Heather Serrano is the embodiment of the "refuse to lose" mentality she has adopted as a Spartan and graduate of Michigan State University.
Serrano’s bachelor’s degree led her into business administration and marketing, but finding that next step in her career progression wasn’t easy, even after decades in the workforce.
She made two previous attempts at attaining a master’s degree online at other schools, but found the programs merely repeated too much of what she’d learned while earning her undergraduate degree.
Determined to succeed, Serrano chose to pursue MSU’s online MS in Management, Strategy and Leadership through the Eli Broad College of Business. It turned out to be the right choice.
"MSU interested me because the degree came from a well-known, leading brick-and-mortar university which gave me a sense of quality," Serrano said. "The courses were well beyond the same foundational business classes I took as an undergrad, and the 20-month, stick-together-as-a-class format created much more engagement than I’d experienced with other online programs."
Serrano found a home in a program that provided her with tangible skills that were vital for achieving her long-term career goals, as well as applicable day-to-day in her current position.
"Spartans will fight to the finish. As somebody who works full time and is a single mom and with lots of extracurricular activities, I think this gave me the drive to finish the program," she said.
Her experience with MSU has been a critical part of her continued professional development as she immediately incorporated elements from her classwork to her career as an executive with a major financial firm.
"What I learned at MSU has proven to be extremely valuable," Serrano said. "I have applied something from each course to my job. For example, learning about 'role negotiation' helped me create a specialized consulting position within the bank, which is now a formal offering. I hope to continue building my personal net worth in my current role and leverage the knowledge I've gained through this accomplishment to become a more valued leader within my company."
What she learned about leadership enabled Serrano to mentor and coach employees which strengthened her team, she said.
"Some courses have offered specific skills that I have been able to apply, others have provided more theoretical insight that I have been able to leverage in working with senior executives and business partners within the bank," she said.
With a full-time strategic role at the bank and a daughter at home, as a single mother Serrano never had a shortage of challenges in her path to a graduate degree.
"Balancing family, work life, and then going back to school is a lot on your plate. MSU’s program really gave me the opportunity to balance those things and be able to bond with my daughter. She and I did a lot of homework together at night. The program allows for a lot of flexibility, and that made it much easier to manage," Serrano said.
Serrano now sees herself as a Spartan to her core. She began noticing MSU license plates and making connections with co-workers who also went to the university, even though she lives in what she calls Southern California "Trojan Country". Being a Spartan is now part of her identity, a badge of honor she wears with as much pride as any student in East Lansing.
"While I live 2,220 miles from the MSU campus, our whole family watches the Spartan games on TV and we wear our green and white proudly here in California," Serrano said.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your background – personally and professionally.
I am a native Californian, but I have had the opportunity to live in New York, Connecticut, Tennessee and back to California. Growing up in California, I attended Cal Poly Pomona for my undergraduate degree.
Immediately upon graduating, I began to work for FileNet Corporation. After nine years at FileNet, just as IBM began their FileNet acquisition, I decided to branch out on my own and started my own consulting company. I successfully ran this business for five years before going back into corporate America with a company called Kofax. That led me to my current role at a financial institution. When not working or studying, you will find me at the pool watching my daughter compete in swimming and Water Polo.
Q: What advice would you give to others considering enrolling in the program?
My advice to others considering enrolling would be: "You can do it!" The structured environment of the MSU program makes it very easy to work the program into your schedule and the classes all had significant value. There are no surprises. The professors and curriculum are designed to enable you to succeed.
Q: Why did you choose to pursue an online MS degree from MSU?
When I saw the curriculum from MSU, it interested me in several ways. It was from a leading brick-and-mortar university which gave me a sense of quality. And the courses were 100% applicable to my job and future career goals.
Q: What or who is driving you to succeed during this process? How?
I am personally driving myself. As a third attempt at a master’s degree I have adopted the "refuse to lose" attitude. However, I am not alone, my entire family is behind me and has supported me through the late nights and weekend time I have spent.
Q: What’s your number one takeaway from this experience?
You can do anything you set your mind to. Surround yourself with people who want to see you succeed and nothing will stand in your way.
Q: What was the most valuable thing you learned?
Some courses have offered specific skills that I have been able to apply to my job. Others have provided more theoretical insight that I have been able to leverage in working with senior executives and business partners within the bank.
Q: What’s one fun fact about you?
I have a high school swimming record that has remained unbroken for over 24 years! It’s for the 4x200 Freestyle Relay. I have always had my best times on relays and being a part of the MSU program has been a similar "team" experience that has brought out the best in me.