Leading and serving: From the Army to business school

After serving in the military together, two friends became classmates at Carolina, pursuing MBA degrees and making an impact on campus in the process.

Michelle and Charlotte pose in front of the capital markets lab
Michelle Kimbrough (left) and Charlotte "Charlie" Burnett at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

Friendships can change the course of your life. Just ask Charlotte “Charlie” Burnett and Michelle Kimbrough. They met in 2014 while serving in the U.S. Army at Fort Bragg.

Kimbrough served for more than seven years as a logistics officer under the Special Operations Command and the 101st Airborne, deploying in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Burnett served as a human resources officer in the Special Operations Command — an organization that continually deploys hundreds of soldiers across 10 countries in the Pacific Region — for four years.

Together they have executed yoga poses, run triathlons and 5Ks, and volunteered for the community. They launched the Fort Bragg Women’s Mentorship Network, and nurtured each other’s leadership.

Naturally, they decided to earn their MBAs at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. Members of the Class of 2019, they lived together at the start of the full-time MBA Program and went on to become rock-star student leaders.

As presidents of Carolina Women in Business and Alliance of Minority Business Students, Burnett and Kimbrough, respectively, run organizations with important missions and are having a significant impact on the community.

Giving more people a choice

Part of those student clubs’ work is hosting professional conferences at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

Kimbrough initiated the first Diversity Conference dedicated to being more inclusive in business. The theme was the “art of thinking differently together,” and the event focused on coaching, mentoring and sponsoring diverse candidates for graduate school and jobs.

“It was open to everyone,” Kimbrough said. “We want champions of diversity and allies of underrepresented minorities to understand their roles in hiring and supporting careers.”

Burnett led the planning for the 13th annual CWIB Conference, one of the largest student-run conferences. Focused on “breaking barriers,” the event on Nov. 2, 2018, showcased how women across a range of industries have overcome challenges. It attracted 400 attendees, which is higher than the usual 300. In addition, 50 prospective students participated in Women’s Weekend, held in conjunction with the conference.

The conference and leading the club have strengthened Burnett’s hope for the future.

“The number of women in business will grow,” she added. “UNC Kenan-Flagler sees the importance of reaching gender parity, and we are looking for ways to increase the number of women applicants. Part of the solution is letting women who have nontraditional backgrounds know that business school is an option.”

Bringing others to the table

For her part, Kimbrough has worked closely with admissions to hone plans for appealing to a larger group of people to gain more diverse perspectives. A Consortium fellow, she spends time communicating about the versatility of the MBA degree to potential applicants and educating admissions committees on how to broaden their perspectives. For example, she points to data about underrepresented minorities’ standardized test scores and encourages schools to reconsider their range to open up enrollment to a wider group of students. Burnett clued her into these kinds of stats, she says.

“We’re not just diverse because of our skin color or gender,” Kimbrough said. “We bring diversity of thought and experience to the business world.”

Kimbrough stresses that she and Burnett demonstrate there really is no such thing as a non-traditional MBA candidate.

“Many men and women self-select out of applying to top MBA programs because they feel they’re not traditional candidates and therefore won’t be successful,” Kimbrough said. “It’s absolutely not true.”

She points to the incredible success students, such as Burnett and herself, are having on campus. Initially, she was hesitant to apply to business school, but she wanted to be able to get a job that allowed her to have more impact.

Burnett first floated the idea of earning an MBA as an undergraduate who studied political science and was planning to attend law school after her four-year commitment to the Army was completed. Burnett thought more deeply about her options, including ways she could continue to serve beyond the military

“I saw a need for more of an intersection between business and policy,” said Burnett, who is a Kenan Scholar and Tillman Scholar. “Business school is a way to capitalize on this opportunity.”

Continue reading on UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s website.