2023 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: Prenella Semma, Michigan State (Broad)

Prenella Semma

Michigan State University, Eli Broad College of Business

Age: 32

“A highly curious, creative, detail-oriented and dependable team player with a helpful attitude.”

Hometown: Novi, MI

Fun fact about yourself: During senior year of my undergraduate program, my apartment caught on fire. Despite the devastation of losing all my belongings, my dog Gizmo survived for six hours before being rescued! This experience taught me so much about life – cherishing what really matters, the importance of having a strong support system, and knowing my own inner strength and resilience. Although it was undoubtedly one of the worst things that ever happened to me, I also learned that sometimes, the most profound growth can come from the most painful experiences. In the days and weeks that followed, I discovered lifelong lessons that continue to shape who I am today.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Adrian College, B.A. Exercise Science, Psychology

Where are you currently working? Cisco Systems (Sales)

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

  • 2023 Executive MBA Commencement Speaker
  • 2023 Executive MBA Class Leader
  • USA Hockey, Women’s National Champion
  • Coaching Girls Ice Hockey
  • ElevateHER Mentoring Program
  • The Multiplier Effect Sponsorship

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? It was an incredible honor to be nominated by my peers to deliver a speech at our graduation ceremony as the start of my EMBA journey almost came to an unexpected halt. Just before our mandatory week-long residency, I tested positive for COVID-19. Thankfully, I was fortunate to have supportive teammates and program faculty who allowed me to participate virtually, avoiding the need to withdraw and re-enroll next year. During the commencement ceremony, I had the privilege of expressing my heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to those who helped me along the way. As a first-generation college student, this moment was especially meaningful not just for me but for my family as well. I kept my speech as a surprise from them and their emotional reaction made the experience even more fulfilling. In my speech, I quoted my mother’s words of wisdom that she taught me during my childhood, “one hand can’t clap,” which emphasized the importance of teamwork in making this day a reality.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Sales has been my true passion for most of my adult life. I thrive on diving into complex details. The more intricate the task, the more fulfilling it is for me. One of the most rewarding positions I’ve held was as a Global Account Manager at Cisco, where I had the opportunity to support General Motors and related subsidiaries during a time of industry disruption. Working within an innovative company that was making a real difference in the world every day was truly exciting. It was during this period that I decided to pursue my MBA to gain a better understanding of how I could help this organization. The MBA journey was challenging, but also incredibly fulfilling. I was able to apply what I learned on the weekends to my work on Monday mornings. This role was truly transformative for me, both professionally and personally. It pushed me to grow and allowed me to collaborate with some extraordinary individuals. I will always be grateful for the people I met during this experience and the enduring friendships we forged.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? I had the unwavering support of trusted individuals who helped guide me in my decision to pursue an MBA. One of these individuals was my incredible mentor, Jake Mannino, an alumnus of Michigan State University’s Executive MBA program. During the pandemic, I reached out to Jake for advice on what I should focus on next after completing an IT certification (ITIL). Without hesitation, he recommended that I pursue an MBA at Michigan State University and elaborated on how he had applied the knowledge from the program to both his personal and professional life. Having seen firsthand the impressive success Jake had achieved, I was eager to follow in his footsteps, and it was a clear and easy decision for me. I sent my brother, Joe, a text message, asking him to call me to discuss whether pursuing an MBA was the right decision. He immediately replied, saying, “You should do your MBA, and I’ll call you later.” During our conversation, we weighed various options given the timing, my experiences, and how I would benefit. I shared what Jake had mentioned to me, and ultimately, we decided that pursuing an Executive MBA at Michigan State was the best option for me.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? To work more efficiently, I had to find ways to manage my responsibilities. Balancing global time zone hours for work, caring for a blind dog, changing jobs, and pursuing graduation was no easy feat. I activated the “speak” function on my laptop to have my case readings and books read aloud to me. Additionally, I utilized the “dictation” feature to speak to my laptop, which enabled me to transcribe my thoughts rather than typing them out manually. By leveraging these tools, I was able to work more effectively and efficiently.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? When I was about two semesters into my MBA, I had a conversation with my mentor, Helju Nommik, about what I should focus on after completing my MBA. Although she didn’t say anything, her facial expression said it all! After a moment of silence, she advised me to focus on one thing and reminded me that I was investing a lot of time and money into my MBA, which I needed to remain present in. Helju recommended the book The One Thing, and it changed my life. I took her advice seriously and made a commitment to be fully present in class. By focusing on one thing, I enjoyed my MBA experience and learned more effectively, while also making lifelong friends along the way. Helju’s advice was spot-on!

