MBA Student Spotlight: James Pacala, Class of 2012

We're highlighting various members of our Kenan-Flagler community on this blog including students, alumni and faculty.  The following is a Q&A with Full-time MBA student James Pacala, Class of 2012.  James grew up in Great Falls, Virginia and studied engineering at Vanderbilt University.  Prior to Kenan-Flagler, he worked as a project engineer for a commercial construction company in Washington, D.C.  He is concentrating in Finance and Real Estate and serves as the MBASA (MBA Student Association) President.

Why did you choose Kenan-Flagler?

I initially became interested in Kenan-Flagler due to the reputation of its Real Estate concentration. Coming from the construction side of the real estate industry, I was targeting an MBA program with strong real estate and finance concentrations. In addition, the Leadership Initiative at Kenan-Flagler really impressed me. I had limited experience leading large teams during my prior work experience and improving my leadership skills was a goal of mine coming in to business school. Lastly, when I came to visit Kenan-Flagler, I was very impressed with the caliber of students I met and the sense of community throughout the school. I loved the Chapel Hill area and knew Kenan-Flagler was the perfect fit.

What led to your decision to get an MBA?

As I mentioned earlier, I worked in construction prior to business school and even though I enjoyed working as an engineer, I wanted to transition more to the finance side of real estate. I knew that an MBA would be the best way to make this transition while sharpening my leadership and teamwork skills.

Do you have a favorite moment being a Kenan-Flagler student?

My first year at Kenan-Flagler flew by and I have countless favorite moments. To name a few…

  • Handing in the Macroeconomics final exam at the end of Mod II (mid December). It was our last final exam for the Mod which meant the bulk of the required “core” classes were over. Our class had successfully completed the demanding core curriculum and the collective jubilation expressed by our entire class was amazing.
  • Competing in the real estate internal case competition. My team had worked tirelessly for three straight days and, although we didn’t win, it was a very rewarding experience.
  • The entire week of Blue Cup events. Blue Cup is an annual Olympic-style competition between Kenan-Flagler and Fuqua (Duke’s MBA program). The Blue Cup was the very last weekend before final exams in the Spring and it was a great time to be a student at Kenan-Flagler.

Describe the Kenan-Flagler community.

It is difficult to summarize the Kenan-Flagler community in words because the strong sense of community is something you experience and feel as part of this school, not something you read. If I had to describe it I would use adjectives such as welcoming, enriching, team-oriented, non-cutthroat, inspiring, powerful, and fun.

A great example of the bond and community developed at Kenan-Flagler was during my winter break last December. With the intense investment banking summer internship interviews coming up in early January, a group of students invited me to come back to Chapel Hill early to spend a week of our winter break mock-interviewing and preparing as a group for the interviews.

There was over a dozen of us that met for a week and made sure we were all ready to ace the interviews in the coming weeks. We were all interviewing with the same handful of investment banks so it blew me away that the students were so open and willing to help. For a “career-changer” and someone new to investment banking, this week of preparation was extremely helpful. This is a quick story but it exemplifies the non-competitive culture and strong sense of community at Kenan-Flagler.

In addition to the bond created by the students of the school, the alumni are another aspect of the bigger Kenan-Flagler community. Every single alumni that I reached out to or contacted during the recruitment season was open and willing to help. Collectively, the Kenan-Flagler alumni are a powerful resource and an important part of our community.

As the new MBASA President, what advice do you have to give to incoming MBA@UNC students?

The single biggest piece of advice I can give incoming students is to fully dedicate themselves to UNC and to the Kenan-Flagler program. In order to get the most out of the MBA experience, you really have to dive right in and take advantage of every opportunity the school provides. Be engaged and don’t be afraid to reach out to current students, faculty, staff, and alumni.