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Graduate Reflections

Below are some reflections on the Fast Track Program from recent graduates:

By Britaini Watterson

Through all professors, alumni and guests speakers, the message of success in business school is clear: Network, network, network. The message made me nervous. As a somewhat (okay, very) introverted and task-oriented person, I had subconsciously, if not intentionally, avoided it. Although I had completely understood the concept of networking, I could not understand how to execute it. In fact, at times it seemed like a painful execution, hanging myself with every off-the-wall comment or awkward silence.

After participating in the Fast Track program, my perception of networking has completely changed. Instead of meeting strangers, you’re making new friends. You encourage one another, become ambassadors for one another, and help one another. Like all relationships, your networks require work, time and energy. But Fast Track has been a wonderful catalyst and launch pad for several connections, goals, and even friends.

Does Baker Leadership take the work out of networking? Well, almost.

Finding My Passion
By Eric Junstrom

Regional Vendor Liaison
SingleSource Property Solutions

Fast Track Participant–Class Two

I have to start off by saying how fantastic the Fast Track Program has been for me over the past few months. These classes have opened my mind to countless ideas and inspired me in more ways than I can count. I can barely organize my thoughts after each session because I come out with so many ideas after hearing the great speakers who have shared their own stories of leadership and community-involvement. Shout out to my favorite speaker, Tom Crea.

I entered Fast Track as someone who wanted to learn how to become a civic-minded leader in the city. I now thoroughly believe that it is attainable. I think it takes passion, effort and most importantly a belief in yourself that you can make a difference and you have what it takes to be a leader.

It suddenly hit me that Baker Leadership has benefited me so much over the past nine months. The organization has introduced me to networking and socializing with other professionals through Power Hour and Morning Mix. Granted, it’s a work in progress but going to these types of events is half the battle. The Service Summit has shown me how many driven young professionals live and work in Pittsburgh. These individuals make a big difference, and, as I realized later, are the future leaders of the City of Pittsburgh. Fast Track helped tie all of these networking events and individuals together.

I want to, more than anything, give back and help the organization that has helped me in so many ways. I started to think that I would jump at the chance to help reach people–much like myself–and help them become connected and involved in their City, which hosts so many good events and organizations. In fact, you should never be bored in Pittsburgh and this saying is, of course, one that Get Involved! communicates on a daily basis.

I am very excited to be a part of Get Involved! as it becomes a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. It is a great opportunity for me to step up and put lessons learned in Fast Track into practice. Stay tuned for all the exciting news to come from Get Involved! this summer!

Too School for Cool
By Alicia Bekeny
Fast Track - Class One

A native of Erie, PA followed by nearly five years in the Burgh, I have recently relocated to Providence, Rhode Island for work and graduate school opportunities. The move has afforded me a great opportunity to put into action the Fast Track lessons learned on professional growth, community involvement, networking, and goal-setting – because I came here not knowing anyone!

1.      Do your homework

Before finalizing my decision to make this move, I did the first thing that Fast Track advocates: I did my research. I found key facts on everything I needed to weigh the pros and cons of a move out of Pittsburgh. I was sold on several key facts:

·        Moderate cost of living

·        Proximity to major cities (one hour from Boston, three from NYC)

·        Near top universities with strong graduate programs

·        Growing cultural district, financial district, and health service sector

2.      Leave Notes in Your Friends’ Lockers

Not knowing anyone here, I made use of my existing network through phone calls, email, and social media (Facebook) to get the word out about my move and ask for help. Word got around fast!

·        Two Pittsburgh friends moved and work here! 

·        High school Erie friend just moved to Providence from Florida

·        Pittsburgh co-worker grew up here, knows many people

·        Erie friend, now in NYC, has brother in Providence

·        Erie friend has friend @ Brown

·        Fast Track colleague has friend in Providence

·        Erie mother of friend went to college with a top leader in nearby college

·        Significant other (also moved) had work conference where I met co-workers my age from Providence

Total network count: way more than zero!  People came out of nowhere to help with apartment advice, job opportunities, and even where to go for the best cup of coffee.

3.      Make Goals for Next Semester

I used the Fast Track method of goal-setting for multiple tracks of professional growth combined with graduate school pursuits. I set realistic short- and long-term timelines for the different paths, and backup plans to avoid major pitfalls. This biggest part, which could easily become overwhelming, has instead been the most fun part of this experience – a professional development treasure hunt!