What was your biggest regret in business school? My dog, Gizmo, eventually lost his eyesight during the EMBA program. Seeing him go through this was heartbreaking, as I’ve been with him since he was nine weeks old and he’s now 12.5 years old. I did my best to prioritize spending time with him but there were times when I had to miss our walks and playtime due to school requirements. This taught me to prioritize spending time with loved ones by delegating low-value tasks like housework or laundry. These moments with our loved ones are precious and cannot be replaced. It is important to remember that your laundry can wait.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? There are a few…

During my MBA program, Steve Kim taught me two invaluable lessons that have had a profound impact on my personal and professional development. Steve is someone I have always respected for his knowledge, experience, and ability to coach others. At one point during the program, I felt extremely overwhelmed with my responsibilities both inside and outside the classroom. Steve’s encouragement came from a text where he expressed appreciation for the efforts we were making for the rest of our classmates. His words – “Someone who volunteers their time for the benefit of the rest of the Executive MBA program…that is a characteristic of someone I want to be associated with” – provided the encouragement I needed to push through this difficult point and ultimately, led to a lifelong friendship. Furthermore, Steve taught me the value of “trusting the process,” which I applied both inside and outside the classroom. Trusting the process allowed me to create new relationships, learn from others, and be fully present in the moment – rather than constantly worrying about how the plan would unfold or what the next steps would be.

I was fortunate to have two other exceptional classmates, Monique Lee and Scott Venettis, who were also class leaders supporting the Troy cohort. Their support and encouragement helped me to practice “trusting the process” with greater ease, as building a circle of dependable classmates, colleagues, and friends can make a tremendous difference in one’s academic and professional journey.  During the program, Scott became my sounding board as we were the only two people from the IT industry in our cohort. Our common ground led to a tremendous friendship both inside and outside the classroom, where we valued each other’s perspectives on various scenarios and how we would approach them. In addition, Monique’s exceptional work ethic and dedication to her family is truly one of a kind. As a mother, she inspires all of us by balancing work, school, and family responsibilities with grace and resilience. She sets the standard for excellence both as a role model for her children and as an exceptional classmate.

Lastly, I would like to express my deepest appreciation for Kritika Saxena, who was a member of Team 4 alongside me, Andre Archer, Tom Kostrzewski and Kyle White. Over the past two years, we shared many personal and professional highs and lows. Kritika always impressed me with her expert Excel skills, meticulous preparation, and unwavering dedication to the team and program. She became a trusted teammate, someone I could always “pass the ball to” when I was feeling overwhelmed or uncertain. I feel incredibly grateful to have Kritika in my life.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? As I considered options for furthering my education – which included pursuing an MBA, attending training workshops or registering for certifications – the pandemic added a layer of complexity with varying lockdowns and travel restrictions. After discussing with my mentors, Helju Nommik and Jake Mannino, I realized that an in-person Executive MBA program would provide more advantages over the other options. My mentors emphasized the value of networking and the benefits of in-person learning, which convinced me to enroll in the Executive MBA program. I decided to dedicate my weekends to this program for the next two years, This not only provided me with a consistent schedule, but also allowed me to take advantage of valuable networking opportunities. Helju’s final piece of advice before I made my decision was, “There are no downsides to having an MBA.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? As a competitive ice hockey player, I am drawn to high-performing teams that work together to achieve a common goal. My passion for international strategy is fueled by my curiosity to learn about different cultures and understand their unique perspectives. During my MBA program, I worked on a global account, gaining a deeper understanding of decision-making processes and cultural nuances across different parts of the world, which was incredibly rewarding. I find it fascinating to learn about the various ways people conduct business. I envision working on a team that allows me to leverage my competitiveness, passion, and curiosity to drive results while making a meaningful impact in creating or developing something that benefits the world.

What made Prenella such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“The title Best and Brightest fits Prenella perfectly as she is not only the highest caliber student and professional, but she is also someone who shines with positive impact and radiates good energy.

During her time in the Broad EMBA program, Prenella had a strong impact on her teammates, cohort members, faculty, and all connected to the program. She excelled in the classroom, contributing and sharing by pulling from the knowledge she was gaining and the experiences she has navigated. She connected with faculty and staff of the program, intentionally building relationships with everyone. Speaking of relationships, Prenella was respected and loved by her classmates as she got to know each of them on a deep level, caring not only about their shared learning, but about their lives outside of the program.

Prenella was a great candidate, student, and now alum of our program. Her impact will be felt in future years to come. We will miss seeing her in class but look forward to cheering her on in her future successes.”

Amy Joa
Associate Director, Broad Executive MBA


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.