Jennifer Merrill 1 headshot

Helping Students Find Their Way Through FastForward

For most of her adult life, Jennifer Merrill has made a living by helping students navigate the obstacles that often come with pursuing an education.

Serving as one of two FastForward Career Coaches at Northern Virginia Community College, Merrill has worked in a variety of campus-related jobs throughout her career. From residential hall director to assistant director of Student Activities and Programming, she found a way to work with students – guiding them through the college experience and preparing them for life after college.

“When I was in college myself, I was part of a campus ministry, and I saw a need to help people,” she said. “It’s about finding your way in life, finding out what your purpose is and what your passion is. What I do today is all about helping people understand how to get there. If a degree is part of that, that’s great, but it’s not all about that.”

Merrill first started working at NVCC as a Success Advisor, working with students, helping them reaching their academic goals. But with the formation of FastForward, Merrill took her skills over to the workforce side of things, to help students who were pursuing career training, hone their skills and get ready for the workplace.

In addition to coaching students, Merrill also helps determine their eligibility to enroll in certain programs and helps administer a financial assistance programs to help students who want to pursue workforce training and industry credentials.

“One of the questions I get the most is, ‘How will I pay for this?’” says Merrill. “People are making money, but not making enough to live on. Going to school and getting a credential also take time. I spend my days helping students navigate how they can do this and not drop all the different balls that they’re juggling.”

One of the biggest benefits of enrolling in FastForward is the one-on-one connection students have with their coaches. Not only do coaches help students with the funding and enrollment process, they stay in touch to make sure students are building their networks, talking to employers, going to class and ultimately finishing their training and earning their credentials.

“Some people need more time to talk through things,” says Merrill. “I appreciated the help, attention and guidance that I got when I was a college student. Now, I want to pay it forward.”