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Megan Licata, '08 | Communications Manager, Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman

Megan Licata, '08Gold Standards

Communication alumna enjoys island living, working for one of the world's most-recognizable brands

By Angie Lewis, '03

Thanks to her introduction to marketing communications and "unbelievable" internship experiences at UCF, Megan Licata, '08, finds herself stranded on an island — on purpose!

As communications manager for the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, Megan oversees, creates and implements all marketing communications for the luxury hotel brand, from its website and onsite collateral, to local and international advertisements, and media relations and social media.

Most days, she's writing advertising copy, working with graphic designers and evaluating marketing opportunities. She also tries to take time to "shop" the resort and communication channels from a guest's perspective, to ensure accuracy and find innovative new ways to drive revenue.

Megan describes her fellow "Ladies and Gentlemen" as the world's finest service professionals. (And, if you've ever been to a Ritz-Carlton, you're surely familiar with the brand's high service standards.)

"I come to work excited and motivated to work with such exceptional talent," she says. "It's like a family. We push each other to be as creative and successful as we can be, but we also support each other and understand that we are at the resort for one reason: to create indelible memories for our guests."

As she anticipates her career growth, Megan would like to take on more responsibilities in the region as she becomes more experienced with the Ritz-Carlton brand in the Caribbean and Latin America. Down the line, she also would like the chance to oversee marketing communications for multiple resorts and, eventually, she would love to join the company's corporate office and drive strategies for the entire brand.

So, what's it like working in Grand Cayman? "I never imagined I would live and work in one of the world's most beautiful destinations!" she says. "And, there are still more than 80 hotels and destinations to explore! The opportunities with this brand are limitless."


Ritzy Q&A

Q. What's been your most memorable day at work so far?
A. I was able to experience our signature event, Cayman Cookout, which brings together world-famous chefs, wine and mixology experts for a weekend of demonstrations, tastings and events. It was a whirlwind of activity, and I was there to just absorb it all and learn. It was such a cool opportunity and really demonstrated the resort's commitment to me as a new employee. Not many organizations would take the time to provide such a dynamic learning opportunity.

Q. What inspired/interested you about the field of communications?
A. I'm an extrovert, and I love to write, so I felt drawn to communications when I started at UCF. But, it was all the extracurricular activities and internships that nurtured those natural abilities and allowed me to find a career. Now that I've been in the workforce for a while, I value so much the experiences I had at UCF.

Q. What's it like living in Grand Cayman? How do you spend your free time?
A. Awesome! I can walk to the beach and swim in the Caribbean Sea after work! Grand Cayman is a vibrant international community, and there's no shortage of activities on the island. We have great restaurants and entertainment, amazing white sand beaches, watersports, etc. The weather is so great most of the time that I want to be outdoors and active as much as can. Next, I want to learn to dive and check out the underwater world.

Q. Last thing you Googled?
A. Indemnification. Exciting stuff around here. :)

Q. What did you want to be when you grew up?
A. Construction worker. I was all about it — hard hat and everything.

Q. Most embarrassing moment?
A. I once participated in a pickle-eating contest, because one of the "professional eaters" booked for the event bailed and we needed a seat-filler. It was awful.

Q. What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?
A. Sheryl Sandberg shared a quote in her book: "If you're offered a seat on a rocket ship, don't ask what seat! Just get on." Have a sense of adventure in your career and life.

 



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Mo Hassan, '11Ice-Cold Oscar

Alumnus snags Hollywood's top honor

By Angie Lewis, '03

After twice applying for Disney's talent development program, Mo Hassan, '11, finally received the news he'd been hoping for. He packed up his car and drove more than 2,500 miles across the country from his home in Bradenton, Fla., to the Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank, Calif.

"They offered me the job by email, and all of the paperwork was by email too," he explains. "I only got one phone call, so as I was driving out to California, all I could think of was, what if they made a mistake and called me instead of the name above mine or something? I still thought there was a small chance they wouldn't let me through the gates!"

But, they did let him through the gates, and he went to work as a lighting apprentice on "Frozen," the highest-grossing animated feature film of all time.

Mo lit shots for the songs "Let It Go" and "Do You Want to Build a Snowman," as well as the scene right after "Fixer Upper."

As a fan of Disney, he wasn't surprised when the film won the 2014 Oscar for "Animated Feature Film."

"It's a beautiful movie, and I still get choked up during some scenes," Mo says.

Although he didn't get to attend the star-studded ceremony, he says the directors, producer and all of the studio heads gave speeches and toasted the rest of the creative team the next day, even giving them a photo op with one of the golden statues.

Mo originally applied for the character animation program at UCF, but when he didn't get in, he decided to pursue the experimental animation program. But, Mo didn't always want to work in the field. Instead, he dreamed of being an architect, like his grandfather. He says what he does now is a bit like it, but without all of the math, and everything he makes exists only in a computer.

His advice to current experimental animation students? "Your education is a state of mind, not just credit hours and a diploma. As long as you're trying to learn and working hard, you will succeed. All of the answers are out there — you just have to be persistent enough to find them."

 

Breaking the Ice Q&A

Q. Did you have a favorite professor?
A. Matt Dombrowski and Scott Hall were great. Scott has a really keen eye and a lot of experience in a lot of different areas. Matt, at the time, was a fairly recent UCF graduate from the same program, and he really cared about his students a lot. He'd go out of his way to help everyone.

Q. Favorite Disney movie?
A. "Aladdin" is my favorite Disney movie. I loved Genie and the music. I remember my older brother telling me that artists hand drew every frame and that there were tens of thousands of drawings in each movie, and I distinctly remember thinking, 'That's crazy! I don't ever want to do that!'

Q. What or who inspires you?
A. Working at Disney every day is really inspiring because you're surrounded by amazing artists, many of whom have contributed to some of your childhood memories.

Q. What was your reaction when you won the Oscar?
A. We had an Oscar viewing party at the studio and everyone just flipped out. It got really loud and there were a bunch of big bear hugs all around. It was great!

Q. What are you currently working on?
A. I'll be working on "Big Hero 6" soon.

Ericka Dunlap, '05Meet Ericka Dunlap, '05

By Angie Lewis, '03

Who can forget the moment our very own Ericka Dunlap, '05, was crowned Miss America 2004? Preceding the competition, Ericka became the first African-American woman to be named Miss Florida. After moving to Nashville to pursue a career in country music, Ericka then traveled the world and came in third on the 15th season of CBS' "The Amazing Race." These days, she's back in her home state of Florida, doing what she does best: keeping busy. She works as the principal consultant at Crown Communications Group, as well as both a keynote speaker and entertainer. And, in what little time to has to spare, she also serves on the UCF Alumni Board of Directors.

10 Questions with Ericka

Q. Favorite thing about your job?
A. From the PR angle, I'm able to help business owners and professionals get exposure for their brands. As a speaker, I inspire people to create a vision for their goals. And, finally, as an entertainer, I convey the breadth of emotion in a song or another creative form, which motivates me to study new ways of making each project, speech or performance just as exciting as the last for the target audience and me.

Q. Describe a typical day at work...
A. It's never typical. My car IS my office.

Q. Most memorable experience on the job?
A. I'm fulfilled when at least one person says they really needed to hear my message, or when my client sees the proverbial light bulb of creativity for their ideas to come to fruition.

Q. How do you hope your leadership will affect the future of the alumni association and the university?
A. I'm hoping to encourage a diverse perspective and offer ideas on how to incorporate more diverse representation that can directly speak for the ever-evolving population of UCF.

Q. In what other ways have you been involved with your alma mater since graduating?
A. I have made several presentations and speeches for CAB, my sorority (Delta Sigma Theta), the President's Leadership Council, and many other organizations on campus.

Q. What's the most important piece of advice you would give to your fellow Knights to help advance our university and our alumni association?
A. Stay connected beyond graduation! What one person experiences may affect the lives of hundreds.

Q. Happiest/proudest moment of your life?
A. My proudest moment so far has been graduating from college, because I'm the first person in my family to do so.

Q. Volunteer work/philanthropy?
A. I do like doing projects with the elderly, and I love encouraging girls' empowerment.

Q. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
A. Learn sign language.

Q. What's something most people don't know about you?
A. I am addicted to thrift stores and yard sales.

Monica Thorsen, '02Meet Monica Thorsen, '02

By Angie Lewis, '03

As a sales representative for Brenntag Mid-South, Monica (Smith) Thorsen, '02, sells chemicals used to manufacture products such as personal care items, food, paints, drinking and waste water treatment, and many others. Since graduating, Monica has volunteered with and served as chair of the UCF College of Business Administration Alumni Chapter, helped create a mentorship program within the college, and has volunteered with the UCF Community Volunteers Alumni Chapter. In addition, she created a scholarship for military veterans with her husband, John "Jack" Thorsen, '07. Working in sales means she knows her numbers, which makes her a perfect treasurer for the UCF Alumni Board of Directors.

10 Questions with Monica

Q. Why do you do what you do?
A. I like not being tied to a desk and getting to spend time with different customers every day.

Q. Most memorable experience on the job?
A. It's a tie between my first time in a factory, seeing how my products were used, the production lines and packaging, and making it on the President's Council (top sales people in the company) for 2013.

Q. What did you want to be when you grew up?
A. A pediatric dentist. I job shadowed my dentist in high school, but after seeing one tooth pulled, I had to rethink my career path.

Q. How has your UCF degree helped you in your career?
A. I learned so many great things in the professional selling class taught by Karl Sooder. It truly has helped me get where I am today. In sales, there is a fine balancing act where you want to gather information and close a sale, but not be too pushy. His class taught me how to focus on relationships and walk that line. Having a UCF degree has also opened doors to creating relationships with many of my customers who are alumni.

Q. Why do you serve on the UCF Alumni Association Board of Directors?
A. As a student, I worked full time to pay for school and rent, so I didn't have time to participate in many events on campus. This is my chance to give back to the school that has done so much for me, and to be a voice for students and alumni.

Q. How do you hope your leadership will affect the future of the alumni association and the university?
A. I like to lead by example and hope that I can inspire others to become active and serve on any board within UCF. We can all make an impact in the lives of students and alumni by helping create better programming, creating greater recognition of our impact in the community and further increasing the value of our degrees.

Q. If you could have front-row seats to any concert, which would you choose?
A. Journey! I actually have this on a wish list hanging on my fridge.

Q. If you could eat only one food the rest of your life, what would it be?
A. I am obsessed with cookies — maybe even more so than the Cookie Monster.

Q. What/who makes you laugh out loud?
A. My husband, Jack. We've been married 11 years, and our house is always filled with laughter.

Q. Last thing you Googled?
A. Chemicals. I bet Homeland Security has me on its list. I am constantly looking up chemical names, data sheets and synonyms for what my customers are looking for.

Peter Cranis, '84 Meet Peter Cranis, '84

By Angie Lewis, '03

As vice president of global consumer marketing for Visit Orlando, Peter Cranis, '84, is helping to make people's dreams come true. And, as the next chair of the association's board of directors, he's hoping to make the dreams of the UCF Alumni Association come true too. For more than 20 years, Peter has remained connected to his alma mater, as an adjunct professor in both the Nicholson School of Communication and the Rosen College of Hospitality Management.

10 Questions with Peter

Q. Favorite thing about your job?
A. Not only am I promoting the greatest vacation destination in the world, but, through what we do, we have a huge, positive impact on Orlando!

Q. Describe a typical day at work...
A. There is no typical day. One day I can be talking about a digital advertising program we're doing in Brazil, the next day it could be a partnership with the theme parks in the U.S.-Hispanic market. That's the fun!

Q. Most memorable experience on the job?
A. One of my most memorable experiences was being part of the efforts to promote tourism following the great recession and, over the next few years, watching the number of people traveling again return to previous levels, and watching new businesses open and people getting back to work.

Q. What was your first paying job?
A. When I was a little kid, I worked at a little store in New York City, stocking shelves and the soda machine. When they would pay me on Fridays, I would turn around and spend it all on comic books.

Q. Favorite UCF memory?
A. I have so many! But, I was a member of the Student Escort and Patrol Service (SEPS), and loved patrolling at night and meeting all the great people on campus.

