From Azores to Academia

Think of a great Human Resources professional as you would a beloved coach. She’s always more concerned about your success than her own. And if you win the trophy, she’ll cheer the loudest.

Dr. Nicole Romano | Photo by Ron Dubick

It’s an analogy that could describe Dr. Nicole Romano. As WilmU’s chief Human Resources officer, Title IX Coordinator and adjunct instructor, Romano oversees all Human Resources functions by developing and delivering programs that support the University’s mission, changing demographics and employee needs. She’s also responsible for coordinating its compliance with federal and state discrimination and sexual misconduct laws as they pertain to Title IX.

That’s a fragment of a detailed job description. It doesn’t truly clarify the “human” in Human Resources.

Romano’s humanity comes from her ability to create a safe environment in which employees can express themselves freely. She’s built relationships grounded in trust and respect. She’s approachable and down-to-earth, and considers employees’ well-being paramount.

“Nicole has a passion for helping people,” says her supervisor, Chris Trowbridge, vice president of Administrative and Legal Affairs. “She always asks the question, ‘Are we doing the best we can for our employees?’ She understands that we serve our students best when she and her amazing colleagues in Human Resources fully support employee wellness and professional growth. Genuine compassion and thoughtfulness are among her many natural talents.”

So is modesty. Romano attributes her success to working with incredible colleagues and a compassionate HR team. “We have such an extraordinary employee population at WilmU,” she says, “and it speaks volumes about who we are as an institution. They’re so passionate about our students. We all believe in the University’s mission and vision. We all embody those values.”

Romano joined the Wilmington University full-time staff in 2006. She earned her bachelor’s at WilmU after serving in the Armed Forces for five years, then completed her master’s in Human Resources, also at WilmU. To earn her Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership from Nova Southeastern University, she penned a dissertation called The Relationship Between Employees’ Perceptions of Experienced Fun in the Workplace and the Level of Employee Engagement. She got the idea after attending a SHRM (The Society for Human Resource Management) meeting that featured a presentation about the value of fun in the workplace led by The Fun Dept., a group of zany but savvy folks who leverage fun to improve the bottom line. She won its “30 Minutes of Fun on the Run” contest and brought The Fun Dept. to WilmU. The dissertation, in which she surveyed WilmU employees about their experiences with fun and found a positive correlation between experienced fun, overall well-being and team building, gave birth to a long-standing relationship with The Fun Dept. Its cast of characters has been causing a ruckus at WilmU since, including at many HR-sponsored events like Employee Recess and the epic Halloween party. Perhaps more significant, Romano’s doctoral work gave credence to her belief that an enjoyable and respectful work environment is also a productive one.

Romano’s former boss, Don Hagermann, who in 2015 left WilmU’s HR department to assume the role of AVP of Administrative and Legal Affairs, has known Romano for 18 years. The two worked together at St. Francis Hospital. When he came to WilmU in 2005, he was thrilled to work with his old pal again a year later. “She has an incredible work ethic,” he says. “She’s honest to a fault. She’s an amazing person to work with and an amazing person to know.”

Hagermann believes that Romano was as respected in the military as she is at WilmU. “She loved serving in the Azores (a group of islands in the North Atlantic and an autonomous region of Portugal),” he says. “She treasures that experience as one of the best assignments she had in the military. So as an HR person, she’s had a well-rounded career in many disciplines and has learned well.”

From the lush islands of the Azores to the land known as New Castle, Romano’s rich experiences have contributed to her uniqueness as a human being and a student of humanity. “We all face challenges in life,” she says. “And we all process them differently. It’s about having conversations that are helpful and empathic, and providing employees with meaningful resources.” WU

­—Maria Hess