life events together.  We had something like four babies, two cross-country moves, a few engagements and a few weddings.

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