Combining service and entrepreneurship
Bill Romani, Ph.D., entrepreneur in residence, hopes to expand innovation and entrepreneurship through academic programs
Bill Romani, Ph.D., started his career as a physical therapist at Cornell University, where he earned his master’s degree in Health Policy Administration. He went on to earn his Ph.D. from the University of Virginia.
Romani, who is originally from Ithaca, N.Y., moved to Baltimore in 1998 and joined the faculty at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. His research involving bone and ligament function led to multiple grant awards and publications. During his time at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), Romani realized his passion of using his medical expertise to find solutions to issues in communities surrounding Baltimore.
Prior to Loyola, Romani founded and served on the boards of several non-profits and was the branch director for the AARP Foundation Experience Corps. In 2008, the Daily Record recognized him as a “Healthcare Hero” for his role starting a Service Learning Center at UMB and the MammoJam Music Festival.
What are your past experiences with nonprofits and interest in launching new initiatives?
At UMB, I founded our Service Learning Center for our faculty to work with our students to provide free hands-on physical therapy to uninsured clients while modeling the value of service. My experience addressing health disparities and my mom’s history as a breast cancer survivor led me to start my first nonprofit, the MammoJam Music Festival to provide breast cancer screening to under-insured women.
To address Baltimore’s more than 16,000 vacant houses I worked with a small group of attorneys and community advocates to start a second nonprofit, One House at a Time (OHAAT), that worked with the courts to auction the vacant homes to qualified buyers who would renovate them. By 2014 OHAAT was auctioning almost 300 homes per year.
The AARP Foundation Experience Corps program uses volunteer service to improve the physical, mental, and social health of older adults over the age of 60. Our volunteers serve 10-15 hours per week teaching 6,000 Pre-K-3rd-grade children to read in 30 Baltimore City schools. In 2012 I was hired to find ways to scale the program and to manage the program’s merger with AARP.
What about the Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (CI&E) at Loyola stood out to you?
Every innovation and entrepreneurship program offers coursework in innovation, design thinking, and funding, as well as opportunities for mentorship, internships and pitch competitions. What initially attracted me to Loyola was the opportunity to join the CI&E’s unique commitment to partnering with the surrounding community to find solutions to Baltimore’s most important social challenges. When I visited the University, I was instantly moved by the support of leadership and the passion of the students to jump right in and make a difference in Baltimore, and I knew that I wanted to be a part of that.
What advice would you give to Loyola students who might want to follow in your footsteps?
We often equate the ability to lead or to be a team player with not disagreeing, failing, or “asking for help.” It took me a long time to learn that our biggest challenges, whether personal or for the common good, are often just too big to solve without a diverse team of people coming together with a shared purpose. It takes a good deal of courage to demonstrate the authenticity and vulnerability that’s required to accept failure and keep striving to generate the truly creative transformational solutions we need.
Talk about some goals and initiatives you would like to achieve while serving as the entrepreneur in residence of the CI&E.
My first goal is to continue meet the students and faculty that are so enthusiastic about the CI&E. This will help me to draw on their insights to grow the new interdisciplinary minor in innovation and entrepreneurship and develop the cornerstone course in design thinking and innovative solutions. In the longer term, I’ll be leading the development of an innovation and entrepreneurship major. I think our success will be based on our ability to create a supportive space for our students to create, innovate, and even fail safely.
What made you want to come to a Jesuit institution?
My experience in social innovation and entrepreneurship is a direct reflection of my parents, who were both public school teachers and set an excellent example as role models for service and civic engagement, and my experience as a physical therapist. I wanted to create transformational learning experiences at a Jesuit university because I knew there would be a shared culture and commitment to my own values of justice, diversity, and equity, as well as a priority on the development of the whole student.
What do you like to do for fun?
I enjoy watching live music and being outside. I still play ice hockey, golf, and ride my bike and get a chance to ski and camp a few times a year. I also love to make and create new flavors of ice cream. My coffee Oreos ’n cream and mixed berry Berger cookie are a couple of my favorites that are pretty special.