Meet UNC Kenan-Flagler’s MBA Class of 2021

Kelly Whelan

University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School

“A strong, statuesque woman dedicated to living life with passion, purpose, and positivity.”

Hometown: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Fun Fact About Yourself: I love adventure travel and have hiked to Mount Everest Base Camp.

Undergraduate School and Major: Harvard; Economics

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Senior Development Analyst at EYA

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: While a senior development analyst at EYA, I managed a highly competitive Request For Proposal response process, including the substantial creation of materials and management of multiple development partners and consulting firms, which resulted in our team’s selection as developer for the City of Falls Church’s 10-acre Economic Development Project. After selection, I collaboratively managed the development project team during a compressed due diligence period and expedited the initial entitlement process for 1.4M SF of development.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? The classmates I’ve met so far truly bring the phrase “Carolina Culture” to life. These people bring incredible personal ambition along with a desire to help others succeed alongside them and remain humble despite having achieved great successes.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key factor that led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you? The combination of the Carolina Culture and the school’s commitment to a “Real-World Real Estate” education was the driver in my decision to attend UNC Kenan-Flagler for my MBA. UNC Kenan-Flagler boasts the Leonard W. Wood Center for Real Estate Studies, a strong Real Estate Club coordinating networking and career treks, a student-managed real estate private equity fund, and both real estate investment and development educational focus areas. As a real estate student looking to gain both industry-specific and general management skills, grow my network, and broaden my perspective, UNC Kenan-Flagler offered an unmatched balance of educational rigor and career resources.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? I’m most looking forward to participating in the Kenan-Flagler Business School Foundation (KFBSF) Real Estate Fund. The Fund is a unique hands-on business school experience in which student managers get involved in the operation of an active real estate private equity fund. Given my experience in real estate development, the opportunity to gain exposure to and experience in the investments side of the industry while still in business school is particularly valuable.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? As an uncommon non-industry-switcher, I had to be particularly well-versed in the “Why now?” type of questions.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? I chose to pursue an MBA at this point in my career not to switch industries, but to propel my real estate career forward. An MBA from UNC Kenan-Flagler will enable me to gain both industry-specific and general management skills, grow my network, and broaden my perspective so that I’m able to become an effective leader upon returning to the workforce.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Kellogg, Wharton, and Cornell Johnson

How did you determine your fit at various schools? Given my niche interest in real estate, I focused first on researching the schools that provided resources for me to excel in that industry both during and after school. In addition, since I already worked in real estate while I was applying, I took the opportunity to ask for advisory coffee chats with more senior people in my network to learn from their experiences and perspective. I also prioritized attending in-person recruiting events hosted by the schools in my city and ultimately visited the campuses of my final program options. While internet research works very well for certain aspects of the MBA process, I found that the most valuable use of time in determining fit was to engage face-to-face with current students, alumni, and faculty and staff.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? My mom proudly painted our mailbox crimson when I got my “likely letter” from Harvard. Achieving my dream of competing as an NCAA Division I athlete at a university that also offered top-tier academics was my defining moment. This life-changing experience not only confirmed the value of the skills that the pursuit of elite athletics demand, but the confidence it instilled in me also gave me permission to dream big.

Where do you see yourself in ten years? In ten years, I hope that I have found happiness and success in my professional real estate career, but in doing so continue to set new goals, be open to new opportunities, and pursue life with passion.



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