In April, the General Alumni Association Board of Directors named Veronica Flaspoehler ’08 the fifth president of the association. She succeeds Doug Dibbert ’70, who after nearly 41 years at the helm, retired in May.
Flaspoehler grew up in Lincoln County after moving as a young child from Costa Rica to North Carolina and was a first-generation college student. She received a bachelor’s in economics and public policy, with a minor in entrepreneurship. She was a banking executive with Wells Fargo & Co for 15 years, holding progressively senior risk management roles within corporate, and within commercial and investment banking. She served on the GAA Board of Directors, the Young Alumni Leadership Council and the UNC Board of Visitors, during which time she chaired the student services committee. She is a member of UNC’s Alumni Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity and chairs its Latino subcommittee. She also is a member of the advisory board for the Carolina Latinx Center.
Flaspoehler joins the association July 17. The Review sat down with her to talk about her experiences at UNC and what she may have in store for the association. The discussion has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Can you tell us how you came to UNC?
In high school, I was invited to attend Project Uplift [a UNC summer program designed to increase access to higher education for students underrepresented in postsecondary education]. I didn’t really know much about Carolina. My parents are from Costa Rica and, while they didn’t go to college in the U.S. or know much about the process, they absolutely wanted me to go to college. I remember pulling into campus and being starstruck. It was my first time on a university campus. Connecting with other students who were having their first university experience made the weekend a lot less intimidating. Getting to experience a little bit of Carolina, and seeing myself represented here, made me fall in love with this place. I knew that this was home, and this was where I wanted to be.
What was your undergrad experience like at Carolina?
My first year felt like a whirlwind. I had suddenly been thrown into a large campus, and I knew only a handful of people. I went to FallFest a few days after the semester started, and I think I met half of the freshman class. I signed up for too many clubs but made a lot of friends and wonderful memories. When I came to Carolina, I hadn’t met many people from other countries and backgrounds, and I’m thankful I got to interact and develop lasting friendships with a very diverse student body.
In my junior year, I decided to run for senior class officer, and I convinced my best friend, Ashley Shores ’08, to run with me. We had so much fun campaigning, going to all the student clubs, sitting in the Pit. We won, and it really changed the trajectory of my senior year. Working with the GAA and the senior class marshals was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.
Another experience that was impactful that I have carried into adulthood was studying abroad in China. I traveled with the entrepreneurship program, and did an internship in Beijing. It was eye-opening to experience a culture that is completely different than your own, to be in a country where you are a little vulnerable. It took me out of my comfort zone. I’m very fortunate that I did that, because it showed me, “Wow, you can do anything you want.” Carolina allowed me to do things that I didn’t think possible and gave me experiences that opened my mind to the world.
You’re the first woman and first person of color to lead the association. How may that inform your leadership?
When I was a little girl, I told my parents I wanted to be the first woman president. Little did I know then that, one, I could not be president because I wasn’t born here; and two, I would be the first woman, and person of color, president somewhere. I never could have anticipated it would be with the GAA.
Whether it’s leadership style or personality, we all draw upon our experiences and relationships to inform how we approach things, and I’m no different. I consider myself an authentic leader and hope to bring my stories, strengths, and lived experiences as a Latina, North Carolinian, first-generation college student, Army wife and banking executive into my leadership at the GAA, working alongside the talented staff and connecting with all of our alumni. I strongly believe in the importance of celebrating Carolina’s rich traditions, while also looking for opportunities to create new ones.
What thoughts and ideas would you like to explore as president?
One of the things that resonated with me over the past several years with the Campaign for Carolina was the slogan For All Kind. That sentiment is something I would love to see the GAA embody. Fortunately, the association is strong and has strong relationships. This will be a great opportunity to listen, to learn all of the great things we do, and understand from the staff’s perspective what the strengths are and where we can get better. As an alumna, I listened to what some of my peers’ perspectives are of the GAA, and I think people have a misconceived notion that it’s like a club. Yes, it is a dues-paying membership. That’s important for the sustainability of the GAA, but the GAA is a very inviting place, and I want everyone to feel and know that. So, I think we champion the great things we are already doing and find unique ways to bring others along on the ride with us. I also want to harness the Carolina network and explore ways to connect our alumni with current students for mentoring and career development. Carolina alumni are known for their service, and what better way to give back than through supporting students and recent grads.
Sounds like reaching out to students before they are alumni is crucial.
From the student perspective, we really put a big emphasis on senior year for obvious reasons. I hope to look at ways that the GAA can connect with students throughout their time on campus. For example, leveraging our footprint in the middle of campus and providing more opportunities for students to use and visit the alumni center.