Meet The MBA Class Of 2025: Maria Alejandra Jaramillo, UNC Kenan-Flagler

Maria Alejandra Jaramillo

University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School

“Latina using her voice and power to strengthen communities, connect silos and advance climate justice.”

School: UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

Hometown: Bogotá, Colombia

Fun Fact About Yourself: My hidden talent is graphic design. I won two graphic design competitions in middle school and high school. Inheriting this artistic attribute from my mother, my father has commissioned me to create our family shield logo.

Undergraduate School and Major:

Texas A&M University, College Station; bachelor’s degree in communications and minor in business

Enrolled in UNC-Duke dual-degree program to earn an MBA/MEM: MBA from UNC Kenan-Flagler and master in environmental management from Duke University, with a business and environment concentration with community-based environmental management certificate

Most Recent Employer and Job Title:

Baker Ripley Promise Community Schools, second grade bilingual teacher in Houston, Texas

Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of Kenan-Flagler’s MBA curriculum or programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you?

One aspect of the program that led me to choose UNC Kenan-Flagler was the ability to immerse in interdisciplinary learning opportunities through the different academic centers. UNC Kenan-Flagler has many centers where students can conduct research, engage with industries and gain real-life experience. Having these educational, collaborative, and interdisciplinary spaces in the program was important to me because I aspire to connect the learning in the classroom to the real-world, work in a team to solve problems, understand key industry trends, and connect education-equity efforts with environmental justice strategies that mitigate climate and advance public education. The three centers I’m excited to take advantage of this year are the Ackerman Center for Excellence in Sustainability (ACES), Energy Center and Center for Business Health.   

What has been your first impression of the Kenan-Flagler MBA students and alumni you’ve met so far?

My first impression of UNC Kenan-Flagler MBA students and alumni has been extremely positive. The “Carolina Way” is not just something people say, but it’s something you feel when you’re around students, alumni, professors and staff at UNC Kenan-Flagler. It defines the way students engage with each other and the wider community. From day one, I always felt very welcomed and valued. For instance, during the admissions process, I had great conversations with many students. One conversation with the former president of the Latin American Business Association, Kevin Ortiz (MBA ’23), resulted in being invited to the “Yo Soy Charla” event hosted to bring Latinx students together to share their stories.

As someone not officially part of the UNC Kenan-Flagler community yet and studying at the school down the road that we shall not name, I shared my personal story highlighting my identity and leadership. I was celebrated as an immigrant woman of color and even had the privilege to meet other leaders of color such as Marco Davis, president and CEO of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, a national nonprofit dedicated to developing the next generation of Latino leaders. This experience truly solidified my decision to come to UNC Kenan-Flagler, alongside being able to join The Consortium Class of 2025 and being able to call myself a Tar Heel, which is something that my partner, Hans Grohs, a UNC alum (BA ’17), has been so proud of in his educational journey.

What course, club, or activity excites you the most at Kenan-Flagler?

I’m very excited to participate in the Nonprofit Board Consultants Program as a fellow which will allow me to have a seat in the board of a nonprofit as a non-voting board member for six months. This experience will give me exposure to high-level strategy, further my network in the public sector, and prepare me for a leadership role in education to continue pursuing my goal of transforming the way public schools operate by enhancing the health of students, families, and communities.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far:

My biggest accomplishment in my career so far has been spearheading a bike tour called “Sampling the City Gulfton” in Southwest Houston by facilitating the partnership of 10 local organizations. This was a project I took on after my third year teaching at Baker Ripley Promise Community Schools as the Air Quality Ambassador for an organization called Air Alliance Houston. The bike tour was a 6-mile ride organized to sample the air quality with a combination of mobile and stationary air quality sensors that would pick up various sources of pollution throughout the neighborhoods of Gulfton. Along the route, we highlighted pollution hotspots in the area, but also air monitors already in the community, including the first Purple Air Monitor I helped install at BakerRipley Promise Community Schools (Here’s a video of me on the day that we installed it!).

Our mission was to empower Gulfton community leaders to demand accountability for environmentally sustainable practices to make the outdoors a clean, safe and vibrant place to be. The valuable mentorship and the advocacy, policy and community organizing skills and experiences I gained as a Teach For America Houston corps member and teacher not only helped me successfully lead this large-scale event, but also raise awareness about air pollution, build a pipeline of community advocates, and create an opportunity for more inclusive community engagement and input around shared values.

The goal of attendance for the event was surpassed with over 50 attendees, including community leaders, parents, children, youth climate ambassadors, elected officials, news media outlets, and representatives from the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency and Sustainability including the Chief Resilience and Sustainability Officer. As a result of this bike tour, the localized data that the mobile and stationary air monitors collected brought awareness to address environmental concerns, civic engagement, and education to the community. It was also used as key supporting data for the Greener Gulfton Community Plan launched in October 2021 to build a healthier, more equitable, resilient, and greener Gulfton.

What do you hope to do after graduation?

After graduation, I hope to pursue my short-term goal of working within the sustainability practice of a strategy consultancy to gain expertise on sustainability initiatives in climate resiliency and energy efficiency to bring back into an educational leadership role. My long-term goal is to become the chief of sustainability in a school district in Texas and lead strategic climate action initiatives to ensure that all students have access to a safe school environment that maximizes student learning, agency, and wellness.

What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into Kenan-Flagler’s MBA program?

Use the optional essay to share with the admissions committee your story of self. Share an important accomplishment in your life and/or career that truly exemplifies your values. This is an opportunity to expand beyond your resume, GRE score,  required essays and letters of recommendation to tell the admissions committee about yourself, your background and why that’s important to you. During the admissions process, I remember attending an admissions webinar where Professor Venkataraman, Associate Dean of the MBA Program, advised students to be intellectually curious, seek opportunities that will require creativity, and foster a growth mindset to become more resilient in the face of challenges or discomfort. This inspired me to write the optional essay describing my values, intersecting identities, and personal agency experiences that shaped the person and professional I am today.

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