Meet UNC Kenan-Flagler’s MBA Class Of 2023

August Orientation


In the 2021 Economist survey of MBAs and alumni, Kenan-Flagler produced some of the highest scores for faculty quality and alumni effectiveness. That is particularly impressive considering the scale of Kenan-Flagler, which also ranked among the ten-best undergraduate and online programs. This summer, P&Q reached out to Brad Staats, associate dean of MBA programs to learn more about developments in the pipeline at the school, along with how the program differentiates itself in areas like healthcare, real estate, and leadership. Here are Staats’ written responses on where Kenan-Flagler is and where the full-time MBA program is going.

P&Q: What are the two most exciting developments at your program and how will they enrich the MBA experience for current and future MBAs?

Staats: “First, we have reshaped the full-time MBA launch experience for the Class of 2023 – naming the new experience Basecamp. Today’s world demands that students build capabilities to thrive in a diverse and rapidly changing world. We need leaders who are inclusive in their approach to leading and managing, who know how to tackle unstructured problems in a repeatable and thoughtful manner and can communicate their approach and findings to diverse stakeholders. To this end, we have combined four elements into our new Basecamp launch:

1) Our existing “Leading and Managing” core organizational behavior course: This is an intensive leadership immersion that builds valuable capabilities from the start. Throughout the year, we then include leadership experiences to further support students in their leadership journey.

2) A reshaped “Inclusive Leadership” core course: Last year we launched a new core course on inclusivity, given the state of the world and the need for more development in this area. The first version was a success. Now we’ll kick it off in Basecamp and then students will continue to work on these topics throughout their first semester.

3) A new “Solving Unstructured Problems” course: Students will learn frameworks for problem-solving in a world where the only constant is change. They will then apply these lessons in a live case.

4) Professional communications content: Students will tie together all of the above topics as they learn key elements of communicating with others and then deploy the learning in their problem-solving exercise.

University of North Carolina’s Brad Staats. Courtesy photo

Second, the UNC MBA is now a STEM-designated MBA program. This change reflects the steady injection of STEM-related content in all aspects of our program. Core courses incorporate data and analytics, where appropriate, to better prepare students for our data-driven world. In addition, we have steadily added more electives so students take a large array of general business analytics courses, and also dig deep in areas such as marketing, operations, healthcare, finance, HR and more.

This change signals to the market the rigor of our analytics’ effort, accurately labels our students’ accomplishments, and provides internal consistency in the strength of our offerings.

P&Q: What are two biggest differentiating features of your MBA program? How do each of these enrich the learning of your MBA students?

“We have continued to invest deeper in two areas:

  • Experiential learning
  • Healthcare

Experiential learning is woven throughout our students’ time at UNC Kenan-Flagler. They learn by doing in consulting (STAR), real estate (development and investment), entrepreneurship (starting, scaling and leading ventures), healthcare (improvement projects in the field), investing (managing millions of dollars), leading non-profits (Nonprofit Board Consultants Program), and other areas.

Increasingly companies expect their new hires to hit the ground running. Our emphasis on the experiential learning component is a way for students take cutting-edge knowledge from the classroom and apply it immediately to build the skills they need for career success.

STAR, which stands for Students Teams Achieving Results, is real competitive strength for our school. During this for-credit course, student teams work as consultants to solve complex business issues for companies. We have offered it since 2006 and it’s safe to say no other school does anything like it:  strong infrastructure, teaching consulting framework and skills, MBA and Undergraduate Business students working together on projects, and a faculty advisor for every team. Students develop skills they will use in their careers, whether or not they chose consulting: leadership, problem solving, teamwork, gathering and analyzing data. The projects and companies vary, but we are doing more projects in healthcare.

(Here’s a story on STAR.)

Healthcare is another differentiating factor at UNC Kenan-Flagler. We have a long track record with our MBA healthcare concentration, and interest in it – and the recognition of the importance of preparing graduates for the field – continues to grow. The global pandemic has highlighted how critical the business of health is to the world.

We offer dual-degree programs with UNC’s schools of medicine, public health, pharmacy and dentistry, and continue to develop new courses, such as last year when we launched a new elective called “Managing Covid-19’s Unintended Healthcare Challenges in Kenya and the U.S.” Markus Saba, professor of the practice of marketing and Center for the Business of Health executive in residence, developed the course on healthcare management about the unintended healthcare challenges from COVID-19. He offered it in partnership with Professor Ben Ngoye of Strathmore University Business School in Nairobi, Kenya. Students from both schools worked on collaborative assignments that expose them to new cultural contexts, knowledge and perspectives; develop and enhance cross-cultural communication skills; and get experience working in multicultural teams.

This year we will launch a new course on the business of biopharma exploring the discovery, clinical trial and then commercialization process of new drugs.

