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Building a sustainable career

Saloni Desai

Saloni Desai’s time in the online MBA program from UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School helped shift her career trajectory.

Saloni, who was an entrepreneur in the interior design supply chain space, initially chose MBA@UNC for the program’s flexibility, which afforded her the opportunity to continue thriving in her career. That career, however, would soon change course.

An inspired career shift

As Saloni worked through the first year of her program, she started talking to individuals in UNC’s Ackerman Center for Excellence in Sustainability (ACES) about the intersection of interior design and sustainability. These conversations sparked important discussions within her MBA program. Following an introduction to an alum who made a similar career switch, Saloni was eventually offered a consulting position with a boutique sustainability firm.

“I wanted to have a real impact on how we utilize our resources. Having the opportunity to translate this passion into work experience helped me stand out as a candidate.”

Saloni’s undergraduate degree was in industrial engineering, so while she was well-versed in math and science, she didn’t get much academic exposure to business or sustainability strategies. Working with UNC Kenan-Flagler faculty, Saloni focused on these topics in her elective year of the program. The coursework gave her the foundational knowledge to analyze complex sustainability challenges through a strategic lens.

“Working in this field isn’t just about understanding the industry specifics; it’s about working with clients from various industries to help them solve their sustainability challenges. Having an MBA helps me communicate better with clients and think of out-of-the-box solutions.”

Faculty support and numerous resources

UNC faculty directly contributed to Saloni’s professional development. In addition to her conversations with staff members at ACES, she took advantage of her professors’ “open-door” policy to engage beyond classroom topics. These discussions helped her to refine her career goals.

“I was going into this field as a novice and didn’t know where to start. These conversations helped me become more strategic and detailed in my approach to examine my goals.”

Additionally, Saloni worked with a dedicated career coach from the Career & Leadership team to perfect her profile for job applications, master the LinkedIn algorithm and negotiate job interviews. Now that she’s completed the program, her career coach continues to mentor her.

Saloni combined the support of faculty and advisors with extracurricular opportunities to make her time in the MBA@UNC program  a well-rounded experience. She served as a student advisory board member and student ambassador, and joined prominent UNC initiatives such as Net Impact Club and the 100 Women initiative.

“If anyone wants to get involved with the school’s extracurriculars, all they have to do is ask—there are so many options available.”

Immersive experiences

Saloni was also involved in several of the online MBA program’s immersive experiences. For example, she participated in a Doing Business In (DBI) course, which gives students the opportunity to study abroad at one of UNC Kenan-Flagler’s exchange partner schools.

During her two years in the online MBA program, she traveled to Finland, Italy and the UK as part of the DBI experience.

One of Saloni’s favorite experiences was in Rome, where her group worked with Prada to explore the perspectives of a sustainable supply chain. They visited the Prada production facility, talked to key executives and explored how the company is changing their branding to align with consumer demand for sustainable products.

“It facilitated a deeper understanding of global business dynamics and cultures, which I’m very passionate about. I came home from each DBI inspired about innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Lasting connections

Saloni didn’t just attend UNC events in other countries—she helped facilitate some closer to home. After graduating, a group of online MBA alums organized a reunion in Chicago to stay in touch. They’re hoping to make it an annual event.

“What surprised me most were the lifelong friendships I made. Some of my former classmates will even be part of my wedding.”

Saloni added that these friendships were (and still are) deeply fulfilling—on a personal and professional level. These connections fostered a dynamic learning environment in and out of the classroom and encouraged her to explore innovative approaches to sustainability challenges.

“The conversations I’ve had with classmates were crucial in helping me figure out where I wanted to go in my career. I was collaborating on a daily basis with insightful individuals from various professional backgrounds, which gave me a really fresh perspective. I’m proud to be a UNC Kenan-Flagler MBA graduate. Now I text my friends, ‘Go Heels!’”