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From Carolina to Cisco

Bryan Hernandez standing at UNC Chapel Hill

Winter Commencement is a time to celebrate graduating Tar Heels. But Bryan Hernandez (BSBA ’19), who graduated from UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s Undergraduate Business Program, knows the day was about more than him.

It’s a day to celebrate the people who helped him get there — classmates, professors, mentors and, especially, his parents.

“They gave up everything, so we had the chance to go to college,” he says of his parents. “It’ll definitely feel like their hard work paid off, too.”

Hernandez certainly put in hard work of his own, though, to get to this day. He applied to Carolina as a high school senior in Sanford, North Carolina, but he was not admitted.

Instead of attending another university, Hernandez decided to take advantage of the Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program. He completed his general education requirements during two years at Sandhills Community College. Then, he transferred to Carolina in the fall of 2017 as a junior.

In a Well Said podcast, Hernandez explains how he took advantage of every opportunity available at Carolina and why he feels so prepared for his next journey in life — a position at Cisco.  An edited transcript of the interview is below.

When Bryan Hernandez was in high school in Sanford, North Carolina, he knew he wanted to be a Tar Heel.

“Carolina was the best school around when you consider price and how far away it is,” Hernandez says. “I wanted a school that was far away enough from home that I had my own space, but I could also come back in case anything happened.”

He applied to Carolina as a high school senior, but wasn’t accepted. Instead of going to another university, he decided to take advantage of Carolina’s Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program.

“You apply your senior year of high school, and you can also apply your first year at Sandhills or any community college in the program,” he says. “They’ll look at your application, take into account different factors, such as your grades or extracurriculars, and they pre-admit you to transfer to Carolina whenever you’re done at community college, and you have to have a certain GPA and things like that but a relatively simple program.”

Hernandez studied at Sandhills Community College for two years, completing his general education requirements. Then, he transferred into Carolina in fall 2017 as a junior majoring in business at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.

“The Business School’s a more small-knit community,” says Hernandez. “You’re working with a lot of the same people on group projects. They’re going through the same classes. You’re seeing a lot of the same people every day within this one building. That kind of helped me find a group of friends, and then obviously as you spend more time on campus, you find more friends, too, but I would say the small, close-knit community of the Business School was really helpful, and then having a wide variety of people who you can talk to on main campus was really nice.”

While at UNC Kenan-Flagler, Hernandez took advantage of every opportunity he could. The Undergraduate Business Program offers seven career treks each year. He went on the Tech Trek, which is for students interested in the business side of technology.

“We went out to San Francisco during spring break. We obviously have a lot of connections in the Bay Area at really reputable companies, like Google and LinkedIn and DropBox,” says Hernandez. “We did a lot of company visits. The goal was to learn about the company as a whole, what they do and then connect you with people who can help you find that ideal career path. A lot of it was networking and learning more about the companies. And then obviously there was the piece where you get to explore the city, which that was honestly really fun.”

The group also met with Cisco in San Francisco, and Hernandez leveraged that trek to land a summer internship.

“I interviewed and got to talk about my experience on the Tech Trek, and I think that helped me stand out because I knew about the cool technology, like Webex, or Spark at the time, that Cisco was working on. I knew what the company did as a whole and what a lot of their focus was on. That really helped me to stand out when going into the interview. And then from there, I figured out that I wanted to do sales because that was the team we were supporting. Within the company, I networked, and reached out to different people, Carolina graduates and all that, and they helped me prepare for the internship interview.”

So, his internship led to a full-time position at Cisco as an associate sales rep. And that internship came from his trip to California with the Business School.

“I did expect it to be valuable, but I didn’t think it would lead me where I’m going now,” he says. “It helped me figure out I probably wanted to work in a tech company. Now, obviously, going to Cisco, it’s crazy to retrace my steps and realized that that’s what led me to Cisco.”

When he thinks about Carolina, career support, including the Tech Trek, is what comes to mind.

“I think of opportunity whenever I think of how lucky I am to be at Carolina. Before I got to Carolina, I thought that the only careers available in business was like a regular manager at a small business, which is great. There are definitely people who really enjoy that, but then I came here, and I found out that there’s all these careers in like banking or consulting or sales or marketing. So I really think of opportunity, whether you’re at the J-school, whether you’re at the B-school, whether you’re pre-med. There’s so much going on here and so much opportunity that comes with being at a school like this.”

As Hernandez approached the end of his Carolina career, he reflected on graduation and all the work got him to that moment.

“It’s kind of been a long time coming. It’s been a lot of work, and, obviously, I didn’t get in the first time, so it’s knowing that if you persist, you can accomplish what you want to,” he says. “I didn’t get accepted the first time and found a different way in and then managed to get into the Business School and got a well-rounded education and have a job. I think it’s the culmination of a lot of hard work, so I’ll definitely be proud of the fact that I was able to accomplish what I wanted to.”

As his time as a Carolina student came to an end, Hernandez reflected on the value of the education he’s received.

“For a lot of people, going to school is just about getting a degree and checking the boxes. It kind of was that for me before, because I’m like, “Man, I don’t want to wait four more years.” But, once you come here, you really realize how challenging it can be. There’s a lot of flexibility and being able to think outside the box that is required to be here at UNC, so thinking critically and working with others, that’s been a big thing. I would say the difficulty of the courses and having exposure to teamwork has been something that I would say makes Carolina stand out.”

Hernandez also thinks about how his Carolina prepared him for his next steps after college.

“It’s definitely challenged me to go outside of my comfort zone. I know one of my least favorite classes going into it was BUSI401, which is our communications class that every business major has to take,” he says. “It’s a really challenging class because almost no one gets an A, but it forces you to speak in front of people and be confident about what you’re saying, so that was a really big challenge for me with public speaking. That was something that I definitely improved on and am still improving as I go. Those soft skills like communication and teamwork give you a foundation with those hard skills. Whether it’s corporate finance or business analytics, I got a really well-rounded education from Carolina.”

Finally, Hernandez thinks about how he’ll help other Carolina students like him in the future.

“Just pay it forward,” he says. “All those people that helped me – students who helped me with studying or with classwork, all the alums – helped me get to where I am today. I think that’s definitely what I’ll take forward. Any time someone from Carolina reaches out, it would be nice to reach back out to them as soon as I can because I know what it was like being that student who wanted to learn more about a certain role or a certain company. So, pay it forward whenever you get the chance to.”