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Crossing the finishing line to a new frontier

Collage of grads

Kosmas familyGraduating from UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School is a dream 18 years in the making for Kosmas Balourdos (MBA ’22).

A first-generation American with dual Greek citizenship, Balourdos was the first in his family to attend college. After receiving an undergraduate degree in chemistry from the University of North Carolina Wilmington in 2002, he hoped to pursue an MBA immediately afterward. Instead, Balourdos’ employer offered him a career change from operations to business development, a move requiring him to relocate and travel 140 days out of the year.

But Balourdos never lost his desire for an MBA. During the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, he talked it over with his wife and children. Then he went for it and enrolled in the Weekend Executive MBA Program.

“My complete MBA journey took close to 20 years to fulfill,” said Balourdos. “I’m grateful for what led to me to UNC Kenan-Flagler because the last 20 months were positively life changing on many levels.”

Graduation crowdBalourdos was among the graduates of the Weekend Executive MBA Program, Evening Executive MBA Program, MBA@UNC and Master of Accounting Program’s online format honored in two commencement ceremonies at the Dean E. Smith Center on Oct. 15. The Class of 2022 included 199 MBA@UNC, 72 MAC, 76 Evening Executive MBA and 52 Weekend Executive MBA graduates.

The new alumni represent a cross-section of working professionals who turn to UNC Kenan-Flagler to further their careers or transition into others. Like Balourdos, the graduates include first-generation college students and double Tar Heels. They are current and former members of the military, chief financial officers and corporate tax managers. They are husbands and wives, parents, young and seasoned professionals.

Now, they are all UNC Kenan-Flagler graduates.

“I’m humbled and have gratitude,” said Balourdos. “I had a transformational experience.”

Wealth of knowledge

Candace Drozal and familyTwo years ago, Candace Drozal (MBA ’22) could only think about the reasons not to pursue an MBA

The market manager, based in the Little Rock metropolitan area in Arkansas, wasn’t looking to change careers. She told herself that she was too old and she had been away from the classroom for far too long.

When Drozal walked across the stage to collect her diploma, she did so as a Beta Gamma Sigma honors graduate, the business-school equivalent of the Phi Beta Kappa international scholastic honors society.

“Today I finished my MBA@UNC journey – but I did not do it alone,” Drozal wrote on LinkedIn, acknowledging family and friends for their support. “Thank you all for helping me tell my fears to hush. You were right, and my fears were wrong.

“This program challenges your views, provides mental stimulation and offers an environment to work through today’s business challenges with a group of people who all strive to make each other better.”

MBA commencement speaker Jan Davis (BA ’72 MBA ’79), vice chair of Triangle Angel Partners and a member of the UNC Kenan-Flagler Board of Advisors, stressed the importance of lifelong learning. She heralded those with the bravery and conviction to say “yes” when others say “no” and reflected on her impact as an early female business leader in technology.

UNC Kenan-Flagler MBA professors received awards based on graduating students’ nominations. The Evening Executive MBA Program honored Alison Fragale, associate professor of organizational behavior. The Weekend Executive MBA Program chose Ted Zoller, T.W. Lewis Clinical Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship. MBA@UNC students selected Atul Nerkar, professor of strategy and entrepreneurship and Allred Distinguished Scholar.

At the MAC ceremony in the afternoon, keynote speaker James Freeman (BS ’99, MAC ’00), managing partner of Atlanta-based Strategic Group of Companies, addressed a crowd including six MAC graduates who tied for valedictorian. One of those valedictorians, Lek Sacramento (MAC ’22), traveled from the Philippines to attend the graduation ceremony.

Freeman urged graduates to serve the world and at the same time find a balance that worked best for them.

Elvis DiazElvis Diaz (MAC ’22) took MAC courses from his home in Phoenix. He was recently promoted to a new strategic finance role at the Intel Corporation. His next goal: becoming a CPA to pursue management roles.

“I feel accomplished and grateful to be graduating from the MAC Program,” said Diaz. “As a first-generation college student with an immigrant mother who never went to school in her life, education has always been very important for me to pursue.

