An MBA Student Confronts A Tragedy

Allison and Breg Hughes with sons, Brogan and Gavin. Courtesy photo

Allison and Breg Hughes with sons, Brogan and Gavin. Courtesy photo

In early May 2012, life was good for Allison Hughes. She was happily married. She had a healthy young son and another due any day. And she was eight weeks into the MBA@UNC program through the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. Hughes was staying with her parents in Buffalo, New York when she received life-altering news.

Her husband, Breg, a Special Forces commander and Green Beret in Afghanistan, had driven over a roadside bomb. In his Humvee was a 30-gallon container of fuel. The explosion instantly killed his interpreter and engulfed him and the other soldiers in a fireball. Before the flame was extinguished, Hughes had suffered third degree burns to more than half his body.

The explosion occurred just five days before Breg was scheduled to leave Afghanistan to be at his wife’s side for the birth of their second son. Instead of traveling back home, Breg Hughes was fighting for his life while being transported to a military hospital in San Antonio that specializes in burn injuries.

Meantime, Allison Hughes waited for her husband to return. On a Monday she turned in all of her assignments for the term. The next day, she gave birth to their son, Gavin. And as soon as she was released from the hospital she was on a flight to San Antonio to care for her husband. Breg Hughes spent four months in the hospital, two of which were in the intensive care unit. Allison Hughes was now a mother of two and a full-time caregiver.


“Breg couldn’t use his hands or arms at first,” says Allison Hughes. “After the four months, he could really only walk. There was so much nerve damage in his arms and hands. I fed him, bathed him, dressed him and drove him where he needed to be. I helped him live.”

Allison Hughes is no stranger to the military life and what comes with it. She met Breg in 2009 at the end of her second military tour overseas—a 15-month stint in Baghdad where she coordinated air support for ground troops. Before that, she spent a year flying UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters in Iraq. Breg and Allison married in 2010 and lived in Japan, where Breg was stationed before he was deployed to Afghanistan.

“When I was finishing my reserve time after we were married, I wanted to start a masters program,” says Allison Hughes. “I took the GMAT in Japan and wanted to attend a top 20 program. Being a military family and never knowing where we were going to be, the MBA@UNC was the only top 20 school with an online program allowing me to complete the degree with flexibility.”

The MBA@UNC features self-paced content combined with live, face-to-face classes, collaborative group activities and cases, and three day global immersions held quarterly. Another unique aspect of Kenan-Flagler’s online degree is students are able and encouraged to take courses in the full-time and weekend MBA programs.


Once in the program, Allison was immediately impressed by the responsiveness of the professors and the high interactivity outside class between professors and students – a product of the very low professor to student ratio, she says. The classes usually have about 10 to 15 students. “As the program has gained widespread recognition and grown over the last three years this dynamic has never changed, and continues to remain the high standard of the program,” says Allison.

As Allison reflects on her time in the MBA@UNC program, two key aspects come to mind—flexibility and customization. No matter where or what in the world Allison was doing, she was able to attend classes and group projects as well as complete assignments. It allowed her to care for her two young children and her husband while finishing the program within the three-year limit.

“It also allowed me to customize my concentration of studies through a variety of elective courses,” Allison says. “Through the entrepreneurship department, I crafted a very personalized MBA experience utilizing different opportunities in the EMBA program as well as leveraging incredible entrepreneurship networks.”

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