Q. How do you hope your leadership will affect the future of the alumni association and the university?
A. I just hope that in some small way, I can contribute to the efforts of the association and make sure that alumni have a voice in the university's future. I feel like UCF gave me so much, I always want to find a way to give something back.

Q. Pet peeve?
A. When someone says it can't be done

Q. Happiest/proudest moment of your life?
A. UCF winning the Fiesta Bowl and ending up in the Top 10 (of course!)

Q. Volunteer work/philanthropy?
A. Rescuing kitties/Grasty Scholarship

Q. What's something most people don't know about you?
A. I was once in the Top 25 tennis players in Florida in the 25 and older division.

Dianne Owen, '93Meet Dianne Owen, '93

By Angie Lewis, '03

In addition to her role as executive vice president of marketing for FAIRWINDS Credit Union, Dianne Owen, '93, also serves as the chair of the UCF Alumni Association Board of Directors. She's stayed involved with her alma mater in many other ways too, including having taught as an adjunct professor for the College of Business, served on the Annual Fund committee, judged The Joust competition, mentored students and volunteered on industry panels for the alumni association.

 

 

10 Questions with Dianne

Q. Why do you do what you do?
A. My job is challenging and, at the same time, rewarding. I truly believe in credit unions — specifically, the mission of FAIRWINDS Credit Union.

Q. Favorite thing about your job?
A. Building awareness about what FAIRWINDS has to offer and then hearing "thank you" from members who we have helped to save money.

Q. Most memorable experience on the job?
A. It was the moment I found out that we were awarded the UCF Student Banking Services provider. I was so excited to get started helping students at UCF to get on the right financial path early.

Q. Favorite UCF memory?
A. When my art professor was grading my final exam, he told me I should stop taking art classes and stick to business. It makes me laugh to this day.

Q. Why do you serve on the alumni board?
A. UCF alumni are a powerhouse group of individuals. I want to leverage that group to build stronger students, a stronger university and a well-connected community. The board is a great conduit to try and make that happen. And, I just love my school and want to give back in as many ways as I can.

Q. What's the most important piece of advice you would give to your fellow Knights to help advance our university and our alumni association?
A. ENGAGE with your university. It can be done in a multitude of ways and can be mutually beneficial.

Q. What/who makes you laugh out loud?
A. My dog. He puts the biggest smile on my face always.

Q. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
A. A chef or a winemaker. Both would be really cool.

Q. What do you do for fun?
A. I love to cook. I also like to play tennis and hang out at the beach. And, lately, I've developed a freakish obsession to Candy Crush.

Q. Last thing you Googled?
A. What do you call someone who makes wine?

Nathan Arms, '98Head Case

Alumnus' love of a childhood novelty turns into an amusing
(and valuable) collection

By Angie Lewis, '03

Whether you grew up in the 1950s or the 1990s, in the United States or another country, you know the name. Its three letters probably conjures up visions of your childhood. Perhaps you even begged your parents to buy you Mickey Mouse or Santa Claus (two of the top sellers). And, if they agreed, you may have even insisted on a couple of extra packs of candy to go with your beloved head on a stick. Maybe you still have a few packed away? Or, better yet, maybe you still buy one on occasion for your own children?

But, for one alumnus, PEZ is more than just a nostalgic memory.

Nathan Arms', '98, PEZ dispenser collection started in the late '70s, with Diabolic, from the Eerie Spectres series. Although he picked up more here and there over the next couple of decades, he didn't become an avid collector until 1999.

"I've always been a collector of something, and I was looking to start collecting something different," he explains. "Something that was relatively cheap and didn't take up much space."

Now, about 700 PEZ dispensers later, Arms shows off more than two-thirds of his collection in acrylic cases hung from a wall in his home office. He stores the overflow in boxes or sealed in plastic storage bags, all safely tucked away inside a closet.

His most valuable dispensers are his first and favorite, Diabolic, and the Indian Maiden. He says both are around $150-200 on the open market. In addition to monetary value, he also has some that are just plain fun — like a large dog PEZ that dispenses dog treats.

Unlike some collectors who collect every stem color variation of each dispenser, Arms says he only collects "from the neck up."

So, how does he keep track of 700 small candy dispensers while looking for new ones?

"I don't keep a database, but I really need to start," he explains. "I kind of do it backwards. I keep a wish list of ones I want or ones I need to complete a set."

PEZ isn't the only thing this alumnus collects. As an avid movie lover, Arms also has a film collection of about 4,000 DVDs, BluRays and digital copies.

 

Beyond the PEZ

Q. What's your current title?
A. Behavior specialist at Shenandoah Elementary School in Orange County

Q. Why do you do what you do?
A. I met a friend while taking a clinical psychology class at UCF, and he offered me a job at a group home working with adults with autism. I enjoyed it so much that I'm still working in the field almost 20 years later.

Q. Favorite thing about your job?
A. Working with children with autism and learning each of their individual characteristics

Q. How has your UCF degree helped you in your career?
A. Without my UCF degree, I would not be in the teaching field. UCF also allowed me to get a master's degree in exceptional education (2001).

Q. Favorite UCF memory?
A. Learning to juggle in Dr. Brophy's Psychology course

Q. Favorite childhood toy?
A. "Star Wars" X-Wing Fighter

Q. What did you want to be when you grew up?
A. Archaeologist (I loved "Raiders of the Lost Ark.")

Q. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
A. Architect

Q. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
A. Fly a plane

 

Nathan Arms, '08 - PEZ cases

Nathan Arms, '08 - PEZ closeup

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


About two-thirds of Nathan Arms' collection of PEZ dispensers is displayed in acrylic cases in his home office.

 

PEZ Fun Facts

  • Eduard Haas III invented PEZ as a breath mint in Vienna, Austria, in 1927. The name PEZ comes from the German word for peppermint, "pfefferminz," taking the P from the first letter, E from the middle and the Z from the last letter.
  • PEZ has made its way onto both the big and small screens:
    -In "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial," Elliott (Henry Thomas) showed his new friend some of his prized possessions, which included a PEZ dispenser.

    -While sitting around a campfire in "Stand By Me," Vern (Jerry O'Connell) told his friends, if he could only have one food for the rest life, he'd choose cherry-flavored PEZ.

    -An entire episode of "Seinfeld" was based around a Tweety Bird PEZ dispenser.
  • The first PEZ collector's convention was held in Mentor, Ohio, on June 15, 1991.
  • Pierre Omidyar and his wife, a passionate PEZ collector, wanted to set up an online platform for the exchange of PEZ characters. After the website turned out to be a success, he founded eBay in September 1995.
  • PEZ turned 80 in 2007.
  • PEZ products are available in more than 80 countries, where approximately 65 million dispensers and 4.2 billion candies are produced.
  • PEZ collector's sets include classics like "Star Wars," "Star Trek" and "Lord of the Rings" to more unexpected sets like "The Wizard of Oz," U.S. Presidents, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Rob Stack, '07, in "Spank! The Fifty Shades Parody"Destined for the Stage

Alumnus' love of musical theater leads him to a "shady" role

By Angie Lewis, '03

Thanks to having three sisters who liked watching musicals, Rob Stack, '07, grew up watching them too. As a kid, he found himself drawn to "Grease 2."

"I know. It's a horrible movie with a campy, cliché depiction of high school," he says. "But, I loved every minute of it. I sang all of the songs, and even tried to turn my bike into a motorcycle."

After that, he was bitten by the musical theater bug, and, in sixth grade, he started acting and enrolled in his first drama class.

"When you perform a show, it becomes a living, breathing thing," he says. "It's always changing — the cast, the audience, content, state-of-mind, etc. It's very exciting and kind of a high. I love challenges and roles that stretch me beyond what I know and am comfortable with."

And, his latest role has definitely stretched him out of his comfort zone. In addition to the usual acting and singing, Stack also has to play guitar and perform a striptease for the audience as Hugh in "Spank! The Fifty Shades Parody," which runs through March 23 at The Abbey in Orlando.

Much closer to his comfort zone is his day gig, playing a crab in the "Finding Nemo: The Musical" live show at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Performing in two different shows each day has been challenging, but Stack has figured out how to balance his busy schedule.

"I only do five things on my work days: 'Nemo' in the morning, gym in the afternoon, 'Spank' in the evening, family in the evening and then sleep!" he explains. "On my days off, I'm spending time with my family and keeping up on 'The Walking Dead.' Love that show."

Stack says he chose to attend UCF for many reasons — a big one being that it offered a B.F.A. in musical theater.

"The UCF musical theater program was such an amazing experience for me," he explains. "First of all, I met my wife there. But, I also met a crucial network of very talented friends and colleagues who I still keep in touch with today. I enjoyed it so much because it's such a well-put-together program. They have excellent professors, a great curriculum, and they mount fantastic productions every semester."

As a student, Stack performed in many of those productions, including "Pippin," "Fiddler on the Roof," "The Visit," and "The Boyfriend."

In addition, he and his wife, Andrea (Dunn), '07, performed together as love interests Brad and Janet in the UCF's production of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."

"It was the most fun I have ever had on stage," he says. "It was such a wonderful team of people, from the production team to the cast. We all felt like rock stars! I'm sure you heard about it... It was legendary."

 

Behind the Curtain

Q. What's your current job title?
A. Performer/carpenter/husband/dad/badass

Q. Why do you do what you do?
A. I've been performing in productions since sixth grade. This is the life I know. This is what I love. This is what I feel I'm good at. Performing has been the logical choice for me since I began. While others dreamed of careers in medicine or business, I knew that this was what I wanted to be doing.

Q. How did you find/get the role for "Spank?"
A. Actually, a couple of my friends read the role breakdowns that were posted and sent it to me. The role required me to play guitar, look good in a suit and possess great comic timing. Me, me and me! I knew what the books were about, so I could only imagine how much fun it would be to parody the story. So, I auditioned and got the role.

Q. Have you read the "Fifty Shades" books?
A. I'm still trying to read the first one. Ugh.

Q. What's it like performing the show every night? Does it ever get boring?
A. Never. The content is so crazy and outrageous, I don't think I could ever get bored with it. The show is also so non-stop, that I don't have a free second once I walk on stage. My time backstage is consumed with costume changes, getting props and making sure my hair looks good. The audience plays a huge factor in this show. They are the fourth character. They laugh at something different every night. Therefore, it's always changing the energy, pace and feel of the whole show.

Q. What's been the best part of playing Hugh so far?
A. The free bar tab. Just kidding! I love performing the show. We have a fantastic team of people behind us who make it a wonderful experience. The cast is fantastic. So good, in fact, I have a hard time not breaking character and laughing on stage. Sometimes I just have to, though. Andrea (Canny) [above, left] and Alice (Rix) [above, right] are so funny, and the circumstances we're in are just so absurd! I love it. And the audiences have been very appreciative. VERY.

Q. What's been your most embarrassing moment on stage?
A. I have a lot. Falling during a tap solo in "The Boyfriend," and dancing in a dance recital when I was 18 while the rest of the class was 5-year-olds. The most embarrassing, I think, was when I fell out of the crab at "Finding Nemo" during a live show. The crab is a huge shell on wheels where the performer sits inside while wearing a red crab costume complete with claws and a facemask. Well, I fell out of it one day and couldn't stand up because my hands were in giant claws. So, I literally had to roll off the stage while guiding the shell back into the wing. So embarrassing.

Q. What's your favorite musical to watch?
A. No one in particular. I'm a sucker for Sondheim. His stuff is always very moving and poignant to life. His music is so beautiful, I can't take it sometimes.

Q. What's your dream job/role?
A. My wife and I would love to own a theatre company one day in a thriving town somewhere in the New England area. We daydream a lot. Owning a furniture business would be great too! (We like to build furniture as a hobby.) Or, building custom acoustic guitars. (I do that too. I actually started doing that at UCF as an independent study.)

Q. Anything else we should know?
A. I have $42 in overdue library charges at UCF. I still get emails from them.

 

Rob Stack, '07, and Andrea (Dunn), '07, in UCF's production of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show"

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rob Stack, '07 (right), performing on stage
with wife Andrea (Dunn), '07, in
"The Rocky Horror Picture Show" at UCF

PHOTO: Tony Firriolo

Alisha Kissee, '09, and Knights family

Front row (left to right): Connie Kissee, Alisha Kissee, Julie (Kissee) Sneed

Back row (left to right): Madelyn Shafar, Donnie Shafar, Jennifer Kissee, George Sneed, Ashley (Sneed) Monnier, Courtney Sneed, Alyson Shafar

Family Tradition

For one alumna and nine of her family members,
black and gold runs in their blood.