4.      Class Clown, Biggest Flirt, or Most Involved – You Earn Your Superlative

This is only my 10th full day in Providence and I’m itching to get involved with the community. I have already visited several university campuses, the performing arts center, the public library, and city hall.  As I grow professionally and academically, that third component of growth as a contributing, engaged citizen – community involvement – is a critical link between one’s personal passions and expertise and how those are interpersonally actualized. 

Through my growth in Fast Track, I have further developed the skills necessary for effective community involvement and leadership as I build my career in a new city.  Thanks to Tom & Holly and the dynamic group of Fast Track colleagues for all their help in this process – and hail to our inaugural class!

Lessons from a Public Servant
By Steve Hussar
Fast Track – Class One

As we come to the end of the Fast Track program, there are a lot of fascinating topics and speakers on which to reflect. However, I want to go all the way back to the very first Fast Track session and Brentwood Borough Manager George Zboyovsky. I really enjoyed hearing Mr. Zboyovsky’s story.

He talked about becoming a civil engineer and getting an excellent high paying job in Indianapolis. While it seemed to be the perfect job for someone with his background, and enabled him to enjoy a very comfortable lifestyle, he expressed that he still had an urge to go back home to Pittsburgh and do something else. Part of this feeling was personal, as the woman he loved was in Pittsburgh and wanted to stay in Pittsburgh. But he also had a sense of wanting to do more to feel like he was giving back to communities that he cared about and had a connection to.

So he decided to move back to Pittsburgh, marry his gal, and looked to get a job in public service, despite the severe pay cut that such a career move meant. Mr. Zboyovsky had been elected to city council of Monnessen before taking the Indianapolis engineering job. Now, returning to the Pittsburgh area, he became manager of Dormont and then he moved to his current position as Brentwood Borough Manager.

During his discussion at the October 12 Fast Track session, Mr. Zboyovsky said that he was happy that he’d taken the pay cut to come back and serve Pittsburgh communities. His engineering knowledge, sharp mind, and sincere dedication to serving his community have made him a very effective public servant. He urged the Fast Track class to get involved in local politics, as he said that too many local councils and boards are set in their ways and bogged down in old thinking. Local government needs fresh perspectives and genuine commitment to serve the people.

I took a lot away from Mr. Zboyovsky’s talk. For people who really want to make a positive difference in the world, his story really resonates. And his call to action is important too. Often, we simply complain about the world around us and have cynical thoughts about a corrupt system that we can’t change. But public servants like Mr. Zboyovsky should remind us of the good people out there, and inspire us to do good too."

My First Experience with Social Networking – Self Exploration
By Sean McGrath
Fast Track participant, Class One

After a few meetings at Fast Track we had talked about communication and social networking. The conversations were great and got me all fired up. I was going to start a blog, I wanted to become viral! (in a good way!) So I sat down and started to put together some notes and wanted to get started.

Yeah, if only it was that easy. This led me into doing research into the explosion that we now call social media. My research led me to iJustine, whose real name is Justine Ezarik. Born in Pittsburgh, she graduated from PTI in 2004 and is now one of the most well-known video bloggers. But, more impressive, was one of her first videos. I remember walking into Crazy Mocha on the south side as she was getting ready to record it. Not knowing that this video was going to be watched by more than 1.5 million people, I stood and stared for a few minutes and then left. 

So that begs the question: At what point did you realize that Youtube, Facebook, blogs and social media were more than just a passing fad? 

It took me a few meetings and some conversation with others to realize that your online identity is very important. So I Googled myself and was amazed at what I found. As rare as I thought my name was, on the internet it was anything but.  I found out that I was a photographer (a good photographer if I say so myself!), a member of the death metal band Impaled and vocalist with Engorged, I was in Twilight as a frat boy and finally I’m a soccer player for Notre Dame University.  Well, I wanted to know who Sean McGrath is and Google helped me find him.

So my biggest problem with starting and solidifying my online presence is where to start. As a person, what do you do to put yourself on the map. I have a FaceBook page, follow people on Twitter, I even send tweets. I even tweeted running back Steven Jackson and wished him well for the season, who in turn tweeted me back a thank you! But what’s the next step?  Going back to my main goaI: I want to become noticed. How do I get people to pay attention to me?!

I continued my search to see who had some of the most read blogs. No, not the media beasts such as the Huffington Post - I can’t compete at the level immediately.  I wanted to find the most popular blogs by normal people. What I found is that some of the most read blogs had a very specific topic with very specific information.  Whether it was post by post or blog by blog, when I ready many of what I thought were good blogs, they were well formed and had relevant topics. 

Also, the best blogs were current, but not daily. I found this new restaurant in Pittsburgh called Habitat and the chef had a blog. His blog posts average twice a month, but I found each post interesting. Anything from gift ideas to recipes to local farmers. A good blog is like a good book, it makes you want to read more!

