The most thrilling part of real estate development for Mariafe Mazurski (MBA ’24) isn’t seeing the finished project. It’s every decision she makes to help see it happen.
It’s thinking about the number of cabinets a growing family needs or considering whether a multifamily property should have more grills or expand its fitness center. It’s seeing the potential in a vacant lot overgrown with weeds. It’s looking at an unfinished property and seeing someone’s perfect home.
“Once you’re in real estate development, it’s very easy to be fascinated by that world,” says Mazurski. “It has been amazing to create something from zero and owning a project from beginning to end, thinking about how to make a project feel like it was always there and that it belongs to the city. I fell in love with that process.”
It has been a little over a decade since Mazurski moved to Vienna, Virginia, from Lima, Peru. She was 17 and didn’t know a word of English. She immersed herself in English-language courses, sometimes taking them at the same time she took college courses at Northern Virginia Community College.
After graduating from American University, she worked in the real estate industry for five years, doing everything from managing sales for a real estate investment trust to marketing. Eventually, she found her niche through an administrative position with a development group.
But there was much more she knew she needed to do to launch the career she wanted.
“Before coming here, I worked with a lot of people who completed the real estate program at UNC Kenan-Flagler, so I knew that if there was ever a time for me to go back to school, I should look into UNC,” says Mazurski. “They all said it would be a good fit for me. They were right.”
Through UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Full-Time MBA Program, Mazurski has emerged as a leader within its real estate concentration. As president of the MBA Real Estate Club, she has participated in numerous site visits to real estate companies and different types of properties — retail, laboratories, multifamily complexes, office spaces — across the Triangle, as well as in New York, Atlanta and Washington, D.C. where a large number of alumni work across real-estate sectors. In November 2023, Mazurski and other second-year real estate concentration MBA students won first place at the National Real Estate Challenge competition.
Mazurski also is vice president of corporate partnerships with the UNC Latin American Business Association, a Forte Fellow and a Horey Family MBA Fellow. She’s dedicated to mentoring first-year MBA students in the real estate concentration in the same way she was mentored when first coming to Carolina. She’s also mom to two young children.
“It’s hard to find an environment where everyone’s goal is for you to succeed, but that’s what it feels like here,” she says. “Everyone wants you to find a place where you see yourself growing in a career. UNC Kenan-Flagler is very intentional about being a professional and personal support system from day one.”
Supported by the Leonard W. Wood Center for Real Estate Studies, UNC Kenan-Flagler’s real estate program is one of the largest and most comprehensive of its kind at a U.S. business school.
The MBA real estate concentration balances practicality with innovation. In addition to courses on construction, finance and the development process, students manage private real estate investment funds, participate in a real estate-centric Global Immersion Elective and meet with top employers across the country through “career treks.” Students regularly visit construction sites and pitch deals to an equity panel and a lender. Several professors work in real estate outside of the classroom.
It’s a real-world approach to real estate education. And it’s the exact MBA experience Mazurski was looking for.
“You get a bigger and broader picture of what real estate really is,” she says. “You benefit from being in an area where there’s a lot of program alumni in every aspect of real estate. You get a strong network from the get-go.
“When you are in the real estate industry, especially in this part of the country, wherever you go you find a Tar Heel.”
Mazurski never intended to stay in the U.S. for long. Her dad had moved from Peru to America earlier for work and urged his daughter to give it a shot, too. When she moved to northern Virginia, the plan was to learn English and perhaps explore job paths.
Then doors opened quickly. She found opportunities she wouldn’t have in Peru. While studying business at American, she met her future husband.
“My parents were like, ‘Yeah, you’re staying there. You’re definitely going to stay,’” she says. “But for me it was more about having these new goals. I thought, ‘OK, now I can speak English, but what’s next?’ That kept me going.”
Continuing to set new goals is a mindset that still keeps Mazurski going. She pursued an MBA to not just expand her real estate skillset, but also to become a more well-rounded professional. She considered herself very shy and soft-spoken and wanted a school that went beyond refining technical skills. At UNC Kenan-Flagler, her first and only choice for her MBA, she has pushed herself in ways she knows she should.
“Real estate is never just a one-person show,” says Mazurski, whose goal is landing a real estate development job in the Triangle area after graduation. “You have to be very good at working with so many different teams and personalities. That was very intimidating at first. I don’t think that two years ago I would have told you that I even saw myself on a panel talking to real estate students. Maybe other people will say that I am a leader, but I will always continue to work on those skills.
“I never saw how people could benefit from me. UNC Kenan-Flagler changed that. I will never leave this place. I will always feel connected to the students and the faculty. They will be my family forever.”