By Angie Lewis, '03

After going to many homecomings as a child and watching four of her family members attend, Alisha Kissee, '09, knew UCF was the school for her — so much so, that it was the only one to which she applied.

"Tradition is a big part of our family, and it's an honor to be a part of our legacy," she says.

The family of Knights includes Alisha's uncle George Sneed, '83; aunt Jennifer Kissee, '96; aunt Julie (Kissee) Sneed, '98; cousin Ashley (Sneed) Monnier, '08; mom Connie Kissee, '10; cousin Donald Shafar III, '11; and cousin Courtney Sneed, '12. Plus, cousins Alyson Shafar and Madelyn Shafar will graduate in 2014 and 2017, respectively.

With several of the family members in school at the same time, sharing a class was bound to happen at some point. Cousins Courtney and Donald shared a chemistry class together. And, for Alisha, it was biology with her mom.

"Most people wouldn't dare think to take a class with their parents, but I was quite the opposite and found it to actually be fun," Alisha says. "We used each other as resources, and she was a great study partner."

Alisha says their mother-daughter relationship grew stronger because they had the opportunity to see each other in a role that they would probably have never seen had they not taken a class together. "We had much respect for one another."

They were also able to help each other with tougher classes.

"At the time, we were also taking pre-calculus together, [but], in the middle of the semester, I ended up withdrawing because of my workload and the fact that math never was my strong point," Alisha explains. "On the other hand, math was my mom's strongest subject. So, she was able to help me in math, while I was able to help her in biology, because that was one of my stronger subjects. It worked out well and, as a result, we now have a closer relationship and can look back on those great times."

But, what happens when a family of Knights comes together outside the classroom? They celebrate games and birthdays in UCF attire, of course. In fact, Alisha's cousin, and current UCF student, Alyson's 21st birthday was a UCF tailgating party.

To top it off, Alisha's mom Connie adds, "We even celebrate Christmas in UCF fashion, with black and gold Christmas decorations."

No matter how different their majors or professions (see "Family Resumes" below), this spirited group will always have one thing in common: Knight pride.

 

Family Resumes

Although they all attended the same university, their degrees and professions are plenty varied. Take a look:

Alisha: advertising/public relations, psychology (minor); marketing assistant for the Orlando Regional Realtor Association and co-owner of Prime Processing LLC
George: marketing; teacher/athletic director for Leesburg High School in Leesburg, Fla.
Jennifer: elementary education + curriculum and instruction (master's); 3rd grade teacher for Orange County Public Schools
Julie: nursing education manager for Cornerstone Hospice
Ashley: public administration, urban and regional planning (minor); civilian in the Department of the Navy
Connie: early childhood education; special needs teacher
Donald: criminal justice; border patrol agent in Casa Grande Station, Ariz.
Courtney: social science education; 8th grade American history teacher

 

Family Successes

We asked the family's eight alumni how they felt their UCF education prepared them for life after graduation. Here's what each said:

Alisha: My degree has helped me find a position in my chosen career path. The marketing field is very competitive to enter, and I feel UCF helped me break into the industry.
George: U Can Finish!
Jennifer: It prepared me to be the best teacher I can be.
Julie: The B.S.N. program is geared toward leadership in nursing. And, I am in a leadership position.
Ashley: I was fortunate to be able to attain a job in my career field right after graduation.
Connie: The school and classes helped me prepare for becoming a teacher and working with students.
Donald: I felt that the education was significant, however, the internship with the U.S. Marshals was invaluable to my current successful position.
Courtney: UCF's education program is incredible. I was able to start teaching immediately after graduation, and was able to work on the same level with my peers.

Jay Edwards, '04

Hey, Mr. DJ

Love of music spins alumnus into
his dream job

By Angie Lewis, '03

A typical day on the job for Jay Edwards, '04, includes waking up at 3:45 a.m., getting games and prizes ready, and setting up the studio for his co-hosts, Scott McKenzie and Dana Taylor — until they all go live at 5:30 a.m. On some days, he even gets to hang out with celebrities like Dr. Oz, the Backstreet Boys and Mary J. Blige.

As the on-air producer of Scott McKenzie & The Morning MIX on MIX 105.1 in Orlando, Edwards' job doesn't stop when the show ends at 9 a.m. After that, he edits audio for their evening podcast, reaches out to celebrity publicists and managers to book interviews for future shows, and he manages much of the station's social media and website updates.

"People dream about going to work each and every day to a job they love, and with people they like and respect," he says. "I have exactly that — and they pay me! I get to talk about fun topics, listen to music and hang with celebrities. What's not to like about that?"

Edwards fell in love with radio when he interned during his junior year at UCF. But, a career in radio wasn't always on his radar. When he was a child, he dreamed of being a police officer.

His first paying job was as a summer camp counselor. He also worked as a recreation supervisor and tuxedo salesman. However, he says his love of music ultimately made radio much more appealing. "And I'm so glad it did, because I have the best job in the world!" he says.

Music also led him into a second job, about which he's just as passionate. On most weekends, Edwards puts on his best attire and DJs his heart out for new brides and grooms. And, thanks to all of his hard work and dedication, his company, Liquid Entertainment, has been named tops on many wedding-affiliated lists.

Since he's lived in Central Florida his whole life and wanted to stay, UCF was a natural fit when it came time for him to choose a college. It also helped that his brother was a Knight. "He had nothing but good things to say, so I followed in his wise footsteps and now I'm a proud grad!" Edwards says.

Whether it's teaching or mentoring the UCF interns who work on the show nearly every semester, or scoring an interview with Coach George O'Leary, his alma mater has remained a constant in his life since graduation.

He's even been out to campus several times to speak to radio/TV students about careers in the field. His advice to them: "Don't just focus on your voice! Sure, vocal presentation is key in radio, but these days, there are so many other things that go into being a great DJ. Know how to blog, know every aspect of social media, and be up to speed with everything happening in the music and entertainment industries. If you're a pop culture geek, radio is the right place for you!"


MIXin' It Up

Q. Working in radio, you've probably had opportunities to meet some pretty famous people. Who has been your favorite so far, and why?
A. One of my goals as the producer of the morning show was to have Bill Cosby on the show. I'm a really big fan and, about six years ago, I was able to book him for a five-minute phone interview, which turned into a 45-minute interview. He was so cool! When you get to talk to someone that you've truly admired and respected your whole life, and they are genuine and humble, it makes you appreciate them even more!

Q. Do you have any special/hidden talents?
A. Before I got into radio, I was the singer in a band, and I also play the drums.

Q. What movie can you quote word for word?
A. "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation"  

Q. What part of pop culture do you wish would just go away?
A. Baggy pants, twerking and lip syncing 

Q. What do you do for fun?
A. I coach my kids in football, baseball, basketball and softball. So, if I'm not working, I'm on a field somewhere with them. We also have an RV, and we love to go all over the Southeast and camp at new places and go jet skiing.

Q. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
A. I still have the desire to be a police officer. I find their line of work absolutely fascinating, and I have the utmost respect for them. I will occasionally do ride-alongs with different departments just to get a taste of what they do day to day.

Q. What's the first album you ever bought/owned?
A. I bought a cassette single of The Outfield's "Your Love."

Q. What was the first concert you ever attended?
A. I was a big fan of Van Halen and, shortly after they split up, David Lee Roth came in concert, and I had to go! He had some band no one had heard of opening up for him called Guns n' Roses.

Q. If you could have front-row seats to any concert, which would you choose?
A. Red Hot Chili Peppers! My favorite band ever, and I've been close — just not front row.

Matt Biancuzzo, '06

"O" Yeah!
Alumnus gets physical with Cirque du Soleil

By Angie Lewis, '03

Five nights a week, 85 acrobats, synchronized swimmers, divers and characters perform in, on and above water in Cirque du Soleil’s “O” at the Bellagio Las Vegas. And with so much physical strength and endurance required by the performers, athletic trainers, like Matt Biancuzzo, ’06, play a vital role in the show, as well as in the other 17 Cirque shows in more than 300 cities in more than 40 countries on six continents around the world.

As an athletic trainer for “O,” Biancuzzo and the rest of the performance medicine team evaluate, assess and treat the performers, taking a proactive approach with corrective exercises to prevent injuries. He says his favorite thing about his job is working with such a wide variety of personalities and cultures.

“Since joining Cirque du Soleil three years ago, I feel I have opened my eyes to so many different cultures and ways to approach things — not only in the therapy setting, but just in life in general,” he explains.

Before joining “O,” Biancuzzo worked on Cirque’s “La Nouba” show in Orlando. Before that, he worked as a graduate assistant at Florida State University, as an assistant athletic trainer at Georgia Southern University and as a student athletic trainer at UCF.

“I was always an active youth and very much into athletics,” he says. “The medical field had intrigued me after taking some focused courses in high school, and when I took my PSATs and saw the sports medicine/athletic training major, I just knew it was the direction I wanted to take.”

Biancuzzo says his UCF degree has helped him immensely in his work.

“The program gave me such a solid foundation to build upon to not only become a certified athletic trainer, but also to continue to develop as a professional in the field.”


Cirque du Soleil, which translates to “Circus of the Sun,” originated in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, in 1984. Its shows are a fusion of circus styles from around the world, each with its own storyline and central theme, where imaginary worlds are brought to life through amazing acrobatic performances.

MORE INFO ABOUT CIRQUE DU SOLEIL


Q&A Cool Down

Q. What’s your favorite thing about living in Las Vegas?
A. The variety of outdoor activities that you can find yourself doing. Red Rock is right around the corner for hiking, Lake Mead isn’t too far for boating, and several mountains aren’t far away for skiing/snowboarding.

Q. Least favorite?
A. Honestly, the touristic aspect of the strip. It’s just too many bright lights and too busy for my liking. I can handle the strip in small doses when I have friends or family visiting, but otherwise I stick to off-strip locations.

Q. What’s your favorite part of the show?
A. It is hard for me to pick my favorite part of “O.” I guess the general answer I would give is just how incredible the aspect of water comes into play during the show. One moment, you have a performer walking across the stage, and the next, one is diving into the water in the same spot. 

Q. Out of all of the Cirque shows you have seen, which is your favorite, and why?
A. This answer could get me into trouble! But, I think I’ll have to go with “La Nouba” in Orlando. It was the first show I worked for and is one of the originals with Cirque du Soleil. It will always hold a special place in my heart. 

Q. Why did you choose to attend UCF?
A. I knew I wanted to get involved with athletic training, and my first year of undergrad I attended Central Connecticut State University on an academic scholarship. I just didn’t feel at home there, so a life-long friend of mine who was attending UCF had me come check out the school, and I immediately knew that it was the right school for me. 

Q. Favorite UCF memory?
A. Getting to travel with the UCF Football team as a student athletic trainer to Hawaii to work the Hawaii Bowl.

Pat Dougher, '90, and Bob Miller, '96

These Guys Will Kickstart Your Heart

Alumni radio hosts rock Central Florida mornings

By Angie Lewis, '03

The subject matter can get a bit raunchy, and the occasional bodily function may slip through the airwaves, but what Orlando rock fans tune in for are the on-air personalities and guitar-laden music.

Loyal listeners of Orlando’s WJRR morning show are familiar with its hosts, Pat Lynch and Taco Bob. But, even if you just channel surf through morning FM radio, you’ve probably heard their unmistakable voices. The guys regularly promote local rock concerts, describe the latest viral videos and, most importantly, talk about their alma mater — UCF.

Meet “Pat Lynch”
Pat Dougher, ’90, better known as Pat Lynch, grew up in South Florida. He chose to attend UCF thanks to a recommendation about WUCF radio from a counselor at Palm Beach Community College.

While he was a student, Dougher worked an internship, which, he says, was key to his future career because it allowed him to meet some of the real players and shot callers in the local radio industry. “Doing an internship opened the door to the people who have and still do make it possible to do what I do for a living,” he adds.

