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Poets & Quants shines spotlight on six Smeal MBA students

November 1, 2021

2021 MBA students 4x3
Six graduates from Penn State Smeal MBA programs have been featured recently in a series of stories on Poets and Quants. Those students are, clockwise from top left: Alexis Zawelensky, Matt Mullins, Bayan Nyssanbayeva, Andrew Marshall, Keith Spencer and Yuri Cuervo.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In recognition of their leadership and accomplishments, six graduates from the Penn State Smeal College of Business have been spotlighted by Poets & Quants, one of the top business education media outlets in the country.

Five of the students are recognized as part of Poets & Quants “Best & Brightest” student spotlight series and represent Smeal across three different program categories: the residential full-time MBA, executive MBA  and online MBA. 

Matthew Mullins, a native Floridian, decided to pursue his MBA to supplement his master’s in engineering management from Penn State World Campus with more traditional business courses, like accounting and economics. 

After such a positive experience throughout his master’s degree and considering the success of the Penn State Online MBA, which is led by Smeal and delivered through Penn State World Campus, Mullins said applying was a no-brainer.  

His favorite part about Smeal is its strong sense of community and belonging, adding that a highlight of his experience was the residency week at the University Park campus where he said the students “formed a strong bond and stay in touch weekly.” 

Mullins added that one of his biggest takeaways was learning the importance of pursuing an MBA degree. He acknowledged that in the business world, the approach of jumping straight into a career and “learning by failing” is often applauded — but emphasized that earning an MBA allows you to learn those same lessons prior to entering the workforce so you’ll be more prepared to face obstacles. 

“We learn from failure, but we don’t have to experience the failures firsthand; we can learn from other people’s failures,” Mullins said. “An MBA education collects the failures made by other people and presents the lesson learned in an orderly, concise package.”  

Stacey Dorang Peeler, managing director of the Penn State Online MBA, said she’s proud of the online MBA students receiving this special recognition and their commitment to their education during what many consider to be such a challenging year. 

“In addition to being exceptional class contributors and high achievers in their careers, they also persevered through an unprecedented time, on top of the rigors of the already challenging MBA experience,” Peeler said. “Online students are juggling so much already, that to stand out over and above their already very accomplished colleagues is even more of a special achievement this year.” 

Allentown native Bayan Nyssanbayeva was exploring the prospect of graduate school when her boss, a loyal Penn State fan, recommended looking into the Smeal College of Business. When she searched through the college’s offerings, she was hooked by the executive MBA program located in Philadelphia.  

“As a full-time professional with family obligations, I was very impressed by how Smeal and EMBA program faculty made it extremely easy to focus on the school and classes by taking care of all administrative tasks,” Nyssanbayeva said. “The executive coaching offered for EMBA students was the most valuable thing for me.” 

Now, Nyssanbayeva is the first in her family to earn a graduate degree and is being recognized among thousands of students at top universities by Poets & Quants as one of this year’s “Best & Brightest” EMBA students.

She said the honor was validation of the hard work and dedication she’s put into her education. She also emphasized that one of Smeal’s greatest traits is the high quality of its faculty.  

“Every professor I had at Smeal was a top-notch professor who encouraged us to think and challenge the status quo,” Nyssanbayeva said. 

Now that she has an MBA under her belt, Nyssanbayeva is ready to employ the lessons she’s learned at Smeal in a more practical application. At the top of her priority list is promoting diversity and inclusion across the business world. 

“Smeal and the EMBA program have helped me identify what I care the most about, what my values are and how they guide me in my professional life,” Nyssanbayeva said. “As a woman, person of color, and an immigrant, I want to make an impact in the business world and give more opportunities for growth to women and work on diversity and equality.”

Poets & Quants honoree Andrew Marshall went to Penn State for his undergraduate degree and after attending Smeal’s We Are Weekend, he knew that Happy Valley was the place he wanted to pursue his MBA.        

“It seemed like everyone was out to help each other and it was a very collaborative culture that I wanted to be a part of,” Marshall said. “I toured other MBA programs where you get a sense that it’s everyone for themselves and I wasn’t interested in that.” 

Upon beginning his full-time MBA, Marshall found his first impressions of Smeal rang true, adding that the people he’s met throughout the program have helped him better understand what his career goals looked like.

Throughout his time at Smeal, Marshall served as president of the Consulting Association, president of Men as Allies, a Smeal Case Team captain and a Bunton Waller Fellow.

Since he’s graduated from Smeal, Marshall has joined Merck & Co, where he works in the U.S. vaccines business unit on the strategy and implementation team.  

“The biggest thing that helped me get to be successful where I am now is the value of Smeal’s network,” Marshall said. “It also gave me a great foundational knowledge on business that I utilize on a regular basis,” Marshall said. 

Uniontown native Alexis Zawelensky was recognized by Poets & Quants as part of its “MBAs to Watch” series. 

As a first-generation college graduate, Zawelensky’s lifelong passion for education and “zest for marketing” inspired her to pursue her MBA degree full time. She was sold on Smeal because of its world-renowned alumni network and extensive financial aid packages — but for Zawelensky, Smeal’s biggest selling point wasn’t something you could see on paper. 

“What truly set Smeal apart from other MBA programs I considered was the authentic community created within the program; I’ve truly not seen anything like it elsewhere,” Zawelensky said. “From a daily coffee buzz to connect peers, faculty and staff, to the multiple weekly social outings and events, I always felt connected to campus and my peers.” 

Zawelensky valued how the close-knit community was evident even in her core classes, where collaboration helped her develop a deeper knowledge of class concepts. 

She now works for Johnson & Johnson’s in its Marketing Leadership Program and said she’s grateful to all the people that have helped her get to this place, including the professional mentors she met at Smeal that have helped mold her as a leader. 

Also recognized by Poets & Quants as this year’s “Best & Brightest” MBA students was Keith Spencer from Dresher, Pennsylvania, and Yuri Cuervo from Green Book, New Jersey. Spencer, a professional vocalist and producer, has leveraged his executive MBA degree to make an impact in his current role at Corcentric. Cuervo’s online MBA experiences have helped her grow as a passionate, purpose-driven leader working in the healthcare industry. 

Each recognized student highlights Smeal’s commitment to growing the next generation of leaders in business, from individuals early in their career to those looking for growth in their organization or transitioning to a different industry. 

Learn more about Smeal’s portfolio of MBA programs online.

Media Contact

Andy Elder
Public Relations Specialist