Jim Kitchen is not your typical college professor.
Currently a professor of the practice of strategy and entrepreneurship at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, Kitchen has a variety of academic and professional credentials. In addition to earning his undergraduate degree from UNC, he holds two master’s degrees and has built a successful career as an entrepreneur in the travel, real estate and technology fields.
But his list of accomplishments goes beyond the professional sphere.
With more than 63,000 Instagram followers, Kitchen documents his numerous travel adventures — visits to all 193 United Nations-recognized countries, to be exact.
After traveling around the world, Kitchen is setting his sights elsewhere: space. The trip, set to take place March 29 alongside five other passengers, will be an 11-minute flight on the Blue Origin’s New Shepard Spacecraft.
The venture is a lifelong dream for Kitchen. One of his earliest childhood memories is watching an Apollo launch with his mother, he said. He wanted to be just like the “Original Seven” — NASA’s first astronauts.
“I remember sitting there on her lap and watching that and just being wowed,” he said.
Ted Zoller, a friend of Kitchen who also works as the T.W. Lewis clinical professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the business school, said Kitchen challenges his students reach their fullest potential.
“Jim is doing it for the adventure,” Zoller said. "He’s doing it for the symbolic component of showing people that they can go and achieve their dreams."
Kitchen has been a mentor to many UNC students, both as a professor and as an angel investor for student-run ventures.
He said Kitchen pours his energy into the community, noting that he serves as a board member of the Public School Foundation that supports public education in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
At UNC, his passion for philanthropy is incorporated directly into his curriculum through “Profit with a Purpose,” which tasks students with creating and selling a product to donate profits to charity.
Austin Helms, one of Kitchen's former students, said he knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur since childhood but briefly abandoned the goal in high school. Taking Kitchen's class reignited his interest into the field.
And as the current owner of Ease Plumbing in Charlotte, he said Kitchen's class is perfect for those looking to be pushed outside their comfort zone.
“In that class, you’re standing on the ledge," Helms said. "He pretty much says, ‘You’d better jump, or I’m going to shove you.'"
'My professor went to space'
Kitchen plans to write a postcard addressed to UNC students and the Chapel Hill community to tell them anything is possible. He also plans to carry stickers that read, “My professor went to space and all I got was this lousy sticker” and “This sticker flew in space.”
“Those stickers would be a really important reminder that their journey is possible," he said.
He said in a video on his Twitter account that he plans to bring a photograph of his family, a basketball signed by Michael Jordan and Dean Smith, and a flag emblazoned with the number “194” — adding onto the list of 193 countries he has traveled to as of now.
Zoller said Kitchen personifies the Tar Heel spirit.
“It’s about being connected to your community,” Zoller said. "It’s about bringing other people along for their development."
Upon Kitchen’s arrival for the launch in Texas, he and the crew will undergo training for about four days in preparation for departing into space, he said. Kitchen said the crew will familiarize themselves with the launch vehicle, go through safety protocols and learn about what to expect.
Following his New Shepard flight, Kitchen would love to go to the International Space Station or orbit Earth for a few days and learn about what it’s like to live in space.
While researching early aviation history, Kitchen stumbled upon a quote from Percival Elliott Fansler, who founded the first commercial airline in 1914.
“What was impossible yesterday is an accomplishment today, while tomorrow heralds the unbelievable,” Fansler said.
The message found its place at Kitchen’s Franklin Street office, where it lays plastered in red ink alongside a sea of inspirational quotes on the walls.
“The American dream still exists, and it’s in the form of Jim Kitchen,” Zoller said.
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