As a radio/television major, Dougher ended up leading a student drive to gain an afternoon block of student programming on WUCF, which proved successful.

After WUCF, he went on to work for Central Florida’s old Q-96, then Relativity Records in New York City. After a brief time up north, he moved back to Orlando, where he worked as a manager at Peaches Music. In addition, he worked part time for WDIZ, which was eventually merged with WJRR when Paxson Communications bought the station. Seventeen years later, Dougher’s still with WJRR.

Meet “Taco Bob”
Bob Miller, ’96, better known as Taco Bob, says he chose to attend UCF because it seemed like the next step on the ladder after growing up in Central Florida and attending Valencia. “Plus, UCF offered a great communications department,” he adds.

As a radio/television major, Miller had the opportunity to meet guest speaker Jenny Sue Rhodes from then-Paxson Communications [now WJRR], to whom he credits helping him get his foot in the door of the radio industry thanks to an internship with her company, after which he was hired on as an employee. This year marks his 20th year with WJRR. 

Pat Lynch, Meet Taco Bob
So, how did this pair end up together?

“When WDIZ merged with WJRR, our program director walked in the studio one day and said, ‘Pat, this is Taco Bob. He’s going to be on during the lunch hour with you to do entertainment news,’” Dougher explains. “I said, ‘OK,’ and we hit it off immediately. We had good chemistry, so the powers that be said, ‘Looks like we may have something here we can develop into a full show.’ The rest was history.”

Learn more about the guys and their lives in radio in the Q&A below.

WJRR has had several format changes over the years, but adopted its current rock format and call letters in 1993. Some of the station’s alumni includes Larry the Cable Guy, Just Plain Mark and Buckethead.

Rockin' On with Pat and Bob

Q. Describe a typical day at work.
Pat Dougher:
Arrive at 4:10 a.m., catch up on overnight news and start the show at 5 a.m. From 5 a.m. to 10 a.m., we execute the mechanics of the show as well as the online/social media aspects of the show. After the show, we produce any promos or commercials that have been assigned, meet with our programming boss and sales counterparts as needed. The day sometimes also includes on-site appearances for client and station promotions. I try to leave the office by noon, catch a nap and then begin a couple of hours of show prep for the next day’s program. 

Q. Favorite thing about your job?
Bob Miller:
When we have a great show. 

Q. Why do you do what you do?
PD:
I always loved radio as a kid and decided I would try to make it a career.
BM:
I love entertaining people. 

Q. Working in radio, you’ve probably had opportunities to meet some pretty famous people. Who has been your favorite so far, and why?
PD:
Hands down, Ozzy Osbourne. Why? He is the front man of, in my honest opinion, the most important hard-rock band, Black Sabbath.
BM:
Matt Damon because he’s very down-to-earth and a great guy to have a beer with. Slash because he’s Slash, and he does so much more than rock. Larry the Cable Guy because Pat and I worked with him for years, and it’s so good to see a great person become beyond successful. 

Q. What did you want to be when you grew up?
PD:
Police officer/law enforcement
BM:
Meteorologist or actor 

Q. How did you end up at WJRR? (What other jobs have you had?)
PD:
My previous radio jobs have been at WUCF (when the station played rock music and paid some of the students, including me). I then went to work for the old Q-96. After that, I briefly worked for Relativity records in NYC. I moved back to Orlando and worked for Peaches Music as a manager, and also part time at the legendary WDIZ (where I ended up working full time). WDIZ was merged with WJRR when Paxson Communications bought WDIZ. Been at WJRR ever since.
BM:
I did an internship at WJRR while attending UCF, and they hired me. I worked in the restaurant business from [age] 14 to 21. 

Q. What advice would you give to current UCF radio/television students?
PD:
Minor in something that will make you more valuable to a potential employer — business, marketing, etc. And, do an internship to establish some contacts.
BM:
Do an internship and learn as much as you can while you’re there about promotions, marketing, production, sales, etc. 

Q. What was your first paying job?
PD:
I started mowing yards when I was 10. When I turned 15 and was legally allowed to work, I went to work for a mom-and-pop grocery store chain in South Florida.
BM:
Sold mistletoe at the age of 7. We made a killing growing up in Winter Park! 

Q. What or who inspires you?
PD:
Adversity inspires me. There’s nothing more satisfying than overcoming adversity.
BM:
Successful actors who give back to their local communities and anyone who does charitable work 

Q. What’s the first album you ever bought/owned?
PD:
Kiss’ “Destroyer”
BM:
Bob Marley’s “Uprising" 

Q. What was the first concert you ever attended?
PD:
Cheap Trick and U.F.O.
BM:
Pink Floyd 

Q. What music/artist would you never be caught listening to?
PD:
Mumford and Sons
BM:
One Direction — unless my daughters do a sneak attack on me 

Q. What songs would make up the soundtrack of your life?
PD:
“Street Fighting Man” by The Rolling Stones, “You Won’t Change Me” by Black Sabbath, “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” by Judas Priest, “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Cool Change” by Little River Band, “I’m No Angel” by Greg Allman, and “Back for More” by Ratt
BM:
Songs by Bob Marley, Sublime and The Zach Brown Band

On the Air

In preparation for this article, the guys invited me to stop by the WJRR studio and sit in with them during one of their live shows. Our executive director (and huge WJRR fan), Tom Messina, ’84, and our social media coordinator, Stephanie Sheppard, ’12, accompanied me.
LISTEN TO OUR SEGMENT

Melyssa Allen, '12

'Lions and Dolphins and Mines, Oh My!
Alumna trains marine mammals for classified missions

By Angie Lewis, '03

She was just 4 years old when she made one of the biggest decisions of her life. It was a fateful trip to SeaWorld San Antonio, where she touched a dolphin and saw all of the park’s aquatic shows that sealed the deal. “I’m going to work with those animals when I grow up!” she declared to her parents. And, that’s exactly what Melyssa Allen, ’12, is doing.

As a marine mammal assistant trainer for Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), a civilian technology company contracted by the U.S. Navy, Allen trains Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions for the Navy Marine Mammal Program.

The animals provide swimmer defense for the restricted waterway around the King’s Bay Naval Submarine Base in Georgia.

“Dolphins have a highly advanced biological sonar that they use for detection of objects, and sea lions have very well-developed, low-light visibility and highly sensitive hearing, which enable both animals to be extremely reliable to their tasked jobs,” Allen explains.

Because of their extraordinary senses, speed and agility in the water, the dolphins and sea lions are easily able to detect and “tag” enemy divers — who pose a threat to vessels, harbor facilities and people — with a special marker, so they can be tracked and apprehended by Naval authorities.

A typical day at work for Allen includes preparing the animals’ diets, performing maintenance on the program’s pens and boats, running practice drills with the animals and patrolling the waterway.

At the program’s main base in San Diego, dolphins and sea lions are also trained to help the Navy detect sea mines, which are sophisticated weapons used in the ocean and designed to sink ships, destroy landing craft, and critically injure or kill personnel.

The Navy’s Marine Mammal Program has a breeding program for its dolphins, while its sea lions come from other facilities, like SeaWorld, Allen explains. The program has also started taking in rescued sea lion pups deemed non-releasable by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, which are raised by the trainers for the program’s projects.

“The National Marine Mammal Foundation has played a very large role in the rescue and rehabilitation of the mass stranding of sea lion pups throughout the past year,” Allen says.

Although she’s only been in her current position since January 2013, Allen has had plenty of experience with animals. She’s been everything from a barn assistant at a horse farm to a pet trainer at PetSmart to an aquatic research intern with Disney’s Animal Programs.

While she was a student at UCF, Allen pursued her dream career by participating in Knights for Marine and Wildlife Conservation, Pre-Vet Society, Cognitive Sciences Lab, Applied Cognition and Technology Lab, and Physiological Ecology and Bioenergetics Lab.

She says earning both a B.S. in biology and psychology has allowed her to understand more about the animals with which she works — their physiology and anatomy through her biology background, and the different aspects of operant conditioning and behavior modification from her psychology background.

And, it was access to more opportunities to work with marine mammals in Florida (versus Texas) that drew Allen to UCF. Well, that and, she adds, “When I took the campus tour, I knew that I would be happiest spending my college career here.”


Fishing for More!

Q. What’s the last thing you Googled?
A. My favorite guy from this season of “The Bachelorette,” Bryden Vukasin, who was in the Army during the Iraq war. I kind of have a thing for men in uniform — which works for me, since I work on a Navy base!

Q. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
A. I would like to pursue my doctorate degree and become a professor. (Looks like I might be coming back to UCF for grad school some day!)

Q. What profession would you not like to do?
A. Maintenance professional. I can’t stand having to unclog my shower drain.

Q. How do you manage stress?
A. Over the last year, I actually started to like running, so I began running more consistently and liking it more and more. When I found that racing in a 5K was getting easier and easier, I thought, why don’t I try a sprint triathlon? I like swimming a lot, and I’ve always liked spin class, so why not? Now, training for my races gives me a great outlet for stress! If you had told me this time last year that I would be a triathlete, I would have laughed out loud in your face, but I placed fourth in the novice division for my first race and third in the 20-24 female age group for my second race! And, I ended up placing second in my age group for the entire Jacksonville Triathlon Series that I participated in as well! 

Q. Do you have any special/hidden talents?
A. I played the violin for nine years during school and also took ballet for six years. 

Q. What or who inspires you?
A. Dawn Brancheau, whom I was lucky enough to work with during my internship at Shamu Stadium during the summer of 2009, has always been an inspiration to me in both my career and fitness. I always imagine how excited she would have been, just like the other trainers I know at SeaWorld, knowing that I finally made it to the field! 

Q. What’s your life’s philosophy?
A. When someone tells you, “You can’t,” turn around and tell them, “Watch me!”

Brandon Chandler, '10

Artisan Ice Ice Baby
Alumnus offers a cool solution to Florida's relentless summer heat

By Angie Lewis, '03

Everyone who’s experienced a Florida summer knows the humidity is enough to make you melt. Lucky for fellow Knights and other downtown patrons, Brandon Chandler, ’10, and his team at The Hyppo Orlando are constantly freezing up new batches of refreshing gourmet treats.

Chandler knew he could do better than all of the Orlando frozen yogurt shops, which, he says, “aren’t very healthy or original.” So, he opened The Hyppo Orlando, at 431 E. Central Blvd., right at the edge of Lake Eola, selling artisan ice pops made from fresh fruit, cane sugar, herbs and other deliciously interesting ingredients.

Savor the Flavors
Whether you prefer the simplest of flavors, like Strawberry, Coconut or Orange Cream — or, you crave more adventurous flavors, like Guava Hibiscus, Mexican Hot Chocolate or Blackberry Goat Cheese — there’s a frozen combination guaranteed to tickle your taste buds and cool you to the core.

The shop even offers some 21-and-up combinations, like Riesling Pear, Sangria Plum, Cigar City Orange-Mango Helles Lager and Wild Turkey Bourbon Peach.

So, how does Chandler come up with each flavor? “There’s a lot of trial and error involved with not just getting the right flavor combinations, but the correct ratios of each to get the flavor profiles we want,” he explains.

The Hyppo team takes the highest quality fresh fruits, herbs and vegetables and blends them down until they’re mixed in the correct proportion. Then, the mixtures are poured into molds and loaded into flash freezers — the process that makes The Hyppo’s pops so unique. It freezes the pops so cold and fast that ice crystals don’t have time to form, creating a “texture and flavor difference [that] is incredible,” Chandler says. After 15 to 20 minutes in the freezers, the pops are given a quick warm water bath to help them release from the molds, before being sent through the wrapping machine, after which, The Hyppo’s customers happily devour them.

Chandler’s personal favorite flavor? Pineapple Cilantro. But, he says the shop’s bestseller is the Elvis pop, made with peanut butter, banana and honey — and, sometimes, bacon.

Growing Hyppo
The Hyppo originated on Hypolita Street (hence, the shop’s name) in St. Augustine, where the first store opened its doors, before growing into three more locations there.

The Hyppo Orlando is the first location in Central Florida, but Chandler plans to expand it throughout the I-4 corridor, with two to three new shops anticipated within the next year. 

