Everybody Out Here is an Animal: MBA Student James Kelley


A short list of places where Manderson MBA student James Kelley has led outdoor trips: Bahamas, Ecuador, Kenya, Tanzania, Thailand, South Korea, Germany, and the Netherlands. And those are just the international destinations; he has also led trips throughout the continental United States, including Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, South Carolina, and Florida, teaching surfing, skiing, hiking, mountain biking—you name it.

“When I look at my life,” Kelley said, “the most powerful things are people and experiences.” An Eagle Scout and the son of a father with a degree in biology and a camp director mother, he learned to love both people and outdoor experiences at an early age. So after graduating from Culverhouse in 2015, Kelley hit the road, working with people and seeing the world.

In summer of 2021, Kelley took a break to reflect on his career so far, and realized that many of the people he admires hold MBAs. A good friend had just finished the MBA at Manderson, and after talking to her about it, he became intrigued, applied, and was accepted. He wanted to gain hard skills—financial and analytical skills—but is also attuned to both what he can contribute to the community, and what he can reap from it.

On the day of the interview, Kelley was on his way to case team with coach Quoc Hoang. The team is presented with a business problem by a corporate sponsor, and competes against other business schools to solve it. “It’s a great opportunity for public speaking, for learning how to think critically and strategically, and bonding with teammates,” he explained.

There are still a lot of things that Kelley wants to “check off.” So what’s next after Manderson? He wants to continue to lead trips. Perhaps travel consulting? He is also intrigued by diplomacy.

And, he would love to write just one hit country song.

“I’m really just happy to be here,” Kelley said. “I wake up every day excited to be here. Surrounded by people who want to continue to push you to the next level. Everybody out here is an animal.”

Authored by

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Zach thomas

Director of Marketing & Communications