Geneva Fonda: Embracing the Journey

“Grateful and blessed,” Geneva Fonda has achieved multiple milestones while extolling the virtues of WilmU — “my school.”  

The last year-and-a-half has been a blur of activity and achievement for alumna Geneva Fonda (B.S. in Finance, 2008; Master’s in Marketing Management, 2018). Here’s a brief timeline:

February 2017: She was accepted into an online course offered by the prestigious Harvard Business School — in near record time. Fonda explains that while doing WilmU homework and needing a source to cite, she came across a link to online courses offered by the school. “Since I already had a background and degree in Finance, along with a background and soon-to-be MBA in Marketing, I applied for the Disruptive Strategy program to round out my qualifications,” she says. (Disruptive Strategy addresses how an organization can remain relevant in its respective industry and provides frameworks and strategies to do that.) 

Fonda says that processing an application, which includes essay questions, usually takes two-to-three weeks. “But,” she says, “two days after applying, I got this message: ‘We are thrilled to accept you to Harvard Business School.’” Her reaction: “The first in my family to get into an Ivy League school and I wasn’t even looking for it! Grateful, grateful!

September 2017: The Wilmington YWCA asked her to create a workshop. Fonda, who lives in Bear, Delaware, had been serving as a coach for the YW’s weekly “Mind Your Business” program. She and other entrepreneurs provided feedback to program participants who aspired to be entrepreneurs. As a result, Troy Farmer, a director at the YWCA, asked her to develop a workshop, “Blogging to Boost Your Business.” 

Never one for half measures, Fonda was determined to provide real, actionable value, “So I gave the workshop my all.” She started by creating a 10-page workbook, then provided post-workshop support through a 30-day progress check-in for attendees, complimentary blog setup sessions for four winners of a Q&A pop-up round, and a 20-page post-workshop “Powerbook” of supplemental information.

Also in September: She participated in the VIP grand opening of the Route 9 Library and Innovation Center in New Castle. She was invited to attend by a friend, Jessica Gibson, who oversaw the project as part of her role as a special advisor to New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer.

“Though I was not one of the speakers, I was asked to provide my thoughts on the gorgeous library,” says Fonda. “I completely forgot about it until months later when someone told me they saw me on local TV. I did a search and learned ‘my thoughts’ became part of New Castle County’s official commercial for the library. I was sandwiched between (State) Sen. Margaret Rose Henry and County Councilman Jae Street.”

October 2017: Based on what she had learned from its program on Disruptive Strategy, the Harvard Business School asked her to contribute to a special research initiative that focuses on the economy’s effects on the workplace and also serves as insight for a forthcoming book by Dr. Clayton Christensen, professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School.

December 2017: The Huffington Post, a news and opinion website and blog, published several essays by Fonda. The Huffington connection originated several years ago when Fonda attended a talk by Arianna Huffington at the Hotel du Pont. “I met with her backstage, and we had great conversation about life, my being a proud New York City girl living in a quiet Mid-Atlantic world, and living as healthy as possible. Though she’d encouraged the audience to write for HuffPost, and repeatedly invited me to write during our conversation, I thought she was being polite. When I followed up much later, I included our picture, a snippet of our conversation, and several topic overviews I would write about. She sent credentials immediately. One of the articles I’m most proud of is in my email signature: ‘From Human to Human with Gratitude.’”

January 2018: Delaware Business Times published her story and photos about a young mother of an autistic child who opened a care center for autistic children. Fonda had met Rob Martinelli, CEO and president of Today Media, publisher of Delaware Business Times, at a Best of Delaware Party several years ago. She subsequently pitched some stories to him, and the article on the Newark care center resulted. 

Also in January: She was appointed to the Fresh Start Scholarship Foundation Board of Directors as the nonprofit’s vice president of Marketing and Communication. “This came about after several members separately asked me to join the board and consider mentoring its scholars,” she says.

And, finally, on Jan. 28, she received her MBA from Wilmington University. 

In an email, Fonda commented on two of the January events: “DBT and MBA: To state that I’m grateful to and for these is an understatement! Blessed!”

“Grateful” and “blessed” are words she uses often. A spiritual, empathetic person with a big, engaging personality, Fonda is an enthusiastic networker (and hugger), all of which led to some of the milestones listed above. She also has multiple skills: She’s been a free-lance photographer, an accomplished writer and a skilled marketer. 

