Meet Kenan-Flagler’s MBA Class Of 2018

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Chapel Hill, North Carolina


If there is a word to describe this class, it might be “committed.” This summer, 204 students —nearly 70% of the class —began bonding at UNC Kenan-Flagler’s three-week-long Analytical Skills Workshop (ASW), a paid refresher that preps students on core fundamentals in economics, finance, accounting, and statistics (along with such tools as PowerPoint and Excel).

They’ll need all the help they can get, with the program known for being “old school” in its academic rigor, boasting teaching legends like Sridhar Balasubramanian, Arv Malhotra, and Alison Fragale. At the same time, the program ranked in the top 10 in a research on lists by U.T.-Dallas and The Financial Times, ensuring that students will be taught by scholars on the cutting edge of their disciplines. “We don’t compromise teaching to achieve great research rankings. Our teaching is also world-class,” explains Dean Doug Shackelford to Poets&Quants. “Some strong research schools aren’t strong in teaching and vice versa. We aren’t unique in this regard, but we are special.”

The crown jewel of the UNC Kenan-Flagler curriculum, however, is a leadership development program that would easily rival any from a Fortune 100 firm. Here, leadership is woven into every course and facet of the curriculum. If you crave feedback, this is the program for you. The school employs 30 executive coaches (up from 23 last year) for 56 MBA student teams, creating a 10-to-1 student-to-coach ratio. These coaches continuously work with MBA candidates throughout the two-year experience, providing on-going practice and personalized pointers in areas ranging from managing conflict to building consensus. As a result, students quickly become aware of their weaknesses and receive the kind of brutally honest feedback to turn those weaknesses into strengths.

Along with one-on-one coaching, students complete a required leadership course and develop a personal leadership action plan to hold them accountable for achieving milestones during the program. At UNC Kenan-Flagler, self-reflection and self-evaluation are paramount to leadership growth. At the same time, it is a team effort, with students assessing each other to foster personal and professional development in a safe and supportive atmosphere. Some 30 MBA students are also selected for a leadership immersion capstone, where they take deep dives into such challenges as using influence, handling pressure, and leading teams — all bolstered by intensive coaching and simulations from faculty and executives.

Kenan-Flagler Business School Dean Doug Shackelford

Kenan-Flagler Business School Dean Doug Shackelford

In the end, students gain a greater self-awareness and a broader leadership skill set that grooms them to take on managerial responsibilities immediately after graduation. This approach may be one reason why starting salaries for the Class of 2015 increased from $100,000 to $110,000, a $10K jump in just one year.


Beyond the leadership program, if you asked the Class of 2018 why they enrolled at Kenan-Flagler, you would hear a consistent answer: They’re crazy for Carolina. In fact, several cited the “Carolina culture” — marked by its welcoming atmosphere, humility, and ambitious-yet-not-aggressive spirit as the tipping point in coming to Chapel Hill. Dybeli experienced the difference first hand when she hosted two MBA students from the school at her Airbnb in Albania, describing her guests, Drew Johnson and Tom Burst, as “perfect ambassadors” who “took the time to explain with great detail and zest every question I had.” Gupta noticed a similar “community vibe” when he was choosing business schools. “I was overwhelmed with the support I received from the campus ambassadors. That’s when I knew that the school really wants me to be successful with my application process. After numerous calls with alums and current students and listening to their stories ranging from last-minute peer coaching sessions to babysitting a classmate’s newly born, I realized that I wanted to be in a place where people are working for my success rather than just competing for success.”

When it comes to success, the Class of 2018 defines it in a variety of ways. Swann, who is pursuing a dual master’s degree in urban planning, hopes to hold a leadership role in a land trust or consulting firm. She plans to apply business tools to achieve social goals. “I believe that my generation’s biggest challenge will be environmental degradation and climate change, and I hope to be able to reverse or at least mitigate the problem through economically profitable and environmentally sustainable solutions.” As a teacher, Johnson was deeply influenced by John Mackey, Whole Foods Co-CEO and author of Conscious Capitalism, and hopes to follow in his footsteps. “I believe business can and should work to transform society by investing in communities, employees, and sustainable environmental practices. Ultimately, I hope to join an organization that operates with a conscience and help them grow their business in a marketing or business development role.”

At the opposite end, Nwogu intends to bet on himself and launch a company that fits his interests. “My dream employer is myself,” he says. “I strive to innovate and create value for others every day, and I see business school as another way to interact with a diverse group of motivated people who can only add to my understanding of the world and the needs that exist. I value collaboration and innovation. Owning my business will allow me to assemble a talented team and create a company culture that I can be proud of.”

While the class may express itself through humor, students hope their time at Kenan-Flagler reflects a more introspective bent. Dolores Navia wants to be remembered for being “passionate about mentoring and supporting the advancement of young women in business.” Nwogu hopes his peers think of him as the guy who “always greeted them with a smile and that I always showed gratitude. Smiles and thank yous for everyone.” Lyde-Cajuste dreams of being the go-to person in the class: “No matter how difficult times get, you can always count on Matt to make you smile, give you his honest opinion and work as hard as needed to get the job done.”  At the same time, Swann imagines someday injecting a little star power into the alumni newsletter, with classmates hopefully saying, “She’ll be giving a TED talk one day.”

With the talent in this class, these students will probably be standing on that stage for TED talks sooner than we think.


To read profiles of incoming Kenan-Flagler students — along with their advice on tackling the GMAT, applications, and interviews — click on the links below.

Amela Dybeli / Tirana, Albania

Daniel Fraser Johnson / Westborough, Massachusetts

Paula Gomes / São Paulo, Brazil

Rajat Gupta / New Delhi, India

Matthew Lyde-Cajuste / Mount Vernon, NY

Dolores Navia / Buenos Aires, Argentina

Chi Nwogu / Bronx, NY

Ayisha Swann / Arlington, VA

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