Jim Kitchen is not your typical college professor.
Currently a professor of strategy and entrepreneurship practice at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, Kitchen has a variety of academic and professional degrees. In addition to earning his undergraduate degree from UNC, he has two master’s degrees and has built a successful career as an entrepreneur in travel, real estate, and technology.
But his track record goes beyond the professional sphere.
With over 63,000 Instagram followers, Kitchen documents her many travel adventures — visits to all 193 countries recognized by the United Nations, to be exact.
After traveling around the world, Kitchen sets its sights elsewhere: space. The trip, which is scheduled to take place on March 29 alongside five other passengers, will be an 11-minute flight on Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft.
The business 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 like the “Original Seven” – NASA’s first astronauts.
“I remember sitting there on his lap and watching this and being impressed,” he said.
Ted Zoller, a friend of Kitchen’s who also works as the TW Lewis clinical professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the business school, said Kitchen challenges its students to reach their full potential.
“Jim does it for the adventure,” Zoller said. “He does 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 businesses.
He said Kitchen pours his energy into the community, noting he is a board member of the Public School Foundation which supports public education in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
At UNC, her passion for philanthropy flows directly into her 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 alumni, said he knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur since childhood, but briefly gave up on the goal in high school. Taking Kitchen’s course rekindled his interest in the field.
And as the current owner of Ease Plumbing in Charlotte, he said Kitchen’s class is perfect for those looking to step out of their comfort zone.
“In this class, you stand on the ledge,” Helms said. “He’s pretty much like, ‘You better jump, or I’m going to shove you. “”
“My teacher went to space”
Kitchen plans to write a postcard to UNC students and the Chapel Hill community telling them that anything is possible. He also plans to wear stickers that say, “My teacher went to space and all I got was this lousy sticker” and “This sticker flew to space.”
“These stickers would be a very important reminder that their journey is possible,” he said.
He said in a video on his Twitter account that he planned to bring a photo of his family, a basketball signed by Michael Jordan and Dean Smith, and a flag emblazoned with the number ‘194’ – adding to the list of the 193 countries he has traveled to as of now.
Zoller said Kitchen personified the Tar Heel spirit.
“It’s about being connected to your community,” Zoller said. “It’s about getting other people to support their development.”
Take the plane
When Kitchen arrives for the launch in Texas, he and the crew will undergo approximately four days of training in preparation for his departure into space, he said. Kitchen said the crew will familiarize themselves with the launcher, follow safety protocols and learn what to expect.
After his New Shepard flight, Kitchen would love to go to the International Space Station or orbit Earth for a few days and experience what it’s like to live in space.
While researching the early days of aviation, Kitchen came across a quote from Percival Elliott Fansler, who founded the first commercial airline in 1914.
“What was impossible yesterday is an achievement today, while tomorrow promises the incredible,” Fansler said.
The message found its way to the Kitchen’s Franklin Street office, where it’s 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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