“Having this opportunity to pursue a second master’s degree while working full time was incredible. Most of all, it ensures that I’m continuing to make my mother proud knowing that her sacrifices in migrating to a new country were all worth it.”

Trish MayGraduation is a big step toward a new beginning for Trish May (MBA ’22).

“Obtaining this MBA is the first step in starting my new life post-military retirement in 2024,” said May, clinical director of the U.S. Army Medical Command’s family advocacy program. “It laid the foundation for me to go into business once I leave military service.”

Life changing

Arunima Radhakrishnan There are many ways to describe the MBA and MAC Programs at UNC Kenan-Flagler and Arunima Radhakrishnan (MBA ’22) perhaps sums it up best.

“Two years of hard work, lots of sleepless nights, so many assignments and exams, all of this for this moment!” she shared on LinkedIn. “Yes, we did it!! Officially an MBA graduate from UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School! It feels incredible to say that out loud.”

Radhakrishnan posted photos of her husband and children celebrating with her on campus.

Alex SmithIt was a family affair for many graduates. Below a picture of himself holding his smiling baby son, Alex Smith (MBA ’22) toasted to the Class of 2022, describing the Evening Executive MBA Program as “quite possibly the most taxing two years of my life which ultimately reaped the greatest rewards.

“I’m truly a better businessman, student, husband, father and man because of this program,” he wrote.

Shay DavisIn addition to Shay Davis’ (MAC ’22) LinkedIn photos of herself in a cap and gown with fellow graduates, there is a photo of her two young sons. During her time in the MAC Program, she was able to focus on being present for her “wife and kids, clients and elderly parents.

“I have to say that UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School was the BEST decision I made. Now off to finishing my CPA license in due time!”

For Arday Ardayfio (MBA’22), 16 simple words told the story: “To Kara and the girls, family and friends who encouraged me to keep going, Thank You,” he wrote.

Unexpected journeys

Conie DalyConie Daley (MBA ’22) had two goals in mind when she decided to earn her MBA: expanding business knowledge and switching careers. She called the Evening Executive MBA Program a once-in a-lifetime experience. She reached her initial goals, then realized the program gave her so much more.

“There’s a magic and special feeling being at the School and in the program,” Daley said. “It’s hard to describe, but it’s a combination of the professors and their passion, the history of the program and the School, your classmates who become friends.

“I’m prouder of the unexpected things that I learned along the way,” she said. “I learned to have more confidence in my skills and how to have true self-advocacy because of empowering professors and classmates. I’ll take that with me for the rest of my life.”

Milan PatelThere’s more to the UNC Kenan-Flagler MBA experience than gaining industry knowledge and developing the skillsets needed to be professionally successful. Milan Patel (MBA ’22) said the Evening Executive MBA Program provided the foundation needed to drive change.

“Typically, people go to an MBA program to progress their professional career, but what I’ve found is that graduating has highlighted even more of what it means to me personally,” said Patel. “This includes how we navigate all choices we make, how we collaborate with individuals, how we balance qualitative and quantitative feedback to make a positive impact on society.”

Jonathan AlsopJonathan Alsop (MBA ’22) also felt empowered while going through his program. During his MBA@UNC interview, Alsop said that while he was pursuing his undergraduate degree, he felt like he didn’t know what he wanted to do and because of that felt as though he wasn’t skilled or qualified.

Enrolling in the MBA@UNC Program was something of a second chance to prove to himself he was capable of excelling in a rigorous program.

“Two years later, to come full circle and look back and having achieved what I set out to do is immensely meaningful to me,” said Alsop. “The experience was also surprising. In every class, there was always one line that stuck with me, small things that just built overtime. I can honestly say that I am a much better version of myself from when I signed on to my first class.”

Tuppy Carnie (MBA ’22) had always wanted to be a Tar Heel, so she took full advantage of everything MBA@UNC had to offer, including traveling to Finland and Israel through UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Doing Business In study-abroad programs.

“For everyone who is thinking about this program, just do it,” she said. “You will learn things in and out of the classroom that will be invaluable.

“And what’s amazing is the pride and sense of accomplishment that you will feel on the other side.”