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Fusing a Future: Ethan’s FastForward Journey

When Ethan Panzica moved from upstate New York to Virginia five years ago, he did so with a plan. The first step of that plan was finding a career where he could work with his hands; the second and third steps were enrolling at Tidewater Community College in Portsmouth and joining FastForward. Initially, Panzica didn’t know what type of skilled trade he wanted to pursue. Only a few months removed from high school, he was at a crossroads.

“I wasn’t sure where to go and what path I would take,” Panzica said. “But my instructors actually encouraged me to join the Newport News shipbuilding program and become a welder. It was two months long, and it allowed me to weld with confidence and discover a set of skills I never realized I had.”

Panzica explained that the program taught him to truly push himself and often consisted of eight hours of welding a day. Feeling challenged only energized him more, and he learned that being punctual and ready to work at the start of every class session was half the battle.

By completing the training, Panzica was given a direct route to Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS), the largest industrial employer in Virginia.

“Once people know that you have worked for NNS, they will hire you almost on the spot,” he said.

During the last several months, Panzica has been in the NNS apprentice school. He expects to graduate this spring and then immediately begin a job in the shipyard. One of his dreams is to eventually build submarines for the U.S. Navy.

While being a FastForward student during the pandemic was strange, Panzica said that his welding instructors did an outstanding job of keeping him and his fellow classmates safe. Welders were required to wear masks in the building at all times until they got into their booths and started working.

“I had one welding instructor, who my class affectionately dubbed ‘Sarge’,” Panzica said. “He was there every single day and always helped us if we needed anything.”

After finishing school, Panzica sees himself staying in Newport News or potentially becoming a welder for the NASA – SpaceX shuttle program. He envisions himself building and repairing the platforms used to move rockets.

At only 19-years old, he has plenty of room to grow and reach his goals. He credits FastForward for helping him get this far in such a short amount of time.

“FastForward allowed me to, despite the pandemic, get into the ship building industry and into NNS in only six to eight months,” he said. “I will have all my training and certifications done in just half a year.”

Asked to give some advice to future FastForward students or other newcomers in the welding industry, Panzica kept it simple.

“Work hard and show up early,” he said.