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Mark and Vicki Semanie

Vicki and Mark Semanie go back a long way. They both grew up in the same hometown of Enfield, Connecticut, and have stayed connected to their history there. They have been happily married for 37 years. They both attended Bentley (with Vicki arriving a year after Mark), which is where they started dating, and have stayed strong advocates and supporters of the university. Along with being active alumni and volunteers, Vicki served as chair of the Global Alumni Board. In that role, she liaised with active chapters all over the country and oversaw the school’s alumni awards.

Along with their volunteerism and consistent engagement, the Semanies have laid a philanthropic track at their alma mater. They made their first gift to Bentley as young graduates in 1987 and have stayed steady supporters ever since — through the entire arc of their careers. In 2016 they deepened that commitment, setting up an endowed scholarship fund for Bentley students. Today, the fund is giving students, with the kind of drive and dreams they had in high school, a chance to follow in their footsteps. The couple has also joined the 1917 Legacy Society, a group that has pledged to include Bentley in their estate plans.

“I believe we are all given gifts, and in large part because of our Bentley education, we have been able to use our gifts to succeed professionally,” says Vicki. “We would like to see students who otherwise might not have a chance to go to Bentley have the same opportunities we had.”

Philanthropic to be sure, their support serves a bigger purpose, say the Semanies. The couple say they chose to support Bentley because it consistently provides students with a broad-based education and real-world, applicable skills. Employers know that, they add, citing the university’s ranking as a best-value school by U.S. News and World Report and its strong job placement rate for graduating seniors.

“The proof is in the pudding,” says Mark. “These kids are going to go out and make their mark on the world.”

People First

As ambitious graduates who knew their way around accounting ledgers and financial statements, Mark and Vicki did not always ace the people side of things. Mark, for example, says that as a young professional he dreaded attending events. Right away he would look for someone he knew and not talk to anyone else the entire time. “It was incredibly awkward and hard,” he recalls.

The proof is in the pudding….These kids are going to go out and make their mark on the world.
Mark Semanie ’85

Today, after years of practice, he networks easily, and believes it is still important to put himself in situations that push him outside his comfort zone. “Be aware of who you are, and force yourself into those uncomfortable situations,” he advises. “They help you grow and can open paths you might not have thought of.”

Vicki also realized she had work to do in this area. When taking on a demanding new role in her early 30s, a time when she was also balancing life as a working mother, in the office she put work goals above all else. Her boss sat her down and told her the people she worked with felt she cared only about that — work and output. He counseled her to take the time to get to know the people around her. Vicki took his words to heart, slowing down to learn about and enjoy her colleagues, and to share things about herself.

“It is by getting to know people, and letting people get to know you, that trust grows,” Vicki says. “Success of any kind hinges on building positive relationships. Many times, when I faced challenges in implementing an idea, I was able to move forward because of my strong relationships.”

Managed Risk

Lessons like these have helped both Semanies take leaps to new roles and new industries. Vicki moved from the health care industry to higher education, where she had to master new operational systems and business streams. More recently, on retiring from corporate life, she became a master certified life coach. Today, she runs her own coaching business, Seven Stones. In this new chapter, she helps women navigate career and personal goals at different stages of life, tapping into the skills she learned mentoring and coaching staff and other colleagues. Vicki traces her ability to make these leaps and start her own business back to her Bentley roots. “Because Bentley prepared me so well, I was able to succeed, which in turn led me to believe that my success could be transported into something new,” she says.

It is by getting to know people, and letting people get to know you, that trust grows.
Vicki (Vassalotti) ’86 Semanie

For Mark’s part, he started out at a big accounting firm, then moved to the insurance industry, where he was recruited to be a CFO. At the time, he was only 33. “I didn’t think I was ready, but the CEO thought I was the man for the job, so I went for it.” He is still close to that CEO and mentor, who is now in his 80s. Since then, Mark, now in community banking, has routinely filled leadership roles, taking on new areas in need of stewarding — from IT, to facilities, to HR and more.

Mark attributes his career arc to a willingness to learn and seize new challenges (“always be identifying the need and figuring out how you can fill it”). Many of his opportunities came about, he says, when something went wrong, and he was there to help fix it. “You start to be known as a person who can fix things.”

Mark and Vicki think Bentley sets students up so that such risk taking is within reach. They encourage students to be open to that right from the get-go. “Bentley is a safe foundation — you get a great education, you have the possibility to form a strong network, you learn to communicate well, and you come out with solid skills,” says Vicki.

What would they say, then, to a student who is considering taking a year off to volunteer for Teach for America or to travel abroad? “Your Bentley education will still be there, it will hold its value.”

All these reflections point to the Semanies’ view of what success is really all about. “When we meet the students we’ve helped, they tell us, ‘I want to be able to do for someone what you are doing for me.’”

“We are paying it forward, and hope that the cycle will continue — and we think it will,” Mark says.

The Bentley Look-Back

Alumni Mark ’85 and Vicki (Vassalotti) ’86 Semanie take a moment to reflect on life at Bentley and beyond.

Favorite spot on campus…

Mark: Sunday Brunch at what was then the Upper Café. I could hang out there for hours, grazing and recovering from Saturday night.

Vicki: Eating pizza and fries with friends at the then-Pub. So many good conversations and talks about our lives.

If I could change one thing, I would have…

Mark: Forced myself to come out of my shell earlier and gotten more involved in campus organizations.

Vicki: Sought out volunteer experience to get a sense of other things I might have been interested in. 

Advice to younger self… 

Mark and Vicki: A few things come to mind: You are smarter than you think you are; get to know the people you work with and let them get to know you; commit to lifelong learning.

Major career milestones… 

Vicki: Auditor and CPA, Deloitte; CFO, Johns Hopkins Home Care Group; CFO, St. Mary’s Seminary and University; Founder, Seven Stones Life Coaching, LLC 

Mark: Auditor and CPA, KMG Main Hurdman and then KPMG; CFO roles, both in the insurance industry and community banking; COO at Old Line Bank; Market President, WesBanco 

Hardest part of being a CFO… 

Mark: As a public company CFO, breaking away from the quarterly reporting cycle to drive strategic activities. 

Vicki: Ensuring that financial reports fully capture the organization’s financial position. 

Most rewarding part of our careers… 

Mark and Vicki: Mentoring and coaching staff and other colleagues and seeing them succeed.