Manor College Professor Embraced the American Dream, Now Instills It in Others
The American dream is a term coined in the 1930s, a belief that life should be better, richer, and fuller for everyone.
Ayisha Sereni, Manor College Chair of Business and Professional Studies, knows that concept better than most.
Sereni’s parents — mother Fahira Ezic and father Avdo — grew up in Bosanska Krupa, a small village on the banks of the Una River between Bosnia and Herzegovina, about 350 kilometers away from Sarajevo.
As an 18-year-old, Sereni’s mother Fahira left nine siblings and fled her home to come to the U.S. Fahira first worked as a seamstress in a sewing factory in Norristown.
Avdo had been working at several steel plants in the Norristown area in the era before OSHA regulations took effect.
When Sereni was two years old, Avdo was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer. Fahira took care of him, but he died two years later.
After Avdo’s death, Fahira took a job as a housekeeper along the Main Line.
“Just Me and Her”
“It was just me and her,” Sereni said. “She did whatever she could to provide me with things that she didn’t have.”
As a teenager, Sereni admits she didn’t have the vision to be better — she didn’t have the confidence in herself.
“I saw my peers who had parents who went to college or were gifted themselves and got A’s,” Sereni said. “That wasn’t me. My mother was a self-taught English immigrant. I thought, ‘Do I even have the capacity for what it takes to attend college?’”
The driving force in education was her mother, Fahira.
On at least one occasion, Fahira told Sereni: “I left Yugoslavia as the oldest of ten siblings to not have you live to your fullest potential and take advantage of the opportunities given to you.”
Sereni spent a few summers in Bosanska Krupa. She remembers the economic limitations in her parents’ village. There was no industry, no careers to focus on.
“It made me feel a responsibility to take advantage of the things we have here because they can’t,” Sereni said. “I did not want to waste the blessings that I had.”
Sereni first earned an Associate’s Degree at a local community college. She went on to Drexel University and received her Bachelor’s Degree in Business. She received a Master’s in Business from the University of Scranton and, eventually, her Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership in Education from Eastern University, with her research in emotional intelligence.
Since making education a priority, Sereni grew a successful real estate career. She launched an online real estate broker program at Manor College and is a licensed broker herself in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Florida.
“Real estate was the key to having the financial autonomy of small business ownership,” Sereni said. “It allowed me to exercise our American liberties of business ownership that I couldn’t have if I grew up in another country.”
Instilling Drive in Others
In 2023, she became the Department Chair of Business and Professional Studies at Manor College. As she teaches her classes, she reflects on her mother’s push for Sereni to get an education.
“I regularly thank her for all that she’s done,” Sereni said. “She saw things that I didn’t see.”
Sereni hopes to give that drive to her students.
“I want to help others achieve their American dream,” Sereni said. “It might be something as simple as feeling safe in the community or making their entrepreneurial dreams come to fruition. “I’ve done it and that’s why I started teaching — to help others to be able to achieve their goals.”
Immigrants define the American dream.
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