UCF — For the Win!
Chandler’s UCF education and degree have been instrumental in his entrepreneurial endeavors. He was immediately able to find work in Orlando after graduating, which allowed him to save the money he needed to open the Orlando store. In addition, his accounting background has helped in every business decision he’s made. Plus, it makes the numbers of everything much less daunting, he adds.

When ultimately deciding which college he wanted to attend, Chandler knew he wanted to do something business related, so being in a big city with internship opportunities was important. “After touring all the schools around the state, I just knew as soon as I took the tour at UCF, I was going there,” he says. “So, I put my housing deposit in that day, and it was a great decision for me.”


Cool Q&A

Q. Favorite snack?
A. Chocolate-covered peanut butter pretzels from Trader Joe’s 

Q. Happiest/proudest moment of your life so far?
A. Would probably be a tie between having lines out the door on weekends and overhearing people talking about how much they love [Hyppo] and recommending it to their friends at various places around town. 

Q. Worst flavor of ice cream?
A. Strawberry — Fake strawberry is such an insult to the fruit. 

Q. Do you have any nicknames?
A. My last name being the name of a popular TV show character [Chandler Bing on “Friends”] has definitely led to a few related to that show over the years. 

Q. Favorite condiment?
A. Sriracha 

Q. Any special/hidden talents?
A. I am exceptionally mediocre at a wide variety of sports. 

Q. Bacon or Nutella?
A. Bacon

More Info

Like | facebook.com/TheHyppoOrlando
Follow | @TheHyppoOrlando

Joey Conicella, '05

Will Brake for Cupcakes
Alumnus' sweet treats are Yum Yum in the tum tum

By Angie Lewis, '03

He may have dreamed of being a Disney animator when he grew up, but little did Joey Conicella, '05, realize then that he would, indeed, be bringing smiles to the faces of children and big kids alike — just, in a different way.

For the past two years, his Yum Yum Cupcake Truck has been the frosting on Orlando's food truck scene. At least six days a week, you can find Joey and his partner, Alex, baking up flavors like Funnel of Love, Key Slime, Ballad of El Churro, Cookies Got Creamed and Dough Dough Bird.

And, their creativity doesn't end at cupcake names. Joey and Alex serve their tasty treats in stylish detail—everything from their characteristic bow ties to their shiny, silver bakery on wheels, adorned with a distinctive bright yellow retro logo and stripes.

So, what's a typical day on a cupcake truck like? Joey says that's what he loves most about his business. "There is no typical day! Our days are always long. We start baking very early in the morning, and trucks don't come back from the evening events until 10 p.m."

Yum Yum does have some competition in the area, but when we asked Joey what makes his cupcakes the best, he responded humbly.

"I never like to say that we're 'better' or the 'best,'" he explains. "Everyone has his or her own taste. Some people think we're No. 1, and some people don't care for us. But, everyone who bites into a Yum Yum Cupcake should know that they're made from scratch every day in small batches. Alex and our team pour their hearts into each and every cupcake. I think people can taste that love."

These colorful cupcake connoisseurs say they started the Yum Yum Cupcake Truck as a way to get to spend more time together. "We've always enjoyed being in the kitchen together, whether it was baking or cooking," Joey says. "The whole thing was a very organic process."

Although everything seemed to fall naturally into place, there is a secret ingredient behind his success.

"I'm the person I am today because of my four years at UCF," Joey says. "Those years were among the best in my life. I truly love UCF and the city of Orlando. It's filled with such positive people. On top of that, the community has embraced Yum Yum, and giving back is the least we can do to show our gratitude." (Joey and Alex regularly donate cupcakes for various UCF events.)

As a student, Joey was a Marching Knight and a member of CAB, as well as part of the ad/PR groups, and he even started his own indie newspaper called The Floridian Slip.

This fall, Joey will be part of the leadership team for the UCF Nicholson School of Communication Alumni Chapter.

Want to satisfy your sweet tooth? During the fall and spring semesters (and occasionally during the summer semesters), you can find the Yum Yum Cupcake Truck parked in front of the UCF Burnett Honors College every Tuesday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. For a complete schedule, check out the links below.


Playing with Food

Q. Bacon or Nutella?
A. Nutella, without question.

Q. If you could eat only one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
A. Spaghetti with tomato sauce. Morning, noon and night.

Q. If you were reincarnated as an ice cream flavor, what flavor would you be?
A. Cannoli

Q. Ideal last meal?
A. Spaghetti

Q. Favorite condiment?
A. Does olive oil count? I'm Italian...

Q. Favorite snack?
A. Italian bread with olive oil

Q. What's your favorite flavor of cupcake you make?
A. I'm a sweets guy, so it's hard for me to choose. I never get sick of the Peanut Butter Choco-Rama. So there, I'll go with that one!

More Info

Visit | theyumyumcupcaketruck.com
Like | /theyumyumtruck
Follow| @yumyumtruck_fl

armstrong-airforce

Helping Heroes

There are an estimated 200,000 homeless veterans living in the United States, and the population continues to grow every day. Many have made Florida's forests and parks their "homes," thanks to the warm weather.

Community-based intervention program Stand Down was formed to help these heroes "combat" life on the streets. In fact, the term "stand down" originated during the Vietnam War, when officers recognized overworked units and would pull them back for rest, supply them with needed services and new equipment, and get them ready for their return to battle.

Stand Down gives Florida's homeless veterans a chance to come in from their camps in the trees to receive new clothing (everything from undergarments to boots), camping supplies, food, showers and general hygiene, dental care (when available) and chiropractic care.

You read that correctly — chiropractic care. After all, these veterans are literally sleeping on the ground. Imagine the effect that has on their bodies.

The program's chiropractic coordinator is Dr. Lance Armstrong, '86, who earned his UCF degree in physics. He also was the U.S. Air Force cadet commander at UCF, and flew B-52s until Congressional budget cuts in 1992.

"The cuts required I find a new career, so I came home as a chiropractic physician wanting to put the two careers together," he explains.

In that effort, Armstrong was instrumental in creating a partnership between Stand Down and Palmer College's Florida campus, allowing interns to adjust the veterans.

Thanks to his effort, Julie Clover, the director of membership and business development with Community Credit Union in Rockledge, FL, wanted to award the chiropractor the CCU Hometown Hero Award, which comes with a $200 gift. However, Armstrong insisted she give the money to the chiropractic student volunteers at Palmer College.

Instead of giving them the $200, the CCU Board of Trustees decided to donate $1,500. "I was in shock," Armstrong says. "My appreciation was beyond belief."

The donation is being used to purchase two portable adjusting tables and gas station gift cards to help with the cost of driving an hour away from campus to the site and back.

"I am proud to see the college taking the torch," he says. "My dream is to see chiropractors volunteer at Stand Down in their states and nationwide. My dream is also to see chiropractic physicians work with Veterans Affairs."

Armstrong has also assisted in the effort to provide chiropractic care to U.S. service men and women. Now, he says there are chiropractors on 50 military bases.

MORE INFO

standown.org

 

Lance Armstrong, '86 - Stand Down
Dr. Lance Armstrong, '86, (right) visits with veterans and student interns at Stand Down.

Lance Armstrong, '86 - Stand Down
Armstrong says those are UCF student nurses on the table. "I have treated hundreds of them with 'student stiffness from studying,' and complimentary too. Always a Knight!"

alexandra_gramatikas

Button Up!
Alumna brings big style to a little detail

By Angie Lewis, '03

While attending a nautical-themed wine tasting, Alexandra Gramatikas, '12, and her business partner and current UCF doctoral student, Tripp Driskell, found themselves in a big discussion about a relatively small item: buttons. More specifically, they complained about the lack of versatility in purchasing clothing with exactly the right buttons, and how ridiculous it is to buy a new blazer just because it has gold buttons, or making a trip to the seamstress to have plain buttons replaced with snazzier ones. And, so, ALTR LLC was born.

Alexandra's patent-pending button covers allow wearers to "ALTR" the look of any standard buttons without the use of a needle and thread. She began her line with a design close to the hearts of all Knights — the coveted Pegasus.

This great invention not only gives UCF alumni a way to literally wear their pride every day, but it also won Alexandra first place in the 2012 UCF Joust, for which she was awarded $10,000 cash and one year free residency in the UCF Incubator program.

We caught up with Alexandra and asked her a few questions about her entrepreneurial spirit and bubbly personality. Here's what she had to say...

Q. Why do you do what you do?
A. The idea of doing anything else seems like a jail sentence. I crave innovation... Whether it's something obvious like creating a new product, or something unsuspected like a new adaptation of an existing product.

Q. What is your favorite thing about your job?
A. The immediate answer: marketing. However, when I take a second to think about it, I would have to say the manufacturing operations. I LOVE that I've been exposed to such a relevant industry. Rapid prototyping, machining, injection molding, etc., have a huge impact on today's manufacturing. Not only are a lot of these operations being brought back to the U.S., they are becoming more affordable for budding innovators. A student could create prototypes in his or her dorm room with the technology that is available!

Q. Describe a typical day at work...
A. I wake up at 7:30 every morning (which is early for me) and eat breakfast while watching Good Morning America and answering emails. Then, I usually have a morning meeting and head to the office, located at the Orlando UCF Incubator — I love the UCF Incubator! From there, it's anything from licensing and product research to web and content development. I always take breaks in between to engage on social media, since that is currently our primary source of marketing. Then, around 3:30, I fulfill the day's orders and ship them out.

Q. What did you want to be when you grew up?
A. Peter Pan... then an architect... then a pastry chef... then a media buyer.

Q. What was your first paying job?
A. A server at Harry's in Tallahassee during undergrad. I think EVERYONE should be a server or host/ess at least once in their life. It gives you a whole new level of patience and appreciation.

Q. Why did you choose to attend UCF?
A. I graduated with my undergraduate degree at Florida State in 2009. The only opportunities that were being offered to me at the time were either as a recruiter or in sales. Though they were great opportunities, and I have friends who have done phenomenally in those fields, I just knew that I would constantly crave something else. So, I worked at Shari as a hostess for a year (another life lesson in patience). One day, my dad suggested I come with him to attend UCF's Joust finals. It would give me an opportunity to meet some of the faculty, and see what direction UCF was going in. The day after, I signed up for the GMAT and applied to UCF's M.B.A. program.

Q. What is your favorite UCF memory?
A. Winning the very competition that encouraged me to go back to school in the first place

Q. What is the last thing you searched for on Google?
A. "best design for creating friction" and "yoda quotes"

Q. What one thing drives you absolutely crazy?
A. No. 1 is TIME!!! I HATE when people have no regard for time (and, in turn, no one else's) — drives me bonkers! Students (especially graduate) without a LinkedIn profile, and #selfies are a close second.

Q. What is the No. 1-most-played song on your iPod/MP3 player?
A. Oooooooo that is tough. I always play my Spotify "schizophrenic playlist" on shuffle... Right now, the top three are probably: "Baby, I Love Your Way" by Big Mountain, "Heroes" by David Bowie and "Radio" by Lana Del Rey.

Q. What songs would make up the soundtrack of your life?
A. "You Only Get What You Give" by New Radicals

Q. What movie can you quote word for word?
A. Wedding Crashers and Finding Nemo

Q. What TV show are you embarrassed to admit watching?
A. I LOVE anything on the Smithsonian Channel. Guilty pleasure: American Idol — mainly to roll my eyes because the female judges this year are awful. Bring back Steven Tyler!!!

Q. Do you have any nicknames?
A. Star (it's my middle name), Little One, Gram, Midge... I'm really short if you couldn't tell from those, lol.

Q. If you could eat only one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
A. Chocolate chip cookies!!! And mac 'n cheese.

Q. What was your most embarrassing moment?
A. HA! There are so many... But definitely the time in undergrad, my roommate talked me into signing up for a gym membership. The first day I went with her, we were next to each other on the treadmill. Mine wasn't working, so I walked across hers to her other side. I realized I left my iPod at the other treadmill, so I went to walk back across. However, in that short time, she had started running on her treadmill. So, when I stepped on it, I went flying off the back with my feet in the air like a cockroach. We still laugh about it to this day.

Q. What is the hardest thing you have ever done?
A. Start a company.

Q. What is your favorite app?
A. Instagram. 99.9 percent of our pictures are taken with my phone and put through Instagram. I LOVE IT!