Our Center for the Business of Health brings together the best of the University, the Research Triangle and practitioners around the U.S. and world.

(Here’s a story on healthcare studies at UNC Kenan-Flagler.)

Kenan-Flagler flags representing the countries where students hail from

P&Q: In recent years, there have been several areas that have gained increased prominence in business school programming, including STEM, analytics, artificial intelligence and digital disruption. How does your full-time MBA program integrate these concepts across its curriculum?

Staats: “As mentioned above, the change to a STEM-designation for the entire program captures the centrality of analytics in all that we do. Core classes are encouraged to highlight both analytics and AI in what they teach, in addition to the digital changes that underlie the shifts we observe.

Several years ago, we added a second data analytics course, “Data Analytics and Decisionmaking,” to our core and that continues to be an important and well-received course. Importantly, not only do students learn about these topics, but they also apply them through experiential opportunities. Finally, not only do we have a large and diverse set of analytics’ electives, but we encourage faculty in all parts of the school to draw on analytics and digitalization in their courses.”

P&Q: What have you learned during the pandemic and the shift to hybrid or remote learning and how will they impact the MBA experience going forward?

Staats: “We have a long history with online learning as we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of our top-ranked MBA@UNC program. Combining this experience with the events of the past year, we continue to believe that education is ripe for change. As in other industries, we in education are in the midst of ongoing digital transformation in turbulent, uncertain times and some of the changes we are experiencing now are likely to alter what we need to do in the future. Some classes are best served with a fully in-person experience. Others benefit from asynchronous content and a flipped classroom environment. Still others could look different still. We are drawing on our lessons as we use our sophisticated in-house instructional design and technological capabilities to create the right content delivered in the right ways for our students to make their education better than ever. That means we deliver some content asynchronously through well-produced video content and we deliver other content in live, synchronous sessions. This balance varies across classes and programs, but increasingly flexibility is going to be what students and companies demand and we are prepared for that change.

Education has been too slow to change, and the dramatic economic, health, and social changes are demanding that we not just respond but innovate. This is the opportunity, amid all this disruption, to think differently, to innovate and take some risks.”

Kenan-Flagler Business School

P&Q: Kenan-Flagler is a half hour away from Research Triangle Park. What types of relationships does the MBA program have with RTP to provide students with learning opportunities and even potential partnerships with companies in the park? 

Staats: “The Research Triangle Park and the wider Triangle (Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh) make for a vital business environment of major, global corporations as well as startups, small and midsized firms, and nonprofits. UNC and other major research universities in the area fuel the innovation.

We have deep, multi-faceted relationships with these firms – from their hiring of interns and graduates – to tapping their expertise as career mentors, speakers in classes and at conferences.

We are fostering strategic relationships with other organizations in the Research Triangle, including Chambers of Commerce (Raleigh Chamber, Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, Hillsborough/Orange County Chamber of Commerce, Chamber for a Greater Chapel Hill – Carrboro) and trade associations (NC Tech Association) whose memberships are comprised of some of the area’s most exciting established and emerging companies that are hungry for young professional talent.

Moreover, the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise and our centers maintain close working relationships and partnerships with some of RTP’s leading firms and executives, leading to an array of educational and employment opportunities for our students.   

A few examples:

Real Estate:

“RTP’s continued growth along with its reinvention as a mixed-use destination has produced a multitude of real estate projects” through which students have advanced their learning by either direct involvement via internships or through participating in case studies. Firms within RTP also produce ample opportunities for students to pursue corporate real estate careers beyond the traditional development and investment pathways followed by most graduates. Beyond its borders, RTP’s status as a major employment center is the catalyst for numerous new real estate developments in which students are involved as interns or full-time participants.


Through the UNC Center for the Business of Health (CBOH) and the robust employer relations group within the MBA program, MBA students at UNC Kenan-Flagler are well-positioned to engage with the thriving healthcare industry that exists within the Research Triangle region. The CBOH frequently hosts speakers and experts across the healthcare ecosystem to engage with students from many of the major healthcare companies that have made North Carolina home (including healthcare, consulting, and technology companies in Charlotte). MBA students frequently take internships and full-time roles at major payors, pharmaceutical companies, providers, and a growing number of healthcare and health-tech startups in the area.

For the annual Healthcare Bootcamp hosted by the CBOH and the Healthcare Club, we bring representatives from a local consulting firm in to host a mock case, and bring in local alumni to help lay the foundation for the diverse opportunities that exist in the healthcare industry. The willingness of local alumni and friends to engage with students creates exponential opportunity for students.

Overall, our students also benefit from the strong Triangle alumni community that includes graduates of all of our programs, who are leaders in their fields. All of this makes for a powerful network of businesses, large and small, that track with our students’ career interests.”

Next Page: Profiles of 12 First-Year MBAs

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