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Showing up, authentically

Allison Schlobohm

Divisiveness is loud and silence can be deafening, but authenticity makes the most noise.

Professor Allison Schlobohm often speaks the loudest when she’s listening.

When UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School students drop by her office, it’s not unusual for her to move from behind her desk to pull up a seat next to them on the other side. Then she listens.

Whether it’s a question about one of her business communication classes, a request to help with research or a personal matter, Schlobohm listens. She asks questions and offers advice and insight that encourages or challenges — often both.

“If someone is on a balance beam and they make it all the way across, you want to know that you helped make it safe for them to get there,” says Schlobohm. “How we show up with each other — and for each other — on a daily basis is how we all can make a big difference in the world.”

Students see it in the classroom as well. Her management and corporate communication courses for the Undergraduate Business and MBA Programs focus on personal branding, organizational equity, leading inclusive organizations and bringing authenticity to a workplace.

Authentic business communication isn’t about being the loudest person in the room but finding the most effective way to share deeply held beliefs. Being silent is sometimes easy but being authentic can be hard. Schlobohm is changing that.

She challenges students to take off personal and professional masks that are easy to hide behind. That approach aligns with what her students tell her is an important professional goal: working for companies genuinely invested in authenticity and inclusion.

Unsung Hero Allisaon Schlobohm

Schlobohm (center) receives the Unsung Hero Award. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Schlobohm’s unceasing support for her students and innovative approaches to teaching led to her receiving the Weatherspoon Award for Teaching Excellence in the Undergraduate Business Program in 2020. Her dedication to inclusion and diversity earned her a 2024 Martin Luther King Jr. Unsung Hero Award from UNC.

“I feel so fortunate to have experienced UNC as a both a student and a faculty member, and much of my work around inclusion, equity and justice is inspired by the communities I’ve been a part of here at UNC as well as the communities I rarely saw and hope to help build,” she says. “Through all of my work, I aim to contribute to spaces and systems where people from all backgrounds can thrive as well as develop the skills they need for building a world they believe in.”

Schlobohm, who holds both a master’s degree and PhD in communication and cultural studies from UNC-Chapel Hill, embraces conversations that are not easy — and that’s the point.

Instead, these are “courageous conversations,” a communication concept Schlobohm explores in her teaching with James H. Johnson Jr., the William R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship. The two explore the power of talking through the turmoil. Their goal is to arm future business leaders with the ability to navigate intense culture, political and economic changes and the disparate opinions and behaviors that come with them within a workplace.

In class, they pose potentially polarizing issues for businesses, such as engaging in social advocacy. They divide the class into two groups randomly — taking a “yes” or “no” stance about an issue — and then take turns talking to each other and listening. Some students might not believe in the stance they are assigned. The exercise creates an atmosphere where debates are encouraged, and students learn to become comfortable having them. What it doesn’t encourage is the stress, non-listening and contempt that can spring from a strong pull to “settle” the debate.

“We live in a moment of such division, and I see for my students and myself, the easiest thing to do is argue with someone or dismiss them,” Schlobohm says. “But we can drift through life and try to make good choices, or we can be really intentional with those choices. That intentionality is where powerful things can happen. This is our world. We need to shape it for ourselves or someone else will shape it for us.”

Suburban St. Louis, Missouri was once Schlobohm’s whole world. She returned to the city’s public school system as an AmeriCorps reading tutor after earning a bachelor’s degree in communication studies from Truman State University, voraciously curious but unsure of a career path. College mentors told her to consider becoming a professor. Schlobohm wasn’t so sure.

Allison Schlobohm

“I didn’t really know fully what it meant to be a professor, what that looked like,” she says. “No one in my immediate family was a professor. They were all in business — and I knew I didn’t want to do business. So, it’s kind of funny where I ended up.”

Communication was a better fit. UNC’s master’s and PhD programs in communication and cultural studies allowed Schlobohm to further explore the issues that interested her the most: systemic inequality, justice and conversations that arise from political and social polarization.

She has a supportive, vocal role in the UNC community, representing the Business School on UNC’s Faculty Council and previously serving on everything from the Carolina Union board of directors to the Kenan-Flagler Undergraduate, Equity and Inclusion Board. She listened to Nora Elsayed’s (BSBA ’25) idea for Evenin’ Out the Playing Field, a group focused on erasing racial barriers within athletics and supporting female athletes of color. She then connected her with Courtnie Williamson (BSBA ’20, MBA ’22), former Carolina field hockey player who is dedicated to the same cause.

In everything she does, Schlobohm never hesitates to pull up her chair.

“What has always spoken to me is encouraging others to tap into their true motivations, passions and value,” she says. “You can build a life that you believe in, and once you do it, you’re in such a better place to create a better world for yourself and everyone else.”