Q. Where is the farthest you have traveled?
A. I am very fortunate in the traveling department. When my parents split, my dad and I spent three weeks at the end of every summer traveling with some family friends. We always packed a backpack and that's it. I've had the opportunity to go places from Vietnam and Bali to scuba diving in the Galapagos and climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Q. A custom T-shirt tells the world a lot about a person. What would yours say?
A. "I know that guacamole is extra."

Q. What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
A. "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." (Samuel Beckett)
My dad told me that quote my first week after graduating from FSU.

Q. What do you fear?
A. Missing out. I have a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out). I don't really fear "not succeeding" because deep down, I know I will succeed at something. You could say I have fear of missing out on an opportunity.

Q. What is the one word you are guilty of using too often?
A. Hmm... I don't necessarily use one word more than any other, but I have a tendency to make up words. I'll accidentally combine two words when speaking, and just hope no one noticed.

Q. Tell us a secret!
A. I'm really 4 feet 10 inches and some millimeters, but I tell everyone I'm 4 feet 11 inches because the DMV gave me the extra inch on my driver's license, and that's the one that really counts. ;)

MORE INFO
Visit
madetoaltr.com
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Follow
@madetoaltr

jackmill-edit

Prepared for Takeoff

Jack Mill, '80, fell in love with airplanes as a teenager. Lucky for him, his dreams of flying and designing aircraft became a reality when he landed a job with Piper Aircraft Inc. more than 30 years ago. He began as a design engineer and ascended his way up to his current position of vice president of engineering. Piper is headquartered in Vero Beach, FL, and is considered one of the "big three" in the field of general aviation manufacturing.

Jack earned his B.S. in engineering at UCF, is a licensed professional engineer in Florida, an FAA engineering authorized representative, a certified flight instructor and a commercial pilot with instrument rating in single and multi-engine aircraft.

We caught up with Jack while he was attending simulation training in Orlando. Here's what he shared with us...

Q. How did you get started with Piper Aircraft?
A. In 1972, Piper donated an airplane to Vero Beach High School where I was enrolled in an aeronautics class. Since the donated airplane had been used extensively for structural testing, it could not be sold and we used it to learn about all of the parts and how to perform a pre-flight inspection as if we were going to actually fly it. This was my first exposure to Piper, plus involvement in a Boy Scouts Explorer club that Piper sponsored. Years later, in 1985, I had the opportunity to join Piper as a design engineer.

Q. Why do you do what you do?
A. I love flying airplanes and participating in the design process of creating a product that fulfills the dreams of our customers. Seeing an airplane that I have had a part in the design of and talking to customers that love our products fills me with pride for the Piper team that cannot be described.

Q. What motivated you to learn how to fly?
A. My first airplane ride in a Piper Cub at a Vero Beach airport open house sparked my interest. We slowly flew low over the Indian River and across the island to the beach at only a few hundred feet and saw fisherman, boaters and golfers, and everyone was looking up at us and waving. Looking at the world from above provides an amazing perspective that hooks you.

Q. Describe your best day as a pilot...
A. This is a tough question as I have enjoyed so many flights varying from personal trips, experimental flight tests, giving flight instruction, traveling for Piper and many challenging flights to different places. Several very memorable flights include opportunities to fly the Piper Cub, Piper Cheyenne, Piper Malibu/Mirage, Ford Tri-motor, Pilatus PC-12 and Beechcraft King Air, to name a few. Flying the Piper Meridian last week was my most recent "best day" flying!

Q. What's your favorite thing about your job?
A. Leading the engineering team at Piper allows me to work side by side every day with some of the most dedicated and talented people in the general aviation business. The passion for making the best airplanes in the world is what drives the Piper team and I'm so very proud to be a part of it.

Q. What's your least favorite thing about your job?
A. The administrative portion of the position consumes so much of my time that it's a challenge to stay focused on the important tasks that need to get addressed both tactically and strategically.

Q. Describe a typical day at work...
A. I usually ride my bicycle to work (it's only 4.5 miles) in time to change and start into emails and review my schedule for the day around 7 a.m. or so. Normal days are comprised of project and design reviews, developing and/or reviewing presentations for financial reviews, board of directors meetings, staff meetings and working with various teams setting priorities for resources as necessary to accomplish the corporate goals. I see my position as more of a coach and mentor, providing the tools and resources the team needs to accomplish the work that needs to get done. I use lunch time and late in the afternoon to catch up on emails and correspondence to industry associations, employees, the FAA and various customers. I usually change and ride my bicycle to Charles Park around 6:15 p.m. to meet my wife and friends for a few miles of running and walking, then home for dinner. Often times, I use the evenings after dinner to further catch up on emails and reading journal articles or providing feedback and direction.

Q. What's your most memorable experience on the job?
A. The day the Piperjet proof of concept vehicle first flew. This was our first jet design that we built and flew to prove the concept of a single engine turbofan powered airplane. Watching the airplane fly for the first time brought tears to my eyes.

Q. Why did you choose to attend UCF?
A. Because it was a local university with a reputation for excellence in the engineering program.

Q. What's your favorite UCF memory?
A. Graduating!

Q. What song(s) would make up the soundtrack of your life?
A. Pink Floyd, Beetles, Dave Grusin, Debusy, Boston, Jimmy Buffet, Big & Rich, generally a variety of anything but rap...

Q. Do you have any hidden talents?
A. I learned to juggle a few years ago! I want to learn piano.

Q. What magazine do you look for when you're stuck in a waiting room?
A. Flying, Field & Stream, Boating, Water Ski

Q. If you could watch only one TV show, what would it be and why?
A. I only get to watch what my wife has on and it's usually HGTV!

Q. What do you do for fun?
A. Flying, scuba diving, free-diving, hunting lionfish and lobster, golfing, waterskiing, boating, traveling with my wife, Dawn (Miller) Mill, '77, and visiting with my daughters Katy and Angela

Q. A giant meteor is hurling through the atmosphere toward Earth, and life as we know it will cease to exist by this time tomorrow. How will you spend your last 24 hours?
A. With my wife and children

Q. If someone wrote a book about you, what would the title be?
A. "What a ride!"

Q. What or who inspires you?
A. My wife, my mother and father (God rest his soul), my faith, many of my coworkers and associates over the years

Q. How do you manage stress?
A. Sometimes taking a walk or getting away to a quiet place for a few minutes does wonders, and sometimes an intensive workout.

Q. What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?
A. Be true to yourself.

Q. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
A. I admire my wife Dawn's artistic ability and profession so much that I would love to be able to draw or paint.

Ruben Nunez

Far Out!
With $30 million up for grabs, UCF alumni and students are in a race to space.

By Angie Lewis, '03

Like many kids from his generation, Ruben Nunez, '11, grew up watching Weird Science, E.T. and Star Wars. Little did he know the influence the science fiction and technology in those movies would have on him. But after his parents took him to visit Kennedy Space Center and he had an encounter with one of the astronauts, it all made sense: He wanted to build a spacecraft that would help us explore our universe.

Unable to find a good internship opportunity as a college student, then learning about the $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE, Nunez decided to start his own company and team to pursue it.

Earthrise Space Inc. (ESI) provides students with experience building real spacecraft, doing so in collaboration with industry and academic institutions. As president and CEO, Nunez, along with three UCF alumni and 33 UCF students, formed Omega Envoy. The team is competing against 22 other teams from around the world to be the first to safely land a robot on the surface of the moon, have it travel 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send video, images and data back to Earth.

If Omega Envoy wins the money, Nunez says the cash prize will be used to expand his company's infrastructure and workforce to further develop its technologies in order to increase the reliability of its spacecraft.

"We intend to demonstrate that Florida is the No. 1 place for space, since all the infrastructure and resources needed to build and launch spacecraft can be found here," Nunez says. "We hope to create technologies to enable pin-point precision lunar landing — technologies which can then be used to explore other places in our solar system. We also intend to be the first commercial entity to offer lunar payload delivery services." (ESI has already sold $1.6 million in lunar payload delivery services to Angelicvm, a Chilean company also competing in the Google Lunar X PRIZE.)

In addition, he says he would use the prize money to hire more engineers and other disciplined professionals with experience, and provide more internships from different majors (e.g., engineering, business, marketing, public relations and art) to increase the symbiotic mentoring methodology they implement to spur innovation. He would also schedule future lunar payload delivery missions with increased payload mass capabilities, as well as create spin-off technologies for use on Earth and further space exploration.

Thanks to Nunez's ambitious endeavor, ESI has secured a contract with NASA for up to $10 million, through which ESI is providing data from its Omega Envoy spacecraft development and mission. The space giant will use this data in an effort to learn how a small, nonprofit company, like ESI, is able to build a lunar module for a fraction of the cost it spent in its past lunar missions — information that could be imperative to any future NASA operations.

"As the Florida team in the competition, it is important to engage students here in the state who will be the future space workforce," Nunez explains. "What better place to do that than at UCF and other Florida universities? We want to provide experience and support to students and alumni from our alma mater, increasing our momentum and our community involvement."

Earthrise Space is part of the UCF Business Incubator and is housed in Central Florida Research Park, which is close to its main workforce of UCF students. Since its inception, ESI has provided internships to more than 60 students, six of whom were hired with companies like Boeing, Pratt & Whitney, Lockheed Martin and Aircraft Electric Motors. 

More Info
Since ESI is a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation, it's seeking other sponsors, partners, donors, grants, contracts and other funding sources in an effort to fulfill its lunar payload delivery service capabilities and to win the Google Lunar X PRIZE.

Join the Omega Envoy team on its journey:
VISIT earthrise-space.org
LIKE facebook.com/earthrisespace
FOLLOW @omegaEnvoy

Laura-Alexandra-Ramos---Headshot

Tell us a little about yourself, give us your self-introduction.

I am a Florida native, born and raised in Tampa and have a strange obsession with staying busy, traveling, and trying new things. I graduated from the UCF Film School in 2009 and immediately moved out to LA a month later to pursue acting and work in the entertainment industry.

• Congratulations on your award for Best Actress at the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival! How does it feel to earn such an award?

It was a really great honor to win this award, and honestly it came as quite a surprise at first. My director posted on my Facebook wall that I had won the award, but I honestly thought he was kidding and brushed it off. About two weeks later I log onto the festival website and there it was "Winner for Best Actress: Laura Alexandra Ramos". I was thrilled! It really feels great to be acknowledged for all of your hard work- blood, sweat and tears, if you will.

• Can you give us some insight as to what life is like on the set of a film?

Long hours, a lot of down time, and large amounts of food... Just kidding. But seriously, being on set is fantastic. You meet such great people all while doing what you love to do- and then it's on to the next one. You can't get bored, which is good for me as I am always into learning and trying new things. There is no better learning experience than being on set working on a film from start to finish. Every project is it is an experience in its own and you grow and learn from each one.

• What career plans are you pursuing as an actress? Are there any projects that you are currently working on?

As an actress I'm not looking to become "famous", I just want to be a working actor and be able to call it a career and make a living off of it. It may sound cliché, but it really is about the art and not about the fame- I am actually a very private person and I would like to keep it that way. I do have an upcoming film due out in December called 12/12/12 and another feature that is a biopic on the late Pirates player, Roberto Clemente. I keep busy between films by constantly working on smaller projects and a few commercials here and there. I am always doing something.

• When you began at UCF, what did you expect for your future? Did you ever see yourself as an award-winning actress, or did you wish to pursue a different career path?

When I started UCF I already had a planed that I was going to make the move to the West Coast as soon as I graduated. You never know what the future holds, but as any actor secretly does, of course I had dreamt of someday winning some sort of an award where I could make a speech and be able to thank everyone Oscar-style, but it was mostly about being acknowledged for my work.

• How did your experience at UCF contribute to your professional career?

I decided to major in film to learn the backside of the production world. I always had an attraction for the film industry and films in general, so it was an easy choice. While studying, I stayed active by acting in and/or helping out with castings for student and independent projects. I also worked part-time at a casting agency for over two years and loved every second of it. I was very involved in the Orlando film industry, both in front and behind the camera, but since it was so limited I knew I had to be in a place with more opportunities. I am looking to start producing some of my own projects and continue to work in casting out here in the city and also worked at a talent agency for a while. Having been a part of this program taught me such a great deal about production, exposed me to some fantastic teachers that I surely will never forget (Lisa Cook), and allowed me to meet and make some great contacts and friends for the future.

