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Erin Nilon: MBA mom

Erin Nilon

“How do you do it?”

As a full-time MBA student and mom of two daughters – then under the age of 4 – I was asked that question a lot during business school.

When I started school in August 2012, my youngest was only 4 months old. I decided to go back to school for my daughters, Graelyn and Elcie. I want them to see through my actions how much our family values education and what you can achieve through hard work. I didn’t get my MBA despite of my children. I’m getting it because of them.

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So when I was asked, “How do you do it?” or someone declared, “I don’t know how you manage — I’m barely getting by!” I explained that I shared the feeling of just getting by some days and I did so by treating business school like a job — a job with really long hours, but a job nonetheless.

I was respected for the experience I brought to school, for my contributions to the classroom and my study teams, for my friendship and for being a parent outside of school.

I could not have done this without my husband Mike. Having his support, choosing the right school, making tough decisions about where to devote my time, and relying on my community allowed me to be successful on this incredible, tough and all too short journey through business school.

School selection

When applying to and visiting schools, I knew I wanted a collaborative, supportive environment. I believed learning in such a place and surrounding myself with the type of students that uplift and encourage each other would allow me to be most successful, both while in school and long afterwards with a strong network.

I found that culture in abundance at UNC Kenan-Flagler. From the beginning – with my study group of six people representing four countries and six different career paths, to classmates offering to review material outside of class – I knew I chose the right school to support and help me to excel.

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Strategic choices

UNC Kenan-Flagler offers amazing and numerous opportunities for leadership, from the first year through to graduation. Many people talk about FOMO, or fear of missing out, in business school. But the best way I found to shine was to recognize my time limits and strategically choose leadership positions that fit my talents and interests. I found this provided the best way to give my all and follow through on all of my responsibilities without over committing.

Supportive community

Beyond the collaborative, supportive nature of UNC Kenan-Flagler in study groups and inside the halls of the McColl Building, the culture spills over into every aspect of the business school community. We are all genuinely friends, and I know I can count on every one of my classmates for anything I need. From introducing me to recruiters at prospective companies to watching my kids so my husband and I could enjoy date night, the UNC Kenan-Flagler community went above and beyond.

Some may not want the “parent” label while in business school, preferring to be known for what they bring as a professional. What I appreciated most about UNC Kenan-Flagler is that I did not have to wear one label or only be known for only one aspect of who I am.

Instead, I was respected for the experience I brought to school, for my contributions to the classroom and my study teams, for my friendship and for being a parent outside of school.

It wasn’t a mistake that UNC Kenan-Flagler was the only school I applied to where there were other moms when I visited. UNC Kenan-Flagler proves itself time and again to be a great place for people with diverse interests, experiences, backgrounds and lives outside of school. It truly sets everyone up for success.

By Erin Nilon (MBA ’14)