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Andy Pflaum and Courtney Kingston Pflaum: Education is an investment

By Claire Cusick
From the 2009 Carolina Development Annual Report, published by the UNC Office of University Development

Andy Pflaum and Courtney Kingston Pflaum are both businesspeople, so they look at education as an investment in the future.

“University education truly is an investment—one that should pay off in many ways in the decades after graduation,” said Andy, who graduated from UNC in 1991 with a double major in history and political science. “But we also recognize that many people have challenges paying for a top university education. It’s a shame to see anyone have to compromise on their education due to resource constraints they might have during that relatively brief period of their life.”

This belief drives the couple’s desire to give back to Carolina, Andy said. “We feel strongly about giving to education institutions, out of appreciation for the education we received and the effect that’s had on our lives,” he said.

“UNC is a public university, but state funding only accounts for a fraction of the University budget, and support from alumni is crucial in order for UNC to rank among the best universities, and for our graduates to compete effectively in the U.S. and the world.”

Andy arrived at UNC through what he called “a stroke of good luck.”

“I grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and as a high school senior I came south to visit Duke,” he said. “Not long before the visit I decided I’d also make a side trip over to see Chapel Hill, because UNC had recently cracked the list of Top 20 universities in the country.

“Well, my visit to Duke was fine, but I really appreciated everything about the couple of days I spent at UNC — the people I spent time with and those I just casually encountered, the campus, the classes I observed—all of it. I also planned to run track and cross country in college — as I did for my four years at UNC—and during my visit I was pleased that the people I stayed with were very multidimensional as students, athletes and participants in extracurricular activities.”

Carolina became his top choice. “I ended up choosing UNC both because of the weekend visit I’d made, and because of my uncertainty about what I wanted to major in,” he said. “UNC had great programs in political science, business, English, history and other major areas, whereas all the other schools I looked at were strong in some areas but weak in others, so UNC ensured I couldn’t go wrong regardless of what I chose.”

After graduation, Andy went on to earn an M.B.A. from Stanford University. He is now the vice president of business development for Zimbra, a Yahoo company, in the San Francisco Bay area. Courtney, who graduated from Princeton and also earned an M.B.A. at Stanford, is an owner and managing director of Kingston Family Vineyards in Casablanca, Chile.

Though their careers are in business, they choose to direct much of their giving to the School of Social Work at UNC.

“We support the School of Social Work, because in my view it’s at the nexus of Carolina’s tradition of providing a great education and making a positive impact on the world,” Andy said. “I’ve been especially impressed with the role the school and its graduates play among different groups and communities throughout North Carolina. The school’s graduates certainly don’t have the highest earning potential among Carolina grads — and that is reflected in the school’s endowment — but I think they represent some of the best of what Carolina contributes to the world.

“I also recall the school’s modest facilities in a small, old building on Franklin Street, near the old Burger King, when I was at Carolina in the late 1980s. It’s since moved into a much better new building, thanks in part to donations from the Tate and Kuralt families and many others, but I’m always reminded of how the school makes so much of the resources available to it.