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UNC student studies for MBA from Navy

On the average weekday, many students tackle their homework in campus libraries or coffee shops on Franklin Street.

But Maxwell Keith is not like most UNC students.

An assistant air operations officer in the Navy, Keith does the majority of his homework on an aircraft carrier in the Atlantic.

Keith is one of many students who has taken advantage of MBA@UNC, a program that allows participants to take Kenan-Flagler Business School courses online.

The program debuted in July 2011, and its first class will graduate this summer, said Susan Cates, executive director of the program.

Of the 390 students who participated in MBA@UNC’s most recent academic session, about 20 percent were either military veterans or active-duty service members, Cates said.

“They’re really extraordinary students in the program,” she said.

Keith plans to participate in the next academic session, starting early this month.

He is assigned to USS George H.W. Bush at the Norfolk naval station in Virginia. For about two weeks every month, the carrier performs flight operations at sea.

Keith was a senior in high school with plans to join the military when the 9/11 attacks took place.

“That confirmed what I wanted to do,” he said. “As soon as I graduated, I went into the Navy, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

He met his wife, Jennifer, when his commanding officer set the two up on a blind date.

“He said, ‘Here’s this girl’s number, call her,’” Jennifer Keith said. “And since it was his boss, I guess he felt like he had to.”

He traveled a lot during their first years together, but his schedule is now more predictable, Jennifer Keith said.

“We’re never bored, that’s for sure,” she said. “Back and forth, he’s in, he’s out, but we’ve made it work.”

The couple married in December 2006, and they have two boys — including one who is two months old.

“He’s doing something I think is pretty interesting — trying to do work and school while still being present at home,” Jennifer Keith said.

“He has worked really hard to balance that, and he has done a fantastic job.”

Maxwell Keith, who studied engineering at the University of Michigan, said he has enjoyed his classes so far.

“It’s a whole new flavor for me,” he added.

Cates said MBA@UNC provides much-needed flexibility.

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“One of the things that is exciting about (the program) is our ability to take Carolina to these students, instead of requiring that these students uproot their lives and come to Carolina to get what it offers.”

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