Students and alumni engage in week-long career development program.
A small business owner is thrilled to see a new client has placed a large order. But with limited capital and insufficient credit to secure a loan, the company needs to turn down a major sale. That’s where an individual seed investor or “angel investor” can be a game-changer, by providing the money in exchange for equity in the company.
This is one of the solutions a small group of Conn students offered to a challenge presented to them at Fast Forward, a week-long career preparation program held on campus earlier this year.
The small business case study was provided by Frank Suher ’89 P'21, who drew from actual challenges his Holyoke, Massachusetts-based screen-printing company, E-S Sports Corporation, encountered back in the 1980s.
Suher, who serves as vice president of his family business, gave the 20 Conn students selected for the program a series of challenges to address at the beginning of the week. After breaking out into groups, participants gave final presentations, incorporating a variety of skills they had learned throughout the week in intensive workshops and one-on-one training sessions with alumni who volunteered to share their professional expertise.
The groups were divided into four separate areas of business: marketing, finance, social responsibility and sustainability.
“What’s so valuable about Fast Forward is that it teaches students to tackle real-world problems in a team environment,” Suher said. “That unique exposure will serve them well as they start to think about what comes after graduation.”
Fast Forward focuses on team-building and presentation skills while providing students with direct feedback from alumni during mock one-on-one interviews, and through real-time critiques of their group business plans. The program is sponsored by the College’s Academic Resource Center in partnership with the Office of Alumni Engagement and the Office of Career and Professional Development.
“I was really impressed by the amount of research the students were able to do in such a short period of time,” Suher added. “Their final presentations were well prepared and thoughtful, and as some of these students were first-years and sophomores, it was all the more remarkable.”
Esteban Meléndez ’20, an ethnobotany major and art minor, described the program as a “boot-camp” for students looking for important insights into personal finance, communications, entrepreneurship, networking, leadership and problem solving.
“Of the many things I found useful about this program, the opportunity to practice my interview skills with well-established professionals who have interviewed hundreds of job applicants throughout their careers, and then receive immediate feedback, was the greatest one,” Meléndez said.
“It was one of the most engaging weeks yet during my time at the College.”
Noel Garrett, dean of academic support and director of the Academic Resource Center, explained that the program was initially designed to teach students how to take some of what they’ve learned in the classroom and apply that knowledge in real scenarios that the professional who provided the case study actually experienced.
“Students can blend what they already know with new skills they develop during the week, and through that process they learn how to influence an audience, project confidence and articulate a bigger personal and team vision,” Garrett said.
Jibri Salaam ’19, an economics and history double-major and mathematics minor, appreciated the wide range of industries represented by alumni participants, and emphasized the value of the networking and relationship-building that took place over the course of just a few days.
“In having the opportunity to interact with and listen to the alumni who visited campus, I was able to establish relationships and add to a working base of professionals to learn and benefit from,” Salaam said.
Fast Forward is one piece of Conn’s broader four-year career program, which, along with only a handful of colleges in the nation, offers all students a funded internship. The Princeton Review recently named the program one of the top 20 in North America, and nearly 80 percent of students participate, which contributes to the success of Conn alumni across a diverse spectrum of professions.
Evan Piekara ’07, who is based in Washington, D.C., and works for BDO USA financial consulting, said he noticed tangible growth among the students by the end of the program, particularly in the areas of interview and presentation skills.
"Fast Forward provided a great opportunity to connect with Camels looking to prepare for life after Conn,” Piekara said. “I was enormously impressed with how well-prepared and focused the students were, and with the number of alumni who came out to offer their support. I wish Fast Forward had existed when I was a student.”