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Spring 2024 UBP graduation

Teodora Zoeva (MBA ’24) calls earning an MBA from UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School the “second most challenging achievement in my life.”

“The first one was to come to the USA by myself, only with $500 to my name, barely speaking English and leaving my family behind,” she shared on LinkedIn. “So, it’s bittersweet and hard to believe that 17 years later I will be writing this post, but here I am!”

“During these past two years I had the pleasure to meet some outstanding people who inspired me to reach higher, both academically and professionally,” she wrote.

Spring 2024 UBP graduation

“Stay hungry.”

During May ceremonies, nearly 1,000 UBP, MBA and PhD graduates joined the 6,711-member Carolina Class of 2024.

That includes 476 UBP graduates, including majors, minors and real-estate minors; 231 Full-Time MBA and 226 MBA@UNC graduates; and 12 PhD students. During a June 21 ceremony, 76 Master of Accounting Program graduates will be honored.

In fall 2024, an estimated 169 MBA@UNC students will also graduate, as well as 61 from the Evening Executive MBA Program, 43 from the Weekend Executive MBA Program and 54 from the Charlotte Executive MBA Program, its first-ever graduating class.

Mary Laci Motley (BSBA ’21), CEO of EATS2SEATS, gave the UBP keynote address, and George Alexander (MBA ’11), deputy managing director Muthoot Group, gave the MBA keynote address.

Motley, who founded the vending and concessions partner for professional and collegiate venues, urged graduates to stay hungry.

“You cannot catch hunger from another person. Someone else cannot tell you to be hungry,” Motley said. “It is a feeling that occurs within yourself and only yourself. In concessions and in life, it is those who have a constant appetite, those who crave discomfort, who find the most growth. Regardless of your starting point, the common denominator to making a better life for yourself is ensuring that your appetite stays insatiable.”

Later that day, the UBP and MBA Classes of 2024 participated in the first nighttime campus commencement ceremony under the lights of Kenan Stadium. Following a keynote address by NASA astronaut Zena Cardman (BS ’10, MS ’14), fireworks filled the sky.

That unforgettable celebration capped a particularly unforgettable time at Carolina. UBP graduates’ starting point was unlike any other class. Many did not have a high-school graduation ceremony in person in 2020, the first year of the pandemic, and spent their first year of college off campus as the pandemic continued.

Spring 2024 UBP graduation

“Last time when we prepared to graduate, our world was turned upside down,” said UBP class speaker Andy Jin (BSBA ’24), who won UNC’s Hampton Shuping Prize. “Our college experience was challenging, even disorienting at times, but we adapted. We found new ways of learning, overcame personal and collective trials, and emerged stronger and more prepared to face the world.”

UBP Associate Dean Shimul Melwani noted that when she spoke with seniors before commencement, they told her that they didn’t want to hear the word “COVID.” They wanted to focus on the joy and fun of their time at Carolina and their hope for the future.

“You adapted, you overcame, and most importantly, you supported one another,” Melwani said. “Each challenge was met not with resignation but with determination and innovation.”

Indeed, the celebratory messages shared by UBP graduates focused on the joy of the moment and the bright future ahead.

“My time at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School and Honors Carolina was extraordinary and has provided me with lifelong memories, friendships and knowledge that I will take with me in the years to come,” Abigail Pugh (BSBA ’24) shared on LinkedIn. “In June I will head to Washington, D.C. to begin my journey with Teach For America as a 2024 corps member and special education teacher. I could not be more excited to get started!”

Going to UNC Kenan-Flagler “the best decision I have ever made,” wrote Carolina Barros (BSBA ’24). “It has transformed me in more ways that I can count and blessed me with incredible people and opportunities I only dreamed to be possible.” She will join Royal Caribbean Group as a product innovation analyst for Celebrity Cruises in Miami. “Chapel Hill truly is a piece of heaven and being a Tar Heel will always be one of my favorite things to be.”

The ceremony also was a milestone for Dean Mary Margaret Frank (BSBA ’92, MAC ’92, PhD ’99). It was her first UBP graduating class since becoming dean.

“Decades ago, I came to UNC with a set of experiences and discovered a new world full of ideas,” Frank said during the ceremony. “A word that challenged me, refined my thinking and helped me grow. I would summarize my takeaway from my time at UNC in the words of Ted Lasso: Be curious, not judgmental. As you leave UNC, I challenge you to always be curious.”

