2021 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Jessica Zeiser, University of Maryland (Smith)

Jessica Zeiser

University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business

Age: 43

“An energetic business development leader dedicated to continuous evolution, innovation, and inclusivity.”

Hometown: Baltimore, Maryland

Family Members: Spouse, Dirk Zeiser

Fun fact about yourself: My father, recently retired after a successful piloting career, always knew that I wanted to fly. He gave me flying lessons before I could even drive. Although I did not land in the cockpit, he inspired my love for travel as I’ll jump on a plane to a new destination every chance I get!

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Pittsburgh, BS in Psychology

Where are you currently working? Selman & Company (headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio), Director of Business Development and Client Services for the Baltimore office.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: (Include school awards and honors) A founding member of the EMBA Diversity Equity and Inclusivity Committee at Maryland Smith and the wellness team lead for employee health and leadership development within my company.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of the work we are doing as a newly-formed EMBA DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) Committee and our receipt of the Most Impactful Initiative Award from the Robert H. Smith School of Business. The disastrous events surrounding George Floyd’s death, and so many others, called several members of my cohort to action as human beings and future business leaders. I am extraordinarily proud and humbled to commit to the journey of fearless leadership and conscientious education around diversity, equity, and inclusion for our program and the communities around us.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Volunteering as a Director of Philanthropy and Strategic Partnerships during my career at Enterprise Holdings, Inc. was a unique opportunity and makes me extremely proud. Leading different teams through my seven-year tenure, we were able to focus on partnerships that cultivated a triple bottom line: protecting people, profits, and the planet. We partnered with our clients to embrace a social and environmental commitment in addition to their goals for profitability and growth. Designing and executing charitable events provided us with an opportunity to strengthen our relationships with our clients, grow our respective businesses (in some cases by more than doubling the existing business), and give back to our communities. Our achievements were rewarding and continue to inspire my work today.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? The program is filled with incredibly talented professors, and I am overwhelmed by the impact that so many of them have had. With fearless leadership through a dual crisis of the pandemic and systemic racism, Dr. Rob Sheehan has guided us through the program in this tumultuous time. He demonstrated an innovative mindset for adaptation, a commitment to actionable change with DEI initiatives within the Smith School, and an openness to new partnerships and ideas from our cohort. I am extremely appreciative of all that he taught us during the program as our director and our professor.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? Dr. Rajshree Agarwal introduced her CEO of Me lecture during an “EMBA for a Day” session (a leadership event for prospective students). It was a pivotal point in my decision making for this program. Her probing questions, inspiring session, and fantastic book recommendations left me wanting more. Additionally, the camaraderie that was apparent amongst the panel of alumni who spoke to us that day was captivating, honest, and hilarious. Together they made it clear that this was the right home for me.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? Changing the world starts with the world around you. It is our responsibility to be accountable to a higher purpose, a more ethical mission, and a more inclusive future. Applying this at work started with small, actionable changes within my immediate team. This included running a communications workshop and cross-training team members to enhance relationships across business lines that have begun to build positive momentum for more successful collaborations throughout the organization.   

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? This is a shout-out to my husband for being an outstanding supporter of our lives and this program. Right at the start of the program, I was struggling to figure out how to balance work, travel (pre-pandemic), schoolwork, family (in the states and in Europe), and my love for rec league sports (volleyball, football, soccer, and kickball). I remember a particularly difficult call we had during residence week when I thought I had to give up everything to make this program work. When I came home, he had built a ‘countdown wall’ for perspective. Every other weekend when we have class, I get to open a small envelope from the wall that includes an encouraging message from my husband and know that I can balance it all by taking it one little envelope at a time!

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Commit early! Take time to think about what you really want, determine the program that will work the best for you and your family, and then commit. It is an extraordinary experience and committing early may have benefits like additional time for study preparation, early cohort bonding, and potential financial savings with an earlier commitment.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? Many students in the program would simply be ‘checking a box’ for their degree. My experience is quite the contrary – this cohort is filled with engaging, insightful, and extremely talented individuals. In some ways, I have learned as much from them as I have from the formal program and I cannot thank them enough for that. One story that really stands out was at the very beginning of the pandemic. Jimmy O’Brien, a confidant of many in our cohort, sensed the mounting tensions as we were shifting to an online environment. He rallied the cohort with a townhall, gave people a chance to share their fears and concerns, and reminded us all that we are stronger together. We collaborated with the school and managed the pivot with grace and a stronger bond than we could have imagined.

What was your biggest regret in business school? No regrets, just learning opportunities. I learned to communicate better and create space for conversations in a virtual environment. I learned to spend more time with the professors outside of class, especially when we switched to Zoom. I learned that every day must be purposeful when class is every two weeks! The learning list is long, but not filled with regret!

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Dr. Latrice Wilson was captivating from the first day of class. Her astute contributions to class, her genuine care for her fellow classmates, and her impressive leadership journey has been inspiring. She is the recipient of the Champion of Inclusivity Award from the Robert H. Smith School for her work with our EMBA DEI initiatives and, without question, she will be one to watch for many years to come.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? The executive coaching was a very big draw for me, and it has proven to be one of the most impactful parts of this program. However, the final decision was based on the need for structure and an in-person experience to create the most successful learning environment for me. Moving to virtual and still being considered as a valued contributor to this program, is nothing short of a testament to the impressive and dedicated staff and faculty at the Maryland Smith program.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? To inspire fairness and inclusivity in an organization that celebrates every voice, and to find balance with an organization dedicated to advancements in social justice and innovative economic prosperity.

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

“Jessica Zeiser is an exemplary servant leader. Since her cohort started in January of 2020, she has brought an attitude of service, humility, and caring to the cohort.  She has been a very active leader on the cohort’s task force on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and brings a servant leader’s attitude to every group project. As one of her classmates has said, “With a big heart, she brings passion to everything she does.” As a recent example, I was meeting with Jess regarding one of her school projects.  She asked if I had a moment to discuss something else – this Poets & Quants recognition.  Perhaps unlike other EMBA programs, we ask our executives to elect who they think are the deserving recipients.  “I have been nominated,” she said, “but I nominated someone else, and I think others are more deserving.  What should I do?” I smiled to myself as this is classic Jess. I said, “I think that you should vote your conscience and if others decide to elect you that you should respectfully accept the recognition.” We are all proud to have Jess Zeiser representing this excellent cohort as one of their Best and Brightest.”

Rob Sheehan
Academic Director of Executive MBA Programs, University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business



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