How the AIP Program Leverages the Alumni Network to Give Young Avonians a Leg Up
In 2014, Chair of the Visual Arts Department Cristina Pinton set out to create a program for advanced artists who she thought would benefit from a sustained length of time in the afternoons dedicated to developing their portfolios. It was called the Afternoon Independent Project Program. Since then, the program has evolved to include students interested in pursuing a variety of interests, and has grown to include work outside of just afternoons after class.
Now known as the Advanced Independent Project (AIP) Program, the program is for students who show exceptional interest or skill in a niche area. Students work under the expertise of professionals both on and off campus to learn how to expand in their own gifts and desires to excel. Each student is required to complete a significant project or series of projects and then present what he learned to the entire student body at the end of the time allotted. Given the space to experience a trade with the guidance of trained and proven adults, students build their resume and gain invaluable experience as they seek further education in that field.
This fall, four students successfully completed AIPs in the midst of a global pandemic: Alexander Sanborn focused on his AP Art Portfolio, Michael Xie completed a project in Advanced Painting, Preston Runk created an entire architecture school portfolio, and Sam Cutler got a crash-course in private equity banking. Two of these were possible thanks in part to dedicated alumni who are eager to share their expertise with fellow Avonians.
Senior Preston Runk took advantage of the AIP Program with the support of two architects at StoneFox in New York Chris Stone '88 and Andrew Corrigan '98 so that he could try his hand at the architectural style he loves.
"My parents love looking at open houses, and as a child they took me along,” explained Preston. I was always fascinated with the wide range of architectural styles, but modern architecture specifically captivated my imagination. I found myself losing track of time playing in my room with legos creating small cities and creating drawings of modern buildings or landscapes. To this day, I still join my parents on their expeditions; and when I see a home of that style, I get lost in its beautiful spaces.”
In just 10 weeks, Chris Stone and Andrew Corrigan helped Preston complete an entire portfolio for art school applications.
This fall senior Sam Cutler worked with alumnus JP Rotchford ’09, a private equity associate with NovaQuest Capital Management, a firm focused on partnering with management teams to build leading healthcare companies in the middle market.
“When I first saw the opportunity to choose a finance-oriented AIP, I jumped on it because it has always been an interest of mine,” explained Sam. “In college, my intended major is finance, and this AIP correlated with what I wanted to do. It gave me the opportunity to have real-world experience. It was like what a junior analyst does during their first few years at a firm.”
Rochford, who earned an undergraduate degree in finance and a master’s in accounting from Wake Forest University, volunteered with Avon Old Farms to offer a finance AIP after reading about the program this summer.
“I have learned so much about the industry through real-world experience. Rather than spending time wishing I knew things sooner or did things better early in my career, I’ve found that passing on my experience to others makes it easier for them to excel and makes me feel like my successes and mistakes can serve a greater purpose.” —JP Rotchford ’09
JP used the framework of his company’s existing partnership with local college students to craft a semester-long crash course in private equity for Sam. While the two spent two or three hours each week connecting via Zoom, they collaborated and did a lot of work outside those calls as well. They first worked on building Sam’s finance vocabulary and fluency with the work of investment banking and private equity, then dove into a project in which Sam explored the ways that virtual clinical trials can affect the world post-COVID-19.
Sam also learned a critical timely topic which has only accelerated in importance due COVID-19: how companies are executing on clinical trials remotely. He not only learned what actually happens in a clinical trial and put together a presentation on virtual clinical trials, but also focused on how specific companies are bringing parts of the process online in virtual settings.
“I developed a PowerPoint with research supporting my evidence on why I think it would be an appropriate time to invest in this field. As we live in a new world post-COVID, we have to adapt to new technologies that will be beneficial for our future,” shared Sam. “I learned a lot from the AIP. Mr. Rotchford taught me how to correctly format a thematic research report along with how to correctly do research. I gained knowledge on the logistics of how clinical trials are formatted, which is a skill that will be valuable in my future endeavors.”
JP shared that while this first time experience of mentoring a high school student was extremely rewarding, working with his alma mater made it even that much more fulfilling.
“Working with Sam brought back some memories,” he shared. “Sam was going through his college search so we talked a lot about that, and on our Zoom calls it was so funny to see him in the dorms that I knew so well. It was great to see how well the school is doing right now despite everything. Near the end of the project, Sam got into Tulane, and it was so exciting to see him experience that amazing moment. I look forward to seeing how his career advances. If he ever reaches out, I’ll pick up the phone for sure.”
Now, as a senior approaching his last semester of high school, Sam already has a leg up on his competition. JP reflected on the good values that came from his time at Avon, and how important it is to get new people into the investment banking space.
“It’s not an easy thing to know and understand,” he explained. “Students need to do a lot of thinking and planning even as freshmen in college to be positioning and preparing themselves. Knowing at a high level what terms you need to know to take advantage of the opportunities that come from internships and first jobs is key. Frankly, the kids who do that are mostly the children of people already in the industry. Young, driven people like Sam who have new ideas and can speak the language will stand out.”
The power of the Avon Brotherhood is felt far beyond the reaches of the football bleachers and the Village Green. Generations of Avonians dedicate time and energy to ensuring that the brothers following in their footsteps have a guiding hand to help them find their way into the future, and that the very best opportunities become available through our network.
About the Author
Associate Director of Communications & Publications