Awele Asianah (BSBA ’23) never met the Carolina student who gave her the small push she needed to make a giant leap of faith.
Asianah, a native of Lagos, Nigeria, was considering over a dozen of the top undergraduate business programs in the U.S. and Canada. On Twitter, she reached out to a Carolina senior who also was from Nigeria.
The student took the time to review Asianah’s resume and admissions essay. Carolina would be a great fit for her, she told Asianah. She should go for it.
“Just that she was willing to help told me what I needed to know about what kind of place UNC is and what its students are like,” says Asianah. “Everything about Carolina fit.”’
Four years later, Asianah graduates with two Chancellor’s Awards and a strategy and management analyst job lined up at Bank of America in Boston. She also leaves an indelible legacy at the Business School as a longtime mentor to fellow students and a driver of the School’s first Black Affinity Group.
Four years earlier, Asianah told her mother that she didn’t think a career in science or medicine was as right for her as she once thought. Her mother assumed that meant a shift to pre-law.
“I just had this feeling that there might be something out there in business for me,” she says. “At UNC Kenan-Flagler, I very quickly saw that business was not just something I thought maybe I could do. It was something I knew I could do.”
Asianah arrived at Carolina with restless uncertainty. She had visited the U.S. over summer holidays but had never stayed long. Her top goal was getting into business school but didn’t know quite where to start.
She quickly found the support she needed.
During her first year, Asianah joined the Business School’s Allison Mentorship Program, designed to support undergraduate students from underserved populations who are interested in pursuing a business degree.
She learned a lot quickly: application requirements, the best networking events, internship opportunities, and even business fields she hadn’t considered.
“Honestly, I found out about investment banking as a career in my freshman year. I didn’t know anything about consulting,” says Asianah. “The Allison Mentorship program gave me so much confidence about not only could getting into the Business School but exploring all of these exciting professional avenues.”
Soon Asianah became a mentor with the Allison Mentorship Program.
That was just the beginning of a period of accelerated personal and professional growth in the Undergraduate Business Program. Asianah joined the Minority Business Student Association and the Minority Business Student Alliance. She took part in Deloitte’s Leadership, Allyship and Mentorship Program and volunteered as a tutor for underprivileged children in the Chapel Hill area.
Academically, Asianah started exploring and never stopped. She gravitated toward investment banking while interning with UBS Financial Services after her sophomore year, joined the Undergraduate Consulting Club and became curious about new technology driving business. The field of strategy eventually spoke loudest to Asianah, who began a strategic operations internship with Uber the summer before senior year.
At the same time, she cultivated community at Carolina. In 2020, she co-founded One Africa, a club for African students combining professional development, cultural awareness and philanthropy. Through One Africa, Asianah organized a virtual mixer during the COVID-19 pandemic that brought together over 350 students from schools across the country.
The group has raised money for such organizations as FACE Africa, which tackles the sub-Saharan water crisis, and Carolina for Kibera, a Kenya-based nongovernmental organization co-founded by Rye Barcott (BA ’01) that supports young leaders dedicated to alleviating poverty and improving educational opportunities in dozens of communities.
Asianah is perhaps most proud of pioneering a Black Affinity Group, the first of its kind at UNC Kenan-Flagler. During her senior year, she co-led the group with Ogechi Nwobu (BSBA ’24) and Nora Elsayed (BSBA ’25) and helped oversee its first large-scale project, a Black History Month celebration on the UNC Kenan-Flagler campus.
“At UNC Kenan-Flagler, I very quickly saw that business was not just something I thought maybe I could do. It was something I knew I could do.”
Somehow, she fit in an honors thesis on perceptions within the workplace of employees with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), if such perceptions differ by gender and how organizations support neurodivergent workers.
“Looking back, it’s funny because I first came here thinking, ‘Oh, let me not say too much,’” says Asianah. “As you feel more comfortable here, you learn to speak up more. And I’m so grateful for that. I’m definitely someone who is moved by the chance to make an impact and create change.”
That change was noticed. Asianah won the Jane Craige Gray Memorial Award, a Chancellor’s Award honoring the woman in the junior class with the most outstanding character, leadership and scholarship. Just weeks before graduation, she received a second Chancellor’s Award, the Edward Kidder Graham Award, recognizing a senior who made the most outstanding contribution to Carolina through a student organization.
“Leadership had always felt natural to me, and it has felt natural here, too,” she says. “If I’m passionate about something, I’ll keep going with it,” she says. “And then it’s on to what’s next.”
Graduation marks another major accomplishment for Asianah — convincing her mother that the Business School was the right place for her.
“The more I’ve shaped my journey here, the more confidence she’s had that this was going to be a great thing for me,” says Asianah. “She’s not the type to easily voice the fact that she’s proud of me, but she has said that a lot recently.”