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Adam Romanow ’07 was so impressed with the business ideas Conn students gave him during last year’s Fast Forward program that he came back this year for another round.
Romanow is president and founder of Massachusetts-based Castle Island Brewing Co., which has garnered awards and an enthusiastic customer base in a few short years. He offered Castle Island as a real-world case study for students who participated in Fast Forward, an intensive, weeklong, academic skills and career-prep program that explores a broad range of career-related training, including mock interviews, networking events and workshops with alumni and parents from various industries. The program concludes with students delivering final group presentations aimed at addressing specific challenges and goals raised in a case study.
“For the second year in a row, I was blown away by the caliber of presentations and solutions the students put together,” Romanow said about the 38 students who participated in Fast Forward during part of their winter break.
“They showed a deep understanding of the business challenges and environmental constraints related to the brewing industry and came up with some truly unique ideas, some of which we look forward to implementing in the year to come.”
Romanow said two student ideas he planned to pursue included adding a virtual tour of the brewery to Castle Island’s website and creating a dedicated YouTube channel.
“After last year’s presentations, we developed a rewards program, we refocused our approach to social media and we realigned our pricing to the market, all based on the recommendations from the students,” Romanow said.
This year’s program was the first to be held entirely remotely due to Covid-19, and the reliance on platforms such as Zoom for video conferencing enriched the program and provided a level of flexibility that opened the door to wider participation.
Noel Garrett, dean of academic support, who organizes the Fast Forward Program along with Cheryl Banker, senior associate director of the Hale Center for Career Development, said they went into the week unsure of how the program would work remotely, but ended the week pleasantly surprised.
Garrett, who is also executive director of the Academic Resource Center, said the week was such a success that in the future Fast Forward will follow a hybrid model of in-person and remote work to extend the program’s global reach.
“One of the positive effects of using Zoom is that we no longer have to think about the logistical challenges of bringing all these guests to campus,” Garrett said. “If somebody we really want to include happens to be on the west coast or overseas, we can get them involved. This year we even had alumni dialing in from Spain and England to share their expertise with students.”
The week always kicks off with prominent alumni keynote speakers who inspire students with their career stories. The keynoters this year were Erica Lovett ’14, director of diversity and inclusion for Cartier, North America, and Jonathan McBride ’92, former global head of inclusion and diversity at Blackrock, who also served as director of the Presidential Personnel Office in the Obama White House. Mcbride is also a member of Conn’s Board of Trustees.
Fast Forward is open to students from all class years, and is a form of experiential learning that often precedes internships.
“I ended the week with a totally new outlook on my career development as well as with a plethora of skills and experiences to take with me,” said Emma Diianni ’23, who plans to major in economics. “The amount of hands-on experience, skills and people you are exposed to in such a short period of time is incredible.”
Santiago Kling ’22, an environmental studies and government double major was part of one of the two groups that won best final presentations at the end of the week, and said Fast Forward exceeded his expectations.
“All in one week I learned valuable information about the job search process and developed important interview skills,” he said. “Being in contact with all these alumni who were generous enough to share their knowledge with us made me feel like part of the extended Camel family.”
Olivia Loo ’24 said she went into the program with an open mind but couldn’t have imagined how much substantive training would be packed into one short week.
“The program provided the invaluable opportunity to connect with Conn alumni and learn transferable skills, such as the importance of storytelling, personal finance and diversity,” Loo said. “I cannot emphasize enough how wonderfully challenging and informative this event has been for my personal and career development, and I truly appreciate all of my peers for participating as well as the key members who made this program come to life.”