She came relatively late to some of these achievements, especially her college degrees. One of the articles she wrote for the Huffington Post, “Why Being a Motherless Mother Can Make You an Awesome Mom,” hints at how difficult her journey was. 

The second of six children, Fonda was raised by a single mother in Brooklyn, where she graduated in 1986 from Clara Barton High School for Health Professionals. A couple of life-altering events — or, more accurately, non-events — followed immediately. First, her mother refused to sign the permission papers allowing Fonda to join the Marines (“I wanted to see the world,” she says). Later, she learned that because she was 18, she could have enlisted without parental permission. College was another option for a good student like Fonda, but her mother couldn’t afford it. 

Then, a year later, life delivered a one-two punch: Her mother died suddenly — when Fonda was pregnant with her first child. She gave her mother’s eulogy, then, a single mother, she set off to support her daughter, Jade. She pounded the streets of New York City, distributing her résumé, and after a brief stint at Kinney Shoes as a typist, landed a job at a diamond wholesaling company, where she started as what she calls “a girl Friday,” fetching coffee, signing for packages and doing clerical work. She soon earned a promotion and learned bookkeeping, sparking an interest in finance. 

She spent eight years in the jewelry industry, then moved on to get some valuable experience at a public relations firm, where she honed her innate writing skills.

She got married in 1997, and a year later, her husband — a federal government employee — applied for and was granted a transfer to Charlottesville, Virginia. “We wanted to get away from the city, and Money Magazine rated Charlottesville the best place to raise a family,” says Fonda, who by then had a second daughter, Jordana. 

It was in Charlottesville, at the age of 30, that Fonda got her first taste of higher education by attending Piedmont Virginia Community College. That whetted her appetite for learning, but raising a family and holding down a full-time job would mean that her progress up the academic ladder came in small increments over two decades. 

Another transfer brought the family to Newark, Delaware. After landing a job in Wilmington at JP Morgan Chase and enrolling her girls in school, Fonda did an online search of area colleges. After one semester at Delaware Technical Community College, she found what she calls “my school for the rest of my life” — what was then Wilmington College. She received an Associate degree in May of 2004, and then almost immediately entered the Bachelor’s program, and she got that degree in January 2006.

The diploma helped her earn a promotion, but she wanted more, both professionally and academically, and in 2008 she enrolled in the Marketing Management Master’s program. That same year, she gave birth to a son, Juaquin. (Now divorced, she also has a 9-year-old granddaughter and a 7-year-old grandson). 

In January of this year, 10-year-old Juaquin and the rest of her family — including her ex-husband — were at the Chase Center to watch Fonda participate in graduation ceremonies.

Fonda has been a devotee of WilmU since her first days as an undergrad. “All of my professors were incredibly supportive,” she says. She singles out her first advisor, Cynthia Healey (“awesome”), Dr. Clinton Robertson, Assistant Dean of the College of Business-Graduate (“He was just like Cindy Healey — he had a genuine interest in me”), and Dr. Maria Hess, then an adjunct professor teaching Marketing Communications (“Magnetic; we all loved her”). 

For his part, Dr. Robertson remembers Fonda as “an accomplished writer with a very happy and exuberant personality.”

“In the community at large,” says Fonda, “I always speak highly of my school.”

With her degrees in Finance and Marketing, coupled with her Disruptive Strategy credentials from Harvard, Fonda believes she has “the perfect trifecta to offer organizations and corporations.” Meanwhile, her hunger for education continues: She’s scheduled to begin pursuing a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) degree — at WilmU, of course — this fall.

Fonda keeps a busy schedule, freelancing as a writer and marketer, and serving on the board of the Fresh Start Scholarship Fund. She’s also working on a book she started several years ago, planning to self-publish it later this year. Tentatively titled “The Purging Season,” it includes her musings during difficult times in her life. “My divorce was amicable,” she says, “but post-divorce was horrific, and each time I was going through something like tragedies, or re-entering the dating scene, I would write it out. I would write my thoughts to stay sane and healthy.”

There’s another milestone that came this month: She turned 50, and in typical Geneva Fonda fashion, she is embracing the event. In April, she was tentatively planning to hold the celebration at a New Castle hotel, with a guest list that could range from 50 to 100. Promises Fonda: “It will be an epic party.” WU

 

– Bob Yearick