Now that I have identified my goal, it’s time to get moving! Let the journey begin!

Getting to Know My City Through Sessions
By Kristina Elias
Fast Track Participant - Class one

Each of the eight Fast Track sessions was held at different locations around the Pittsburgh area. Some of the locations I had been to before and some locations I had not even heard of before we were told the location of the session for the week. Not only did I look forward to the session, but I also looked forward to the adventure to come with navigating around the city to find the session location.

One session was held at PNC Park, and I had been there many times before. However, at the session, I was able to see the offices and cubicles for the first time. Seeing the office allowed me to learn more about all of the work that it takes to create the games that I have enjoyed watching over the years.

For our first class at the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, Holly explained to us that we needed to turn on Fort Pitt Boulevard, find a lot to turn on and press the white button to get into the lot. I probably should have asked more questions because I missed both the lot and the white button. I was looking for a more obvious button and needless to say it was not large! Luckily, Holly came out to my car and helped me find the right place to park!

The class held at McCrory and McDowell was the biggest adventure for my driving buddy, Alicia, and I.  We parked at the right lot, but we were not 100% sure where on Stanwix Street the office was located.  Of course we walked the wrong way on Stanwix Street one of the first cold days of the winter. We finally found it, but not without a fun adventure first!

The Fast Track sessions have introduced me to many influential individuals in the Pittsburgh area, empowered me to reach my goals, showed me how to become a better leader and helped me to become more well connected with my city.  However, it has also introduced me to new places and improved my sense of direction within the Pittsburgh Area.  I hope the class will continue to meet after the session are over to not only learn from each other but also to visit new places!

Perfect Networking Tool for Young Professionals!
By Robin Rectenwald
Fast Track – Class One

Baker Leadership's Fast Track program is a great way to help both college students and young professionals wanting to make a difference in the community. As a junior at Duquesne University, I found that the resources and networking provided were really helpful. Every session, there were at least three speakers from different companies with different job titles. All of them had great advice to share. For example, author of the book "Courting Your Career", Shawn Graham, was one of the speakers. He sat down with me in order to help make my resume stand out to employers. This is just one example! There were speakers from the Pittsburgh Pirates, Coro, Mahaven Events, and non-profit organizations. Advice given ranged from how to use social media efficiently to how to plan an event to how to start a non-profit. Fast Track is a great way to network with other young professionals and employers as well as a way to hit the ground running at a young age!

Talk to people, set goals and stay connected
By Alyssa DiLoreto

Since graduating from Fast Track, I’ve reflected on the topics of discussion, who we’ve met and what I’ve learned. The following topics have made the strongest impact:

  • Informational interviews
  • Setting goals
  • Building meaningful relationships

I learned about informational interviews during college, but had never actually scheduled one. A requirement of graduating from Fast Track is to conduct an informational interview with somebody who had an interesting career or community involvement that we wanted to learn more about. We met for coffee, and for almost an hour I learned about an interesting career path, how I can grow in my career, and utilizing community involvement to set goals. Through this experience I learned how much of a valuable tool informational interviews are to gain valuable insight as well as build your network.

Another theme that stands out from Fast Track is the importance of setting goals. Until recently, I’ve never actually written down my goals. I’ve thought about what I want to accomplish, but never put it on paper. During Fast Track, setting goals was a recurring theme. Our first task was to set goals to accomplish over the holidays. Our next assignment, however, was to create a list of goals that we wanted to accomplish over the next year in our careers, personally and in the community. 

Not only did we create our list of goals, but we sent them to our program directors, Tom and Holly. Sharing goals with others can be very powerful—knowing that there are people who will encourage and help me along the way is extremely motivating. If you’ve never sat down to write out a list of goals, I highly encourage it! Furthermore, share them with somebody—whether it’s your best friend, your parents or your coworker, sharing your goals with people that you trust will give you the energy and motivation that you need to achieve those goals.

The LinkedIn motto has a right—relationships matter. Personal, professional, civic—you never know what relationships that you have might be beneficial in the future (to you, or somebody else in your network). The important thing about a relationship—personal and professional, is maintaining it. Staying connected with your contacts to see how they are doing, what’s happening in their career, what projects they are working on and how you can help them is important. And while you may not be able to help directly, you know somebody who can.

This program focused on important topics, bringing together diverse panelists from a variety of organizations. While each panelist was unique, the themes of learning from informational interviews, setting goals and staying connected was consistent throughout our sessions and provided our Fast Tracker group with valuable information that we can apply to our careers and community involvement.