Kara Aquilano Forney ’89

Business executive returns to UA to build corporate partnerships

La Monica Everett-Haynes, UA Communications photo

Kara Aquilano Forney’s connection to the University of Arizona began when she was just 8 months old. 

That was when her father, Nicholas Aquilano, earned a UCLA doctorate and took a teaching position at the UA’s Eller College of Management. 

Aquilano Forney grew up attending UA holiday parties and football and basketball games with family and enjoying Spring Fling with friends. When the time came for her to choose a college, the UA was, for her, the natural choice. 

“The UA was woven into the fabric of my youth in Tucson. It was a natural part of my life,” says Aquilano Forney, a 1989 Eller College graduate. “I have always had a very strong connection to the University.”  

In 2015, Aquilano Forney returned to her alma mater as UA Online’s director of corporate initiatives and business development, a new position in Phoenix. Her role is to expand alumni relations and create strategic business partnerships that deliver the UA’s outstanding education to employees in a customized, flexible, state-of-the-art program that matches the needs of today’s workforce. Partnerships with Geico, the Salt River Project and Caterpillar Inc. are set to launch during the fall of 2016.

“We partner with organizations that have a strong commitment to employee development, place a high value on degree attainment and have an employee base that would highly benefit from greater access to the UA’s world-class degree programs,” Aquilano Forney says. 
“UA Online is an absolute game changer for working adults,” she continues. “By partnering with employers, we can help mitigate the barriers that keep today’s workforce from pursuing continuing and higher education.” 

In her role, Aquilano Forney draws on her 25 years as a business executive and startup founder. “I’ve always wanted to work for the UA in a role that could encompass my professional experience and skill set. When this opportunity came up, it seemed a perfect fit for my corporate background, my entrepreneurial and development experience and my love for the UA.” 

Aquilano Forney says that her time at the UA prepared her for corporate work and life as an entrepreneur. She was an Eller College marketing major, an active sorority member and a member of Bobcats Senior Honorary, the keepers of UA tradition founded in 1922 — “one of the highlights of my years at the UA,” she says. She was one of the first women elected to Bobcats. “At that time, allowing women in Bobcats was still a highly debated and controversial subject. However, I was a very involved student who loved the University, so naturally I wanted to be a part of that tradition. What the Bobcats 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, she began her career at IBM before earning her MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management. Later, she worked as the marketing director for the Del Webb Corporation while leading the company’s national rebranding initiatives. 

Then came motherhood. After her experience as a new mom, she launched The Bump Media Inc. and TheBump.com, offering local on- and offline resources and content guides for expectant and new mothers. The company expanded from a Phoenix guide to 12 cities nationwide and was eventually acquired by The Knot Inc. With the success of The Bump Media, Aquilano Forney established her own consulting practice, offering strategic advice to other startups. 

Today, she sees her work with the UA as being connected to statewide priorities to drive economic development. 

“By enabling Arizona working adults to raise their level of education in a way that works for their stage in life, we become a part of the workforce development solution,” she says. “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.”