Investing in yourself

A finance associate professor’s doctoral dissertation informs the way he teaches inside and outside of the classroom.

Jeffrey Roman, Ed.D., couldn’t help but think of himself as he undertook the process of preparing his doctoral dissertation.

Completed in January 2022 at Drexel University, the associate professor of finance at La Salle’s School of Business conducted structured interviews with seven business owners for his dissertation, “Phenomenological Case Study: African American Philadelphia Entrepreneurs’ Creativity and Leadership Influences.” As an African American entrepreneur born and raised in Philadelphia, Roman could place himself on either side of the table, as questioner and respondent.

“I thought about the kind of experiences that I would want to share with an interviewer and also the kinds of questions that would illicit meaningful responses through open-ended questions from my audience,” he said. “The questions that I crafted were very simple and they were designed to hopefully provide immediate engagement.”

Just as the dissertation process hit close to home, so did the conclusions synthesized from Roman’s research. They inform what he brings into the classroom daily, seeking to give La Salle students the kind of support and resources that he found so valuable among entrepreneurs he interviewed.

Jeffrey Roman, Ed.D.Many of the commonalities Roman uncovered in his research fit with his business journey. The native of Philadelphia’s Mt. Airy section had strong influences at home, with successful parents who emphasized education and community involvement. He had a varied cultural experience through his uniquely American upbringing—his father was born in New Orleans and his mother in rural Virginia, before they met in Washington D.C., and moved to Philadelphia to start a family, with Roman as one of their five children.

Roman’s career, like those of many of his interviewees, started at big companies, like insurance giants Liberty Mutual, Chubb, and Zurich, as an underwriter, portfolio manager, and eventually an executive. With the knowledge and connections gained at those positions, he executed his full circle return to Philadelphia six years ago, starting a nonprofit and a for-profit insurance business, J Roman LLC.

“The idea of running my own business was a dream of mine,” he said. “I really did not see myself pursuing entrepreneurship coming out of college, per se; that was just my own personal journey. I really wanted to gain valuable work experiences, seek out mentors, develop my network, and basically just learn. l learned about myself and from others about things that they did.”

What sets Roman apart is the range of his curiosity.

He’s long been active as a mentor and volunteer, whether through professional societies (especially those geared toward Black professionals) or mentoring groups of students. Since completing his undergraduate degree at Howard University in Washington, D.C., he’s lived and worked in Boston, New York, and the San Francisco Bay area. Networking in those places helped him identify the unique contours of each business environment, the details he explored by focusing his dissertation on Philadelphia, a city in which Black residents are more than half as likely to have self-employed businesses than their white counterparts.

The granular focus of his thesis offers a blueprint that others can follow, allowing students to tailor their research scope to the traits, industries, or demographics that resonate with them. Through all of his work, Roman’s dissertation reinforced the importance of identity in crafting professional aspirations. Knowing your goals, your community, and the people who can support you, he said, is vital—no matter what the industry or venture.

“One common theme between the different courses that I teach—and I share this through stories and personal life experience—is that you must build a case for yourself based on your strengths,” Roman said. “In what areas do you already excel?
Understand and know who you are and what strengths you bring to whatever potential career choice that you see for yourself, recognize the areas that you could be stronger in, and recognize your lived experiences, the things that you bring from your community and from your family.”

—Matthew De George

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