How a mother balanced school, life, and a new baby

Profile of Smeal Executive MBA Program student Colleen Mallozzi, who pursued her Smeal EMBA as a pregnant mother.
Colleen Mallozzi prepares for class
Penn State Smeal Executive MBA second-year student Colleen Mallozzi goes over notes prior to the start of class. Mallozzi says the flexibility of the program allowed her to not only pursue an MBA, but also continue her duties as a hospital administrator and simultaneously parent her toddler.

Colleen Mallozzi was certain of three things: She was going to pursue a master of business administration degree; she was going to give her one-and-a-half-year-old son, Tommy, a brother or sister; and she wanted to do both while continuing to pursue her career as a hospital administrator.

What she didn’t know was if there was an executive MBA program in the greater Philadelphia area that was accommodating enough to allow all of that to happen simultaneously.

Finding the Right Fit

Her tour of prominent MBA options in the region eventually took her to Lafayette Hill and the home of the Penn State Smeal Executive MBA Program. As she attended a Smeal class session and spoke with current students and faculty, Mallozzi began to feel at home.

“I really liked the discussion,” said Mallozzi, associate director of clinical informatics at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. “The class was very interactive and thoughtful. I liked where it is. I liked the setup. I liked that it was all in person. That was my No. 1 criteria, that it would be an in-person program.”

Big News

Mallozzi started in the Smeal EMBA Program in August 2014 and she found out she was pregnant in December. She didn’t share the news until March, when she had a private conversation with Faculty Director Dennis Sheehan.

“She came to us and was both really excited about her second child and also incredibly nervous about what that meant for the program and her participation in it,” Sheehan said. “She literally had tears in her eyes when she was talking to us about it.

“The first thing we did was reassure that everything was going to be OK. One of the things that really helped is that all of the professors realize that school’s important, but it’s not the most important thing in your life. There is family and work and then there is school. We’re going to try to work around that. We’re going to hold you to some high standards, but we’re going to be flexible.”

Having received assurances that she could make it work as an EMBA student throughout her pregnancy, next Mallozzi had to inform her classmates.

“Most of the class seemed surprised, but otherwise were very happy and supportive,” Mallozzi said. “We had just gone through a grueling few months of classes and it seemed somewhat insane to introduce a pregnancy into the mix.”

A Support System

Mallozzi found strength from her EMBA team members as her pregnancy progressed toward the Sept. 9, 2015, due date.

“My first few months of pregnancy were exhausting,” Mallozzi said. “My team members didn’t make excuses for me or allow me to slack. Instead, they were flexible, supportive and motivating through the harder classes and the more in-depth assignments. They stood by me and made what seemed like an impossible circumstance completely doable.

“All three of my team members are fathers and successful businessmen. They understand the importance of having strong, independent women in the workforce and the necessity to support them during their child-bearing years.”

An Early Arrival

A confluence of events during the summer tested Mallozzi’s determination and of the program’s ability to work through a complex set of events. A bout of high blood pressure and a history of pregnancy-induced hypertension convinced her doctor to set her induction date for Aug. 21.

That date coincided with the start of the second year of the Smeal EMBA Program and an intensive week of classes on the Penn State University Park campus.

Mallozzi and Sheehan, along with Program Coordinator Tara Banerjee and Admissions Coordinator Christa Stofferahn, worked through an elaborate set of options and contingencies to cover every possibility.

Mallozzi eventually attended three days of classes, returned home, rested a day and was admitted to the hospital on Friday. Her daughter, Madison, was born at 2:38 a.m. on Aug. 22, the last day of the August week of EMBA classes.

“I returned to class three weeks after I had Madison with the full support of my professors and my team to take my time getting caught up and back into the swing of things,” Mallozzi said. “And the support hasn’t stopped.”

Sheehan said the program has had to nimbly make accommodations for other situations throughout the years, but this was especially complex.

“The credit all goes to the professors, of course, who are willing to work around things because it’s always extra work for them,” he said.

“It means another test or another book or another project. They never say no.”

Posted March 2016