UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Every Penn State Smeal College of Business student has a unique reason for choosing Smeal as their business school partner. For full-time employee and mother Victoria Weaver Cerveny, the reason is the flexibility of the Penn State Online MBA.

It has allowed her to pursue her MBA at her own pace while working at Johnson & Johnson during its COVID-19 vaccine distribution and parenting her four young children — two boys and two girls ages 6 through 12.

“Transitioning to working full-time from home, while simultaneously supporting my four elementary students as they became virtual learners, and trying to keep up with my own class load was the biggest challenge I have ever faced. Every morning, I felt like I was at the bottom of Mount Everest when I considered all that had to be accomplished for the day,” Cerveny said.

“I had to take life moment by moment and focus only on the present task to keep from spiraling into overwhelm. Day by day, we found our way as a family, tweaking our routines until we found what worked. My schedule became much more flexible as my family time mixed together with my work and school time. I learned to manage my expectations of what I could accomplish each day," she said. "Looking back, the pandemic changed me for the better. I am a much more relaxed parent, I’m calmer when things don’t go as expected, and I’m much easier on myself than I used to be.”

Victoria Cerveny and two of her children.

As a strategic operational management lead for Johnson & Johnson, Cerveny is responsible for strategic guidance and technical development of the engineering groups across J&J’s consumer health supply chain. In this role, she facilitates problem-solving and root-cause analysis, guides competency development, and leads strategic programs that help the engineers do their jobs.

In October, she was asked to join the Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine effort as part of a Vaccine Audit Technical Readiness Team. According to Johnson & Johnson’s website, the company will have distributed an estimated 100 million doses of its single-dose COVID-19 vaccine in the first half of 2021.

Cerveny said her team’s purpose is to aid the vaccine distribution by preparing materials and collating resources to use during Board of Health audits.

Cerveny, who earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Towson University in 2003, previously worked as part of Johnson & Johnson’s supply chain technical leadership development program. In this position, she was first exposed to the world of business and found herself interested in topics such as finance and business strategy, so she decided she wanted to learn more by pursuing an MBA.

“I knew that having an MBA would have a positive impact on my career trajectory and make me more competitive for leadership positions,” Cerveny said. “I chose the Penn State Online MBA program because of the very good reviews of the online program, combined with the high level of flexibility it provides.”

As a full-time Johnson & Johnson employee and mother of four, she said a program that offered her flexibility to manage her priorities was key. The Penn State Online MBA, led by the Smeal College of Business and delivered online through Penn State World Campus, provided just that.

Cerveny emphasized how the program allows her to review course content and watch class recordings at a time that she chooses. Additionally, as a Landsdale resident, Cerveny said she valued the time she’s saved from not having to commute to a campus location.

“I also like that there is not a set amount of time I am required to complete the program,” Cerveny said. “I can take one or two classes at a time and even take the summer off to spend time with my family. I could never have done this MBA degree if not for the amazing flexibility of the Penn State Online MBA program.”

When the pandemic hit last March, she and her husband both adjusted to working from home while her four children — ages 6, 8, 10, and 12 — started virtual learning.

Not only was her position at Johnson & Johnson becoming more demanding due to the global health crisis, but she was also taking on a new role of “elementary school teacher” now that her children’s education was being received from home.

“Being part of the Penn State Online MBA program gave me a head start in knowing how to best utilize Zoom and other virtual collaboration skills,” Cerveny said. “The lessons from the Team Performance class on working on a virtual team were very useful, as suddenly every team I worked on became virtual. And when my children’s school moved to Canvas as a learning platform, I was ready to help.”

Because of these family responsibilities, Cerveny took the last two semesters off to “simplify as much as possible during a difficult time," she said. Like many other families experienced, adapting to the pandemic was challenging for Cerveny — but she also described it as a time for immense personal growth.

Penn State Online MBA managing director Stacey Dorang Peeler said that from the time she met Cerveny at residency in January 2019, she knew Cerveny had the drive and work ethic to be successful in the program.

“As a woman in a STEM field, she was certainly no stranger to excelling in a challenging environment,” Dorang Peeler said. “From our initial conversations, I knew her commitment to Penn State would be no different.”

Dorang Peeler referenced how this past year brought challenges that dictated a shift in Cerveny’s priorities and a brief pause in her MBA study, as it did for many students.

“Students like Victoria are living examples of why we are so committed to offering a flexible experience that allows students to pause when needed and then continue to progress toward their goals when they are able to,” Dorang Peeler said. “We look forward to what she continues to contribute to our community.”

After her children returned to their classrooms in April, Cerveny returned to her studies again and anticipates earning her MBA in 2022.

“I’m so thankful for the flexibility Smeal provided in allowing me that time away to care for my family and making returning to the program easy,” Cerveny said.

Learn more about the program on the Penn State Online MBA website.