The story of Kara Aquilano Forney’s connection to the University of Arizona began when she was only 8 months old.
It was then that her father, Nicholas Aquilano, left the University of California, Los Angeles, with his newly awarded doctoral degree to take a teaching position at the UA in what is now the Eller College of Management.
From that point, Aquilano Forney grew up with the UA. She frequented departmental holiday parties and also football and basketball games with her now retired father and her siblings, and often attended Spring Fling with friends. So when time came for her to choose a place to work toward an undergraduate degree, the UA was the likely and – for her – the only choice.
"The UA was very much woven into the fabric of my youth and my life in Tucson; it was a natural part of my life," said Aquilano Forney, a 1989 Eller College graduate. "I have always had a very strong connection to the University, and really never saw myself going anywhere else."
Reunited with her alma mater during the fall of 2015, Aquilano Forney was hired to serve as UA Online's director of corporate initiatives and business development, a newly developed position based in Phoenix.
Her role is to help businesses work in partnership with the UA to guide their employees toward degree completion, specifically through UA Online, launched in 2015 to offer a fully online UA experience.
"We want to partner with organizations that are like-minded – ones with an existing strong commitment to employee development, that highly value degree programs and advanced education, and have an employee base that would benefit from greater access to our world-class degree programs," Aquilano Forney said.
"UA Online is such a game changer for working adults. By partnering with employers, we can eliminate most of the barriers that keep many from pursuing higher education," said Aquilano Forney, who is working to build partnerships with companies and nonprofits of all sizes.
Thus, in her role, Aquilano Forney serves as a nexus of three important institutional priorities: the expansion of alumni relations, improved higher education access for time-bound and space-bound students, and the demand to create more mutually beneficial partnerships between the UA and the business sector.
"We are thrilled Kara is joining us in this vital new position. She will be instrumental in achieving our outreach goal with the corporate community in Phoenix, across all of Arizona and the nation," said Melissa Vito, the UA's senior vice president for Student Affairs & Enrollment Management, and senior vice provost for Academic Initiatives & Student Success.
"Kara is ideally suited to lead this effort," Vito said. "Her success as a senior business executive, startup founder and CEO – and her network of major corporate leaders – will give us a real jump-start. Plus, as a UA graduate and passionate Wildcat for life, she is an ideal ambassador for UA Online."
In Phoenix, Aquilano Forney's office is situated across from the Phoenix Biomedical Campus. There, she draws on her combined 25 years working as a business executive, startup founder and CEO, and also a strategic management and marketing specialist, to work toward establishing new strategic partnerships.
"I've always wanted to work for the UA in a role that could encompass my professional experience and skillset. When this opportunity came up, it seemed a perfect fit for my corporate background, my entrepreneurial and development experience, and my love for the University of Arizona."
Aquilano Forney reflected on her time at the UA, which she said prepared her for corporate work and life as an entrepreneur. She was an Eller College student and an active sorority member who participated in campus honoraries and clubs. She landed her first job, as an account executive with IBM, with support from the UA's Career Services.
As an undergraduate working toward her marketing degree, Aquilano Forney worked with Vito as a student office assistant during Vito's time as director of Student Affairs.
"Melissa Vito played a big role during my undergraduate years," Aquilano Forney said, adding that Vito provided a nominating letter when she applied to the Bobcats Senior Honorary, a student group officially responsible for fostering student spirit and serving as the keepers of UA tradition.
Aquilano Forney was one of the first women elected to serve in the organization, which was founded in 1922. That participation amounted to "one of the highlights of my years at the UA," she said.
"It was an interesting time, and allowing women in Bobcats was a highly debated and controversial subject. However, I was very involved student who loved the University, so it was a natural for me to want to be a part of it. What the Bobcat Senior Honorary stands for was very attractive to me, and still is – as Bobcats we have a lifelong dedication to the University."
After the UA and her time at IBM, Aquilano Forney earned her Masters of Business Administration from the Thunderbird School of Global Management, eventually working as the marketing director for the Del Webb Corporation, leading the company's national rebranding initiatives.
Then, after her experience as a new mom revealed to her a gap in the marketplace, she launched The Bump Media Inc. and TheBump.com, offering city-specific online and offline resources and content guides for expectant and new mothers. The company expanded from one guide in Phoenix to 12 cities nationwide, and was eventually was acquired by The Knot Inc. (part of the media company XO Group). With the success of The Bump Media, Aquilano Forney – the mother of two boys – established her own consulting practice, offering strategic advice to other startups and companies looking to have the same success as The Bump.
Today, she sees her work with the UA as deeply connected to statewide priorities to drive economic development.
"The goal of the UA Online Corporate Initiative is to provide greater access and opportunity for working individuals to obtain their undergraduate and graduate degrees," she said.
"By enabling Arizona working adults to raise their level of education attainment in a way that works for their stage in life, we become a part of the workforce development solution and provide a path for Arizona to reach its workforce development goals," she said. "Also, with a higher-educated workforce, the state becomes more attractive to businesses and we see increased economic development. The impact that corporate partnerships with UA Online can have is so widespread – what is exciting about the program is that it is a win for all stakeholders."