• How do you keep in contact with fellow alumni?

Thanks to social networking sites, keeping in touch with fellow alumni is very easy nowadays. There is such a large community of UCF Film students out here in LA and I try to keep in contact with as many as people as I can. Several alumni continue working together on independent projects. The first film I shot after my move to Los Angeles was actually directed and produced by a fellow UCF alumni!

Deanna-Cooper

 •Tell us a little about yourself, give us your self-introduction.

I have a BSBA from UCF and a MBA from the University of Connecticut. I was the first person in my family to achieve a college degree and had to work throughout school to pay my own way. After graduating, I worked several years for large companies in various industries before switching over to the Entertainment industry. I have traveled globally, lived in NYC and Los Angeles and now reside in Chicago with my husband and 3 children. In Hollywood I worked for New Line Cinema and Fox Studios doing everything from taking verbal film pitches and estimating the value of a single film to breaking down financial budgets for the studios' slate of films and vetting the budgets and forecasts of distributors, subsidiaries and sales reps all around the globe. I have also participated in marketing and strategy meetings in which poster design and campaign promotions where determined and negotiated payment and settlement terms with licensees when deals failed. It was a great career that taught me valuable skills. My goal now is to take those learning and create a powerful production company here in Chicago.

•How did you obtainthe opportunity to produce the first 3-D movie to show in Chicago?

After leaving Hollywood and the unending workdays/nights, my goal was to spend some time focusing on my family and then build a production company with my husband (also a filmmaker) to create content that inspires us. Meaningful films can be delivered in many genres. I Heart Shakey is a comedy about loyalty and was a proof of concept for us. Proving that studio quality films can be created outside of Hollywood, our company Amarok Productions is ready to make many more films! We did something for a fraction of the cost that the studios spend. Our VFX, music, casting, sets, equipment and crew are all studio quality. We applied our expertise and fostered a group of Chicago filmmakers into creating history. We are the first 3D indie film of its kind and very proud to be paving a path for other filmmakers to follow their passion and dreams and never settle. Yahoo Movies did a big article on I Heart Shakey and simply said, "No more excuses for new filmmakers", because we can all do it! Just set your goal and don't stop or settle!

•Tell us about your time on the set. What is like to work on a movie as the Producer?

Being the Producer is a lot of fun but a lot of work. The Producer is involved in every phase of filmmaking from the idea origin to final exhibition. On set, assume anything that can go wrong will go wrong. My day to day was spent greeting and welcoming press, local celebs and political figures to managing cast issues, location problems, crew scheduling conflicts and keeping our shooting days to a minimum. Everyday I would take a call from my friends/peers in LA telling me I was crazy and taking on too much, that it couldn't be done. This just pushed me harder to succeed. I hardly ever got the chance to sit on set and just enjoy the scene, but whenever possible it was a luxury that I savored. It was wonderful.

•Explain your feelings once you were informed your film was recommended by the Wall Street Journal above studio films.

I was ECSTATIC! WSJ really gave us the commercial recognition that we were hoping to receive. Putting us shoulder to shoulder with multimillion dollar films was amazing. It was a very happy day indeed. I remember doing the interview in route to our international red carpet premiere. The timing couldn't have been better or more meaningful. I'm a bit of an underdog. I am the first person in my family to get a college degree and I am the first woman to have produced a feature film shot entirely in stereoscopic 3D. That WSJ article was more meaningful then I can put into words.

•Since the film's release, what has your life been like since? Any changes? Bigger opportunities?

I Heart Shakey is hitting RedBoxes nationwide later this month and is till being sold and rented online. We just found out we are up for several awards in another film festival in November and our 3D Music Videos are being recognized globally too. I Heart Shakey international sales are still underway, so even though our Domestic Theatrical is over and DVD retail release is well underway, we still have several release stages that consume much of my time. In additon, we have several other films in various stages of production. We are in pre-production for a short piece on the inner city violence that is plaguing our youth across the globe that will shoot in January 2013, we are raising funding for a teen drama that will shoot in Fall 2013 and we have optioned an amazing script that is on the "Black List" in Hollywood. The "Black List" is a list of scripts created by Hollywood insiders that believe should be made into films, but due to various reasons the studios can't figure out a way to make these great scripts into great movies. Rest assured we will be making this into a GREAT film.

When you began at UCF, what did you expect for your future? Did you always want to be a Producer, or did you ever wish to pursue a different career path?

I wanted a business degree that I could apply to any industry. I didn't really know exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to travel and see the world and needed an educational foundation that would support a diverse future in a big city. My UCF undergrad took me from Aerospace, to Banking, to Computers, to Software and then on to Entertainment. A firm grasp of business and organizational development proved to be invaluable no matter what my position in the workforce. As a Producer, the ability to understand and anticipate is a vital key that unlocks many doors and was one of the first teachings I had in my undergraduate business organizational development class.

•How did your experience at UCF contribute to your professional career?

UCF had the flexibility I needed to make a college degree feasible for me. In addition to another job, I worked at the on campus financial aid office. I was able to get know a great group of students and employees. I had fun inside and outside the classroom. I'm very thankful for my UCF experience as it showed me a diverse group of people working at multiple levels within an organization can achieve individual and group goals. By being a part of such an eclectic group, it demonstrated what I would see post-graduation at every company I worked for and just kept reinforcing that basic business concepts would help me to succeed in any industry I choose. So, when I had the opportunity to work in the Entertainment Industry I didn't think twice, I simply said, YES! I truly believe anything is possible and no path is closed to you if you want it.

How do you keep in contact with fellow alumni?

Facebook and LinkedIn are great tools to help stay connected. We are all so busy, but whenever possible I enjoy catching up with everyone and the fun happenings in their lives.

Brian-and-Michelle-Kamprath---togetherTell us a little about yourselves, give us your self-introduction.

Brian Kamprath is an operational effectiveness analyst with TakeCare Health, a subsidiary of Walgreens, and Michelle Kamprath is director of account management for Catamaran, a pharmacy benefit manager. We both obtained a Master of Business Administration from UCF in 2009. We were married ten years ago and have been traveling the globe together ever since. As avid travelers, we have visited all seven continents and have experienced first-hand how travel fosters a greater appreciation and understanding of other cultures, and furthermore enhances respect for the delicate natural world around the globe. Aside from our full-time careers, we started UFOREA, Inc., a non-profit company, to not only help to improve the quality of existence for all walks of life, but also to inspire others to make changes in their lives and continue to make a positive impact in the world.

Congratulations on launching your very own travel company, UFOREA, Inc.! Can you provide us with some insight as to what services your company offers, and how it benefits those in need?

UFOREA raises funds through its website, UFOREA.org. The website functions as an online travel agent where travelers can book hotel stays, flights, cars, and vacation packages. During the booking process, travelers are able to select from a variety of nonprofit organizations. Once the booking is complete all proceeds are donated by UFOREA to the nonprofit the traveler selected. UFOREA provides the same availability and prices as can be found on other online travel agencies such as Expedia or Priceline. What makes us different is that as an added bonus you are also able to provide help to those in need.

Brian-and-Michelle-Kamprath---Brian

What lead you to create UFOREA, Inc.? What was the inspiration behind the humanitarian aspect of your company?

The inspiration behind starting UFOREA was derived from many trips, but it was a trip we made to Zimbabwe that really provided the stimulus to begin the project. At the time, Zimbabwe had experienced hyperinflation so extreme it resulted in a valueless currency, effectively evaporating peoples' savings and jobs. To witness such a beautiful people reduced to soliciting money in the streets to provide food for their families was heartbreaking and intolerable. It was at that moment that we decided we wanted to create an organization that would be focused on improving
the lives of others.

As a married couple, what is it like to own and operate your company together?

After ten years of marriage we have developed a strong and supportive partnership. We both work from a home office, so we are used to spending nearly every hour of every day in close quarters. Since we share the same values and a passion for helping others, the establishment of UFOREA was almost second nature to us. Brian has incredibly strong business acumen, and a keen ability to manage the company's finances, while Michelle provides a skilled and experienced customer and media-facing capability.

Brian-and-Michelle-Kamprath---Michelle

When you began at UCF, what did you expect for your future? Did you always plan on creating a business together, or did you ever wish to pursue a different career path?

When we attended UCF, we already had our individual careers, and although we always believed, in concept, that we wanted to own our own business, we did not have an idea of what the business would look like.

How did your experience at UCF contribute to your professional careers?

Obtaining an MBA from UCF has been an invaluable asset to both of us, not only in our full-time careers, but in the founding of UFOREA. The degree in itself helped advanced our careers and afforded us the opportunity to create a non-profit without having to raise outside capital. Having the degree from UCF is even more of an advantage because of the far-reaching student and alumni body. UCF provides resources to its alumni that far surpass that of most universities.

How do you keep in contact with fellow alumni?

We still live and work right here in the Orlando area, which makes it easy to keep in touch with our friends from UCF. The many alumni events at UCF also make it easy and convenient to re-connect with acquaintances that we may not be in contact with on a regular basis.

Tell us a little about yourself, give us your self-introduction. 

I graduated from the Nicholson School of Communication with a BA degree in Journalism, specializing in Advertising/Public Relations. I have worked in the private sector, as well as for large corporations. I own my own marketing company called Marketing 2 Go (launched in 2010), that grew quickly and is now one of the largest marketing firms in the area. Marketing 2 Go's client list includes some of the most well-known and most successful businesses in the county and beyond. My specialties include creating and managing marketing and social media campaigns and crafting and distributing press releases and news stories so business owners can 'create a buzz' about their products, services, or non-profit. I am often used as a keynote speaker to share my expertise on marketing and social media panels. Also, I encourage my clients to align themselves with charity - as my company does – supporting the community where you live and work.

Congratulations on both the United Way's Women's Initiative of Flagler County's Outstanding Woman of the Year Award and the President's Volunteer Service Award! What activities lead you to achieve such substantial recognition?

I'm active in the community and I volunteer on several non-profit boards. I helped launch The United Way Women's Initiative (an arm of the Volusia Flagler United Way) and we went on to raise over 60,000 pounds of food last year for those in need in our community (http://yourunitedway.wordpress.com/2011/11/30/chicks-with-cans-do-it-again/). I am the public relations chair for Teens-In-Flight, a non-profit that trains and pays for teens that have had a parent killed or injured in the military, to obtain their private pilot license. I am on the board of a relatively new community theater - the City Repertory Theatre in Palm Coast, and I volunteer on The Flagler Beach Historical Museum's board of directors. I get involved in other special projects such as the recent half cent penny tax referendum and fundraiser for the Flagler County Education Foundation. I serve on the Palm Coast Chamber board and I'm a member of the Rotary of Flagler Beach.

As the owner Marketing 2 Go, can you provide us with some insight as to what services your company offers?

We are a full-service marketing firm. Our passion is to assist business owners to grow their business. We offer marketing and branding services, social media services and training, public relations services, websites, and graphic design (www.marketing2go.biz).

As a volunteer, what are activities are you most looking forward to for the upcoming years?

I look forward to fun fundraisers! When people enjoy attending the event that you've created, promoted, and made money on for charity, you've accomplished something worthwhile.

When you began at UCF, what did you expect for your future? Did you plan on owning your own marketing company, or did you ever wish to pursue a different career path?

I actually didn't know what I wanted to major in until about my junior year when my mother suggested Public Relations. She made it sound very glamorous – that 'you could work with movies stars managing their PR'. We haven't had any movie-star clients yet, but you never know.

How did your experience at UCF contribute to your professional career and love of volunteering?

Attending UCF was essential in the success of my professional career and passion for volunteering. I started volunteering for the American Red Cross when I was in college. I wrote and designed their volunteer newsletter. From the professors to your fellow students, everyone you meet at UCF makes difference in your college experience.

How do you keep in contact with fellow alumni?

The highlight of reading Pegasus Magazine is the AlumKnights section! I enjoy finding out where my fellow alumni are and what they are up to. As a matter of fact, I just read in AlumKnights that one of my fellow classmates got married! I meet UCF alumni in my business and personal life frequently as well. As a matter of fact, I just attended a motivational talk by fellow alumni and author Kevin Snyder last month. And of course, I keep up with alumni, friends and family on Facebook!

raskin_photoTell us a little about yourself. What college at UCF did you graduate from and what did you major in?

