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Joanna Furgiuele: The best of both worlds

Joanna Furgiuele - UNC Kenan-FlaglerJoanna Furgiuele (MBA/MEM ’15) believes you can have the best of both worlds.

After earning undergraduate degrees in biology and ecology from the University of Montana, Furgiuele joined a nonprofit startup focused on science and outdoor education, where her responsibilities included marketing and fundraising. As the organization grew, so did Furgiuele’s desire to improve it.

“I knew that we could be expanding in a more sustainable way,” she says. “But I didn’t have the business acumen to make it better.”

Realizing that business and sustainability go hand-in-hand, Furgiuele began researching MBA programs and was drawn to UNC Kenan-Flagler after finding it on a list of top 10 business schools for eco-entrepreneurs. The dual-degree offerings available to full-time MBA students gave Furgiuele a world-class business education and an opportunity to further her ecological studies at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment – the best of both worlds.

“It was a great way to combine my background in ecology and biology with my skills in business,” she says.

Joanna Furgiuele - UNC Kenan-FlaglerFiguring out how ecology and business fit together turned out to be a bigger challenge than Furgiuele anticipated. “It takes a lot of time to figure out how to put the two together and align them with your passion,” she says.

Her internship with Counter Culture Coffee – co-founded Brett Smith (MBA ‘94), recipient of UNC Kenan-Flagler’s 2015 Distinguished Alumni in Sustainability Award – gave her an opportunity to do just that.

As a supply chain analyst for Counter Culture, a company committed to sustainability and transparency at every level of the coffee supply chain, Furgiuele got first-hand experience working at the intersection of business and sustainability. “People drink a lot of coffee but don’t think about all the steps it takes to get into their cup,” she says.

Furgiuele spent two months in Peru conducting surveys and interviews with farmers, cooperative leaders and key players to determine the effect of climate change on local coffee producers and the greater coffee supply chain. Her research helped Counter Culture identify sustainable strategies for coffee production to maintain the company’s high product quality standards.

“The best part was being able to go to Peru to meet people and experience their livelihood,” says Furgiuele. “You can read a lot of research papers, but meeting the actual people is completely different.”

Joanna Furgiuele - UNC Kenan-FlaglerGaining practical experience in her chosen field was an invaluable opportunity – one Furgiuele would have missed out on, had it not been for the help and support of her UNC Kenan-Flagler classmates in the MBA Entrepreneurship & Venture Capital Club (EVC) that provided funding for the internship.

“Without the funding, it would not have been possible,” she says. “I am incredibly thankful.”

Her story is an example of the inspiration that lead to the creation of the Social Impact Summer Grants program (SISG), which offers financial assistance to full-time MBA students pursuing summer internships focused on social impact. With an increasing number of students interested in harnessing the power of business to benefit the triple bottom line – people, planet, profit – the opportunities made possible by the SISG program are more important than ever.

“The SISG program allows students to take a chance and try things that are a little bit different,” Furgiuele says. “Opportunities like this are key to gain a diverse set of skills and experiences.”

Joanna Furgiuele - UNC Kenan-FlaglerThe program is just one of many ways UNC Kenan-Flagler students are raising awareness about sustainability at Carolina – something Furgiuele is especially proud to see, as it was one of the goals she set when she was named president of the MBA Net Impact Club. She counts receiving the phone call that she’d been elected to the role among her most memorable moments at UNC Kenan-Flagler, so watching the club’s efforts manifest in various ways around campus is incredibly rewarding.

Having left her mark at UNC Kenan-Flagler, Furgiuele is focused on working towards a more sustainable future.

“I’ve had a lot of opportunities in my life and have been very lucky,” she says. “Now, with my business skills, I can work on making a positive difference in a real and tangible way.”