Conn’s future entrepreneurs take first steps toward success.
Adam Romanow ’07 has always believed that the best parties are the ones everybody is invited to.
That philosophy has served as the guiding principle for Romanow’s Massachusetts-based business, the award-winning Castle Island Brewing Co., which Romanow created to make a variety of accessible beers for people of all tastes.
Castle Island was presented as this year’s business case study for Fast Forward, an immersive, five-day career preparation program held during winter break. In its sixth year, the program offers an opportunity for students to collaborate with alumni and fellow students from various disciplines to develop analytical, presentation and interviewing skills by working closely in groups to address real business challenges.
Since its creation, Fast Forward has grown exponentially both in size and reach. Thirty students participated this year—the largest class ever—and the broad range of businesses and alumni experiences continues to offer students unique insights into the career paths successful alums have taken and the challenges they’ve faced along the way.
“This program is truly the highlight of my year,” said Noel Garrett, dean of academic support and director of the Academic Resource Center. “Students interested in business and finance are seeking internship opportunities earlier than in previous years, so an intensive experience like this is critical to their development as competitive candidates for internships, which is why the program is now available to students across all class years at Conn.”
The program kicked off with a keynote address from Brian Laung Aoaeh ’01, co-founder of REFASHIOND, a design thinking entrepreneur and a research-driven venture capitalist working at the intersection of fashion and retail. There was also a workshop on honing collaborative skills, led by Seth Rigoletti ’94, executive coach at the Valico Group, before Romanow presented students with the details of the case study, which included such questions as: How to use a limited sales and marketing budget to increase brand awareness and improve social media presence at the brewery; How to drive more people to the company’s tap room and seasonal beer garden; and how to fuel growth for the company with a limited budget.
The week involved a series of alumni-led workshops focused on topics ranging from design thinking to personal branding and financial literacy—skills students used to inform their final group presentations that offered a variety of solutions to Romanow’s questions.
Mock interviews were also held after participants received alumni tips and training on how to rise above the crowd in the job and internship application process.
“Fast Forward was a true eye-opener for me in terms of how business works in the real world,” said Bailor Jalloh ’23, an economics and computer science double major and finance minor. “It was incredibly satisfying working on solutions with my teammates that might actually be implemented in the future by Castle Island. I look forward to participating again next year.”
Aside from record student attendance and alumni involvement, this year’s Fast Forward was also notable for coinciding with the unveiling of a new Bloomberg Terminal that will reside in the state-of-the-art Academic Resource Center. The terminal, a highly specialized computer system that will allow students to analyze and follow financial market data in real time, was made possible by a generous donation from Ryan and Lori Langdon P’22.
At the end of the week, before the student groups delivered their final presentations, they heard from a panel of alumni judges who offered advice and answered questions about the importance of learning from mistakes they’ve made along the way, qualities they look for in young employees and how they define success in business.
“Always be authentic to who you are and play to your strengths,” said Fritz Folts ’82, chief investment strategist at 3Edge Asset Management and chair of Connecticut College’s Board of Trustees. “But you also need to never stop learning. There’s no skill called ‘business.’ You need to have a well-rounded base of knowledge that you can always build on, and that’s why I constantly read books to better my understanding of everything from game theory, to physics to psychology,” he added.
The program also included a number of first-year students who were eager to explore the various options within the broader field of business before narrowing down academic and career paths.
“I participated in Fast Forward to learn about the many different careers that exist within business and to gain skills and perspective on how to get there,” said Lyndsey Toce ’23, who intends to major in economics and minor in finance and psychology.
“It wasn’t lost on any of us what a privilege it is to have access to alumni who are such experienced business leaders, particularly during the one-on-one mock interview sessions, where their practical advice was so valuable,” Toce added. “The level of support and career guidance that is available to me at Conn has inspired me to take the next step.”
Garrett pointed out that, like the program itself, the many moving parts of Fast Forward require tremendous collaboration from different departments to ensure its success.
“The program wouldn’t have happened without the deep involvement of Senior Associate Director of the Hale Center for Career Development Cheryl Banker, Director of Alumni Engagement Tori McKenna and Assistant Director of Alumni Engagement Dena Poblete, all of whom were key to ensuring that our students had a truly transformative experience,” Garrett said.