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On April 12, 2023, Seton Hall University students and entrepreneur hopefuls vied for a chance to win seed money for their startup companies as part of Seton Hall’s annual Pirates Pitch Competition. On the judges panel was 2017 EC alumna, Carina Castagna, chosen as the youngest judge of the group.

Castagna, a first-generation college graduate, was there as a distinguished young alumna of the university. Her college resume includes graduating Magna Cum Laude, earning a Master of Public Administration in 5 years, placing in the final four in a national investment competition, and serving on the executive teams of Women in Business and the Young Alumni Council. In addition to these academic credentials, she was also chosen by the university to participate in the Pirate Accelerator Program, which provided money for her own start-up business, Pesto Joe. Pesto Joe was formed in December 2022 and is on its way to securing its first wholesale deal.

Castagna’s story is one of grit; success born out of challenge.

“As well decorated as I was as a college student, high school was a struggle for me at times. I was not a straight-A student, and I often had to get extra help through the resource room. EC provided the unique, tailored education I needed in order to grow into the young professional I am today. I learn best in small classrooms where I can make personal connections with my teachers, a learning environment that EC provided.”

She adds, “Being in the resource room taught me, quite literally, to be resourceful. During my sophomore year at EC, I found out I was dyslexic, and I had to come to understand how studying worked best for me. In partnership with teachers and my parents, I developed a “can-do” attitude instead of sulking in my hardships.”

Through Seton Hall’s Educational Opportunity Program, Castagna was enabled to go to her first-choice school. “Because of this, I was determined to take advantage of every opportunity presented to me,” she shares, jumping into a variety of interesting courses and clubs.

Challenge came again for Castagna when, in June 2021, her father unexpectedly passed away. “While this threw a unique wrench into my personal life, I was able to turn this loss into a passion project,” she shares. “My business idea, Pesto Joe, came to me organically, as my father made delicious pesto and was given the nickname Pesto Joe from family and friends. Given the opportunities at Seton Hall and my unique life circumstances at that time, I decided to investigate if I could turn a beloved memory into an operating business, one that would encourage others to spend time with their loved ones.”

The new brand’s slogan, Smile Wherever You Go, is a testimony to Castagna’s outlook on life and a remembrance of her father’s magnanimous personality. The business plan includes donating to charities.

As she reflects on her journey to date, a pathway winding through struggles, she has this word of encouragement for parents: “Each child has their own journey to take and their own timeline to fulfill. Stay present, be encouraging.”

About EC, she adds, “There wasn’t one class, one teacher, or one circumstance that built me into who I am today. It was the culmination of a tailored education, personalized support and extracurricular activities that helped shaped my character, of which is still ever evolving. I learned leadership skills from sports, resilience from the classroom, and resourcefulness from study times. I remember serving on class council, which taught me how to present my ideas, and I remember my lengthy commute which taught me the power of time management. Lastly, chapel time encouraged me to reflect on the importance of intertwining my relationship with God in all my activities. EC has the tools to help every student become successful. It is humbling to look back on my own journey and to see how far I have come.”

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