2020 Best & Brightest MBAs: Melissa Sieffert, North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler)

Melissa Sieffert

University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School

Dedicated to improving health throughout the world and forming lasting relationships along the way.”

Hometown: Reno, Nevada

Fun fact about yourself: I was a cheerleader in both high school and college.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Harvard University, BA, Neurobiology

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Peace Corps, Volunteer in Burkina Faso

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? Wells Fargo (San Francisco, California)

Where will you be working after graduation? Wells Fargo, Investment Banking Associate

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • VP of Student Engagement with the Alliance of Minority Business Students
  • Local Team Leader for Adams Apprenticeship
  • Non-profit Board of Consultants
  • Recipient of the Excellence Award (Core Values)

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of receiving the Excellence Award during my first year. UNC Kenan-Flagler awards students each semester based upon the school’s five core values: Excellence, Leadership, Integrity, Community, and Teamwork. The Excellence Award is given to students with the highest academic achievement. I was shocked when the presenter announced my name, along with my fellow awardee, Paul Lewis. When I first came to business school, I was seriously afflicted with imposter syndrome. I felt highly inadequate coming from a non-traditional background and never having what I considered to be a “real” job before. I knew I was going to have to work extremely hard to keep pace with so much new material and to serve as a valuable classmate to my brilliant colleagues. I am lucky to have had such incredible educators who empowered me with knowledge, and supportive teammates (Avik Chakraborty, Eric Friedman, Marina Makligh, and Nathaniel Margolies). I will be forever grateful.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Peace Corps Burkina Faso was evacuated before I could complete my service due to rising security concerns in the country. Prior to evacuation, my community and I had spent months planning a hygiene project for which we were going to build 75 latrines throughout the village. Latrines are vitally important as diarrheal disease takes far too many young lives in Burkina, and the privacy and safety an enclosed latrine provides are invaluable. I was devastated when we learned of the evacuation, but my heart had fallen for my community more than anything. Despite the evacuation, I knew the project had to continue.

When I returned to the U.S., I contacted my friends and partners in Burkina Faso, Ben Ouedraogo, Silvain Ouedraogo, and Moumini Sawadogo, and told them I would raise the money to finish the project as long as they could fulfill the plans we had so meticulously made. I raised the majority of the funds from my amazing friends and family who were so kind to contribute, and the remaining balance from the non-profit, Friends of Burkina Faso. Due to the hard work and dedication of my team and community, all the latrines were built, and everyone was eager to begin the next project! This is my proudest achievement because it goes to show that when you have the right team and a good plan, you can make the impossible happen, even from the other side of the world.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Karaoke is by far my favorite MBA event at Kenan-Flagler! Just before finals in our second quarter, when everyone is exhausted and ready for a break, we all carve out just a little more time in our schedules to learn choreography and lyrics for our two-song performances at a real music venue. Karaoke is the first time MBA students really get to let their hair down and show off their talent. I choreographed my legacy’s performances for the past two years, and am blown away by how game students are to participate. From dressing up as mermaids to learning to chair dance, students will literally do it all. It really is an incredible event of terrible vocals, lack of rhythm and so much fun.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Kenan-Flagler based on pure gut instinct. Obviously I did my diligence before I applied to the program, and knew Kenan-Flagler checked all my important boxes (rigorous academics, strong healthcare focus, lasting relationships with companies I hoped to work for). However, when it came to decision time, nothing could override the feeling of being in a room of admitted students, looking around and knowing I could truly see myself in the program. Knowing it was an environment I could grow and thrive in. It was only later that I figured out what my gut had picked up on long before I could intellectualize it. The students at Carolina are the friendliest, humblest, most hard-working, and intelligent group of people I have ever had the privilege to around. Admissions does an excellent job of selecting students who want to fully contribute to and be a part of a community. Business school can be overwhelmingly stressful and challenging at times. I am lucky to have had that subconscious instinct about my future classmates because I do not believe I would have been as successful without the support of the Kenan-Flagler community.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Be your authentic self. I remember feeling pretty burned out after several interviews leading up to my Kenan-Flagler interview. I was exhausted by feeling the need to impress the person on the other side of the table. When I sat for my interview with Kenan-Flagler, I was greeted by someone who was genuinely excited to hear my story. My interviewer opened the space for me to be who I am (without that gross interview veneer), and I seized the opportunity. This was probably the best interview I have ever had because my interviewer allowed vulnerability and authenticity into the room. Carolina seeks potential, and there is potential in everyone’s experience. Do not feel anxious about being anything but yourself when you apply to Kenan-Flagler, and know that is valuable.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I would have hung out with second-years more when I was a first-year student. So many of my interactions with second-years concerned recruiting or club activities. While I spent many hours with people like my career mentor, Alexis Swist, who is the reason I secured my summer internship, and the Investment Banking Club president, Jake Hofmann, who was an incredible leader and so dedicated to our cohort, I never got to know them on a personal level. These classmates were instrumental in helping me achieve my dream, yet I know so very little about them.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I admire Ken Black immensely. Not only is he a JD/MBA, but also serves as the president of Alliance of Minority Business Students, and works with a woman in Cote d’Ivoire to help develop her agriculture business (among many other things). Ken has the incredible ability to turn his passions into implementable ideas and recruit people to help make them a reality. For example, what started last year as Ken’s idea for a simple lecture series about the wealth gap turned into a full-blown conference this year. Ken was able to bring together UNC’s business school, law school, the Kenan Center, and so many more stakeholders to discuss this relevant and impactful topic. Furthermore, whatever Ken accomplishes in life, he uses to help uplift others and make the world a better place.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My dad would have loved it if I had studied economics in college and went into business immediately after undergrad. Alas, I have a penchant for following my own passions and decided to pursue the sciences and global health in college. When I finally came around to the idea of earning my MBA, I never felt it was unattainable because my dad had made it so crystal clear that there was a place for me in business if I wanted. Though I affirm that I chose business school later in life-based on my own experiences and the skills. I thought I needed to improve global health. Still, I have my dad to thank for introducing me to the idea of business education from an early age and always reinforcing that I was capable enough to excel at whatever I decided to do.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? Start my own healthcare company and join an angel network.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I want my peers to remember I was dependable, a good listener, and honest.

Hobbies? Running, bouldering, piano, pottery, and listening to podcasts

What made Melissa such an invaluable member of the Class of 2020?

“Melissa was a student in my 2019 ethics class, Resisting Corporate Corruption, and formed part of a small MBA group that sought out a special seminar in leadership.

Melissa excelled in the ethics class, earning a top grade. What made her noteworthy, however, was her serious interest in absorbing the lessons of how one works intelligently via people and organizational skills to secure outcomes both value-creating in a business sense and ethically sound. Melissa was headed for an investment banking internship. I think she knew that field has faced significant ethical challenges and was very interested in figuring out how to navigate the space. When she returned to school in the fall, she gave ample evidence of having applied her ethical learnings and moral compass during her summer’s work experience.

In our leadership seminar, Melissa showed an acute appreciation of the need for leaders to develop and articulate a compelling vision. Constructive change requires a compelling view of the destination. She has begun to apply this to her thinking about investment banking. She has a clearer idea of the field in terms of vocation serving clients. She cites her Peace Corps background as a formative experience here, one which should serve her well in terms of avoiding the negative influences of money culture.”

Stephen Arbogast
Professor of the Practice of Finance and Director of the Energy Center at UNC Kenan-Flagler


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