The journey continues

Jack Healy (MBA ’24), who served as a field artillery officer in the U.S. Army for over eight years, worked full-time at Verizon in Atlanta during his MBA studies.

“Pursuing my MBA is something that I did on a ‘gut’ feeling. I felt like it would close the gap of business knowledge needed to thrive outside of the military,” Healy wrote. “After going through the program, I can say that UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School did just that. I learned from world-class professors, I traveled the world, and I met amazing people classmates and people along the way. I’m happy to be done, but I’ll truly miss the experience.”

Jack Healy (MBA '24) celebrates spring graduation with his family.

Jack Healy (MBA ’24) celebrates with his family.

The doctoral hooding honored PhD students who are moving on to academic positions at such universities as San Diego State University, Indiana University and the University of Denver and UNC.

Herrison Chicas (PhD ’24), who earned his PhD in organizational behavior, is heading to Georgia State to begin his career as a professor.

“Never did I imagine getting a PhD. No one I knew growing up came close to a professor,” he shared. “It was too far-fetched, too outside the realms of possibilities. But as I sit here and reflect on how the impossible has indeed become possible, one thing rings true — I have been extremely lucky to have encountered extraordinary people and places that have changed the trajectory of my life. To all of them, I dedicate this moment. Thank you for supporting me and helping me find my niche in the world!”

Jake Bargas (BA ’19, MBA ’24) earned his undergraduate degree in communication studies from UNC and was a tight end for Carolina football. He was signed to several NFL teams as he balanced a budding career as a real estate agent in Florida and enrolling at the Business School.

“Returning to Carolina and celebrating in a place that means so much to me alongside people who had such an impact on my journey made it even more special. It takes a village,” he wrote on LinkedIn. I want to thank my professors, classmates, coaches, teammates and most importantly my family for supporting me while I balanced the curriculum alongside my lifelong dream of playing in the National Football League. The memories from this weekend made one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences of my life all worth it.”

Sarah Ballentine (MBA ’24), who balanced working full time as a research program manager with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals while earning her MBA, learned the meaning of determination and perseverance.

“Whether it was leading team projects or diving deep into financial case studies late into the night, every moment has contributed to my growth, professionally and personally,” she wrote. “From polishing my negotiation skills during long weekends in Chapel Hill to consulting on a global marketing strategy for Ferragamo in Florence, these experiences broadened my perspective culturally, expanded my network and equipped me with the skills needed to thrive in today’s global business landscape.”

Spring 2024 MBA graduation

The Full-Time MBA and MBA@UNC Class of 2024

Earning a master’s degree hadn’t always been a professional goal for Kelsey Utter (MBA ’24). Before MBA@UNC, she worked for years in various roles at Texas Instruments in Dallas. She selected UNC Kenan-Flagler because “it offered a comprehensive leadership program guided by core values that I personally share: impact, innovation, integrity and inclusion.” Utter participated in an exchange program with the Copenhagen Business School and Summits in Cape Town and Warsaw.

“As I wrap up this MBA program, it is not the three-letter suffix or the diploma I hold at the end that demonstrates success,” Utter shared on LinkedIn. “It’s the hard work and resilience that went into earning it, the lifelong friendships with which I leave the program, but most of all, success for me came in the form of the team of individuals I lead day-to-day who unexpectedly decorated my office in Carolina blues. The bond I have formed with the team I lead is the greatest success I could have hoped to master.”

“The past two years have been a roller coaster of long nights studying, even longer papers, and putting certain milestones in life on hold,” Souptik Pal (MBA ’24), a senior associate with the Craddock Group in New York City, wrote. They also “afforded me the opportunity to learn from some of the most brilliant professors in the world that taught me the importance of perspective through their unique teaching approaches, introduced me to some of the brightest minds in classmates that have become some of my best friends, and taken me across the world from NYC to Chapel Hill to southern Africa and back.”

Souptik Pal Spring 2024 MBA graduation

Souptik Pal (MBA ’24)

As he reflected on his Business School experience, Pal thought about what’s next.

“I’ve learned so much through my time here, both about the world and myself, but my biggest lesson is the affirmation of dreaming big and being that much more excited for the next challenge in life,” he wrote. “I’m just getting started!”