2021 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Bayan Nyssanbayeva, Penn State (Smeal)

Bayan Nyssanbayeva

Penn State University, Smeal College of Business

Age: 34

A citizen of the world and a traveler who loves exploring and learning every day.”

Hometown: Allentown, PA

Family Members: Husband, Arthur, and dog, Coco

Fun fact about yourself: I jumped off a 40-feet cliff into a river because, why not?

Undergraduate School and Degree: York University, Canada – Bachelor of Administrative Studies

Where are you currently working? Systems & Processes Manager in Procurement Department at Lehigh Hanson

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: I love learning languages, so I am learning Spanish right now, which will be my fourth language. This passion for learning and languages is what brought me to volunteer at a library as an ESL (English as a Second Language) instructor.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Graduating at the top of my class is a big achievement, especially during these unprecedented times of a global pandemic. More importantly, understanding and valuing teamwork is what I am most proud of because without people you could rely on, it would have been a more challenging journey.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I was the first female Asian expatriate to go on an international expatriation assignment at my company.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? It is extremely hard to choose just one because each of the professors we had in the program were top-notch, influential, push-you-to-think professors. But if I absolutely had to choose, I would say Professor Denny Gioia. His management – aka “leadership-in-disguise” – courses made me think about how to become a true leader who can “carpe diem.”

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? I was deciding between full-time, residential and an executive MBA program when my late boss Bob Ross told me to look into Penn State’s MBA program. While he himself did not go Penn State he said that many excellent managers in our company graduated from Penn State. After meeting with executive MBA managing director Teresa Avery, I was hooked. Penn State offered the largest alumni network in the United States and Smeal offered a world-class executive coaching program.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? Relying on and trusting your teammates is one of the first lessons I learned in school;. That’s because roughly 80 percent of the work is group-based assignment. And it is the best thing that Penn State Smeal and its MBA program can teach you – people who don’t know how to trust, delegate and pull a team together will have a hard time progressing in their careers. In the past, I had a similar attitude – I would rely on myself since I knew the quality of work would always be top-notch. However, working and trusting my teammates also helped to build great relationships at work as well.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? Before the world shut down in March 2020, I had to travel for work and family reasons to my home country, which put me about 12 hours ahead of my classmates. During the day, I was with my family addressing personal issues, and in the evening I would be on urgent work calls as one of my projects was wrapping. Finally, I would wake up early in the morning to get a on call with my classmates. Quoting Charles Dickens, “It was the worst of times, it was the best of times.”

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? Someone told me that going back to school is like getting back on a bicycle. In some ways, it’s not as simple, especially if you don’t have a “helmet” or support system in place like your spouse taking on more responsibilities. It can also be hindered if you have too much fear of losing out on family or work time, or if you don’t have a good mindset. Jokes aside, the first few months are the most difficult, but once you find your rhythm, the ride gets easier.

What was your biggest regret in business school? My biggest regret in business school is that I did not get to work in small groups with all of my classmates. My classmates are talented, intelligent, insightful, and amazing. It would have been a blast to work with them in a group, even if I had to study another two years.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? This is definitely not a fair question –each of my classmates brought a world of experience and knowledge to each discussion. But I can say that the team I was working on right as we went into lockdown was the most memorable because we achieved a great rapport and friendship. Kevin Bradley, double-board certified trauma surgeon, pulled insane hours during the lockdown and was literally saving lives and also delivered on every single task for the courses; Alex (Craig) Day made sure our presentations were always top notch; Sean McKinney, who majored in the arts, made me realize I have a lot to learn in the business world; Luke Kirby took the title of “most hard-working person of the group” because not only did he have a full-time job, but he also had small kids and a spouse getting a Ph.D. at the same time; and Henry Luu brought entertainment and deep insights to all of our discussions and projects.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? My main reason was to build a great network of professionals and friends. I think obtaining the same level of trust and friendship in an online or part-time program would have been so much harder, if not impossible.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My ultimate long-term professional goal is to make an impact in our industry by bringing the diversity and gender equality to the forefront of business.

What made Bayan such an invaluable addition to the class of 2021?

“Bayan’s love of learning was infectious for her classmates and her professors. Bayan immediately grasped difficult concepts and then wanted to know more. Bayan’s questions and discussion were not about achieving a grade. Bayan’s questions and discussions were about getting a deeper understanding.”

Dr. Lou Gattis
Finance Professor and EMBA Faculty Director


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