After coming to UNC Kenan-Flagler with her own diverse set of experiences and interests, Jessica Newfield (MBA ’14) has committed to promoting inclusivity in the business world, and her passion for diversity has become a central focus of her MBA experience.
As an undergraduate student at UNC, Newfield studied journalism with a concentration in visual communication. After graduation, she joined Teach for America and served as a seventh grade teacher in the economically distressed Mississippi Delta region.
While she enjoyed teaching, after two years she wanted to give her first love, graphic design, a chance. She worked as a page designer for a leading science journal, Science Magazine, and as a graphic designer in an agency setting. Eventually Newfield took a job at Demspey & Carroll, a small stationary company, which required a strong understanding of design principles but also involved general sales and marketing tasks.
“It was my first time working at a business, and that was just fascinating to me,” she said.
The small, seven-person company also provided Newfield with a valuable mentor. The owner recognized her potential and entrusted her with more management responsibilities. She also encouraged her to follow in her professional footsteps and pursue an MBA as a way to enhance her design skills with business know-how and expand the types of opportunities open to her.
“I was never really satisfied with just making it look pretty. When I was working with writers, editors and clients it was frustrating that I didn’t get any input in the strategy,” she said. “Getting an MBA is helping me understand the ‘why’ behind visual aesthetics.”
Ultimately Newfield hopes to work at the intersection of creativity and strategy in an advertising agency, and she chose Kenan-Flagler’s MBA program because of its versatile curriculum support for students’ diverse interests.
“I’m not the typical MBA candidate, but Kenan-Flagler wanted people with unique experiences because all together we’re going to make up a class that is more well-rounded and interesting. I really got the sense that this community values the differences of each individual.”
During her first year at Kenan-Flagler Newfield has committed to encouraging diversity through her involvement in the Pride Club, which strives to promote dialogue between Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer (LGBTQ) students, allies and the broader community. The club sponsors safe zone training, social activities and special events, such as an informal discussion Newfield planned last fall that brought in local religious leaders to discuss how diversity and religion can go hand in hand.
Newfield’s passion for diversity stems from her days in the classroom as a Teach for America corps member.
“Doing Teach for America you have to deal a lot with race relations. As a white woman coming down to teach predominately black students, I had to answer a lot of tough questions.”
While Teach for America offered some diversity training, Newfield said her most valuable lessons came from her students, who taught her just as much as she taught them. She learned to use honest conversation as a way to tackle uncomfortable issues and promote understanding. During her MBA program, Newfield hopes to share these experiences with all of her classmates.
“This shouldn’t be issue that only matters to certain people who identify with certain minority groups,” she said. “I want students to think about diversity as way to perform better in their classes and jobs because it allows them to learn from different people with different perspectives.”
“Today companies want teams that are well-rounded. They understand there’s an inherent value to having diverse perspectives and values represented in business decisions,” Newfield added.
Her experiences at Kenan-Flagler have only served to reinforce her belief in the value of diversity. While Newfield had always considered herself the type of person that does well in a team and can work with everyone, her group projects at the business school have stretched her own boundaries.
“Before UNC Kenan-Flagler I had surrounded myself with people who think like me and teamwork was always easy because we were already moving in the same direction,” she said. “Here, they randomly put you teams, and you really are with people who are completely different and who may have absolute opposite interpretations of the same material. I’ve learned so much as a result, and I know these lessons will be really valuable moving forward.”