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Franca Del Signore: Between WilmU and the World

Franca works on her laptop at WilmU

Like most graduate students, Franca Del Signore occasionally wondered where she’d find the time to earn her degree.

Unlike most graduate students, the career that competed for attention with her coursework involved living overseas for months at a time. Plus, she didn’t much care for online learning.

And yet, somewhere between Delaware, Italy and South Africa, she was able to accomplish her educational goal. She even rearranged her schedule to attend WilmU’s commencement ceremonies in January and receive her Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) degree.

“I was really surprised how accommodating Wilmington University was when I met with the program chair and the dean back at the beginning,” says Dr. Del Signore. “I didn’t expect them to say that they would work with me so much to accommodate my travels, and I was really happy, because I prefer face-to-face courses.”

As the founder of Picture the World, a humanitarian consulting firm, the Delaware native collaborates with nonprofit public health, business development, and environmental organizations in Rome and Cape Town. Since 2013, her group’s efforts have improved the quality of life for underserved individuals and their communities, while building efficiency and innovation at the aid organizations themselves.

“I started Picture the World to help people get jobs, to reach success, to gain autonomy,” says Dr. Del Signore. “But it has the dual aims of empowering people and also those who help them.”

She decided that adding the latest thinking in business to her wide-ranging credentials — she’d previously earned a bachelor’s in Chemistry and master’s degrees in Forensic Science and Public Health, and her interest in photography gave her group its name — would help her provide resources and support to aid organizations.

WilmU’s Doctor of Business Administration program offered a multi-faceted curriculum, from finance and marketing to leadership and organizational behavior, if she could fit it into her schedule. “I was interested in the face-to-face cohort, but because I travel so much for work, I wasn’t sure if that was possible,” she says.

At the encouragement of Dr. Robert Rescigno, then the dean of the College of Business, and Dr. Kathy Kennedy-Ratajack, who chaired the DBA program, she enrolled. Through coordination with the program’s faculty, who strategically rescheduled courses and assigned independent study projects, she managed the seven-week blocks when she could.

“I feel so grateful to the faculty, how they accommodated me,” she says, recalling the completion of a spring semester’s coursework in December, two weeks before a planned six-month stay in Italy.

As it turns out, she only had to take three courses online, which presented their own unique challenges. Who, after all, wants to pack textbooks for a flight to Rome? Or stay up until 11:30 p.m. for a class that’s being livestreamed from 5:30 p.m. Delaware time? “Those days were really long, and I was really tired,” says Dr. Del Signore.

The results, however, have been worth it to her work. “My whole dissertation was about helping people to solve the problems they face, to develop strategies and processes, to build bridges between nonprofits and for-profits. My dissertation brought it all together,” she says. “That’s probably why it ended up being almost 350 pages long.”

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