I earned two graduate degrees at UCF. I earned an MFA in Theatre from in 2007 and an MA in TESOL from in 2011. Both degrees represent my two passions in life. I earned my undergraduate degree in Interpretation of Literature in 1978 from Northwestern University in Chicago and had a dual career for 20 years as an actor and radio announcer alongside a career teaching international students. Actors are sometimes out of work, so I taught ESL to support myself. Sometimes teaching jobs dried up, so I found acting work. I realized that I loved both. Teaching English was also a good way to finance my love of travel. I spent three years in Sweden writing language materials and was active in the English-speaking theatre group there. I finally went back for a degree in both fields after working so that I could teach at the college level.

How did you decide UCF was the right school for both your graduate degrees?

In 2004, I was looking for a graduate program in acting in the South. It was important for me to be close to my family in Miami so that my relatives could come and see me in shows. I researched universities in the South that had MFA Theatre programs that financially supported their graduate students and found UCF. Fortunately, my audition for UCF was successful. When I went to the callback on campus and met the faculty, I was very impressed. I also visited theatres in the area and realized that there was a substantial theatre scene in Orlando. I sensed that I could learn a lot at UCF and in the community.

As soon as I graduated with my MFA, I went over to the TESOL department to take a few refresher courses in teaching ESL. I was so impressed with the TESOL department that I decided I couldn't pass up the opportunity to work with and learn from the excellent faculty. It was the best decision I've ever made. I eventually became a graduate teaching assistant and taught linguistics to pre-service teachers. I realized that training teachers would be a smart career move for me.

How did your experience at UCF lead you to becoming an English teacher in China?

I had heard about the English Language Fellow (ELF) program years ago, but when Dr. Kerry Purmensky in the TESOL department sent me an email about the program in 2010 and encouraged me to apply, I knew it was the right time. I traveled and toured China in 1984, just after President Reagan was there and always wanted to go back. I wanted to see with my own eyes how the economic boom had impacted life in China. Armed with my MA in TESOL, I felt I was ready to take on the challenge of working with the State Department as a teacher and cultural ambassador. I applied to the ELF program in March 2011, and was selected for a post in China the following May. By August, I was settling into my job at Shenyang Normal University, just north of the city of Shenyang.

Once I started my new job, I realized that the year spent teaching linguistics as a graduate assistant was the best preparation I could have had. Most of my lessons focused on combining theory with practical activities in the classroom. I used many of the lessons I taught at UCF in my graduate classes at Shenyang Normal and in workshops I held for high school teachers in Shenyang. The largest workshop was for 300 pre-service teachers. Thank goodness I had that year as a graduate assistant teacher!

stul english corner croppedHow did you utilize each of your degrees as a teacher in a foreign country?

Both of my degrees were excellent preparation for teaching abroad. I was asked to develop and teach courses in writing, culture, and foreign language teaching methodology to the graduate students in English Education and Translation/Interpretation. I had no books at the university and no curriculum to follow. As so often happens in China, a "foreign expert teacher" is expected to know what to teach with little or no guidance. Because I was fresh out of graduate school myself, I knew exactly the books I wanted to use and the latest research in language acquisition I wanted to teach. Every minute of my MA TESOL degree was worth it because I could turn around and teach what I had learned, combined with 20 years of experience, of course.

The advantage of designing my own curriculum was the great flexibility and creativity I had. In the spring semester, I created a drama class tailored to the needs of my students. So often, drama is overlooked as a fun, effective way to teach language. Using "Our Town" by Thornton Wilder as a model, I had my students write their own play and perform it. Each of my classes put on a 45-minute, self-scripted play. Just imagine a Chinese version of Our Town. It was great fun to write.

Did you face any difficulties living away from home? Did you experience any culture shock that you weren't prepared for?

As most people can imagine, it is very difficult to navigate a country without knowing the language. My university in China assigned three students to act as my translators and help me do everything from taking taxis, opening bank accounts and buying airplane tickets. I called them my "student shepherds" because they accompanied me everywhere. I had to get used to depending on help from everyone – a big adjustment for a person who is used to being totally independent. Little by little, I learned the phrases I needed for daily life, but it was still impossible to negotiate complex situations by myself.

The State Department did an excellent job of preparing the Fellows in China for cultural differences. One of the nice shocks was the way my students were ready to help me do everything. They carried books, erased the boards, found markers and set up the computer for the class. "It's our duty to help our teacher," they explained to me. Other shocks were more difficult. Crossing the street was always a death-defying act. There was no such thing as yielding to pedestrians, and traffic lights were rare. People moved across busy streets by clustering into groups and making a run for the other side. Cars, trucks and buses constantly blasted their horns at high decibels so that I took to wearing earplugs to cope with the noise. I don't think I ever fully adjusted to the street culture.

In terms of my students, it was quite a shock to encounter so much silence in class. I was warned that discussions might be difficult because no one would want to be the first to talk (and possibly make a mistake). To a certain degree, I was able to overcome that by giving small group discussion activities. I found that it took a while to build trust and overcome a certain amount of fear towards a teacher. Students seemed to be afraid that they would be criticized by a teacher. Once that fear was overcome, students were likely to open up and ask questions. I have to say that my students in China were among the most dedicated, hard-working students I've ever taught.

What are your future plans?

I returned to Miami to catch up on a little family time before I apply to go overseas again. I'm teaching at the Intensive English Program at the University of Miami this year and researching opportunities abroad. One of the things I look for in a job is the possibility to use drama in teaching or to participate in a drama program with the students.

How do you stay connected to your university?

I am in touch with my professors via email or Facebook with the latest news. At the beginning of the fall semester, I spoke about my experience teaching writing in China to the Reading and Writing in a Second Language class. I'm sure I'll be back through the year to speak about my experience and encourage other MA TESOL graduates to apply for the Fellow program.

webheadshotTell us a little about your journey as a student at UCF? What college did you graduate from, were you involved with any extracurricular activities?

I graduated from the College of Health and Public Affairs with a B.S. in Communicative Disorders in 1995 and M.A. in 1999. My career began in the school system. I was in the UCF consortium program while working toward my master's degree. I then became a traveling speech-language pathologist, worked in hospitals and out-patient clinics and finally opened my own practice. I started running and weight training in college which led to a love of exercise and years of competing in marathons and triathlons.

What is Skillbuilders and how is it shaping the lives of the kids growing up in our community?

Skillbuilders provides speech and language therapy to children who have challenges in speech, language, reading, writing, and information processing. In addition, we have provided numerous seminars and contracted with local educational institutions to develop a service delivery model that best serves children with learning challenges. Skillbuilders was built on the principle that every child can learn. Elizabeth is one of the many miracles I have witnessed and been a part of throughout the years. She has spina bifida. When I met her, she wasn't walking, talking, eating by mouth and she had a tracheotomy. Her health was very fragile at the time. With a lot of hard work, very determined parents and a team of doctors and therapists, Elizabeth is walking, talking, eating and just attended her first year of kindergarten. Between kindergarten, therapy and doctor's appointments, sweet little Elizabeth is an advocate for spina bifida research. I have the best job in the world!

jmelizabeth

You're teaching as an adjunct this summer at your self-proclaimed beloved alma mater. What are you teaching, and what brought you back?

I'm teaching "Communicative Disorders Across a Lifespan" and I love every minute of it. When I was asked to teach a course, I was excited to accept and be part of the journey of our next generation of SLP's.

How did your education at UCF help you to reach your entrepreneurial career goals?

It is not easy to gain acceptance to the Master's program in Communicative Disorders. Knowing this, I developed a work ethic very early on. My professors encouraged creativity and had high expectations. They instilled an excitement for our field that has fueled my passion for business.

What are your best memories at UCF?

I absolutely enjoyed every minute of college life. I will never forget the tailgates, attending the games, jumping in the fountain, and the beginning of many lifelong friendships.

How do you stay connected with fellow alumni?

It is easy to stay in touch with my fellow UCF alums. Many of them are now business colleagues with whom I network and friends with whom I share many wonderful memories. GO KNIGHTS!

Three local companies, a team of UCF alumni and a shared competitive spirit collide to bring a unique racing format to Central Florida and American Mud Race was born.  Tyler Bloechinger, ‘09, Maritza Spero, ’99 and Greg Meerbaum, the architects behind the project, thought that it might be a good idea to get a local motocross track involved. Luckily for Greg and Tyler, Chris Pixley, '09, a brother from Sigma Phi Epsilon and a UCF Knight, has family ties that own a few tracks.

From The Source: American Mud Race Founders

The American Mud Race (AMR) started in what we call our “incubator of ideas”, our downtown Orlando office. A current UCF student, 3 former UCF grads and their boss were trying to come up with ideas on how to benefit the Home at Last Charity. Once we decided that a mud race was the way to go, there was no turning back.

After already completing numerous endeavors in the downtown Orlando area CEO Angel Cortes thought it might be a good idea to start right in our own back yard, a place where we have a lot of resources and connections within the UCF community. But as far as UCF goes… we didn’t stop there. Good friends and already partners at Terrace 390 restaurant and Problem Solved - Kyle Israel, ’07 and Tony Comas, '00 were the guys that we felt could and would do a great job handling our marketing/PR/ and website development. Plus the guy throws a pretty good football!

From there, the dots started to connect. By tying in the “Evolve Group and What’s 2 Hot”, which markets to former and current UCF students and Alumni, we thought our outreach would be BIG! You will find the DNA of UCF in many of our core competencies and our culture. We believe that with the launch pad we have created here in Orlando, that within 36 months our brand will be a major force to within the obstacle race industry. Our goal by the year end of 2014 is to have contributed to the development of over 150 built homes through the Home At Last Charity for wounded veterans.

Words From the Track: Featuring Problem Solved

The race is much like some of the other known races sweeping the country like "Tough Mudder" and "spartan race". AMR is owned and operated by UCF alumni and many of the companies that they have partnered with have UCF ties as well. Terrace 390, owned by Alum's Kyle Israel, ‘07, Carey Sobel, ‘09, Travis Barr, ‘09, and Tony Comas, ‘00, have come on board as the food sponsor for the event. Angel Cortes is also a partner in Terrace 390 and that is how the connection was made with Terrace 390 and Problem Solved.

Mercedes Benz has come on as a V.I.P sponsor for the race and the reason they reached out to Mercedes was because of their connection with recent UCF alum Sterling Brown with Mercedes of South Orlando. Sterling's generosity and choice to sponsor this event was because of His UCF ties to the AMR ownership group and his desire to involve Mercedes of South Orlando with great causes in the community such as AMR's ties with home at last and habitat for humanity. Mercedes of South Orlando is proud to be apart of the AMR family.
AMR is a 5k adventure race with 20 obstacles spread throughout their 5k track. The biggest thing that AMR brings to the table is of course MUD MUD AND MORE MUD. This race promises to be one of the most exciting adventure races in the nation.

 

Robert Starkman wants you to find personality in your socks. From the Nicholson School of Communication, Starkman has embarked on the fast track of an entrepreneurial journey. Taking socks to a new level, his dedication to success and Knight pride has earned him an Alumni Spotlight. Learn more about Starkman and Rock'em Socks below.

What is Rock'em Socks?

When did you realize you had created something truly special that people wanted to buy?

I had started on eBay, and sales were gradual for the first month or so. I had transitioned over to my own website while still using eBay, and decided to drop the eBay once the website orders picked up. Not until the holiday season in 2011 did I really feel like what we had was special. On Black Friday we must have gotten around 150+ orders in a day or so. The weekend before Christmas was around three times as busy as Black Friday. As we set the bar higher and higher for ourselves, it's almost every week that I realize how special this truly is and can be.


You recently partnered with Nike. How has that opportunity helped to grow your business?

A partnership with Nike isn't concrete, however we are working on a proposal to work with them. There are a lot of requirements from a business in order to partner with Nike, and I'd say we're just about 90% of the way there. We have partnered with other organizations, such as the Kay Yow foundation, and we've seen nothing but massive success and positive feedback from our customers. Kay Yow was a former NCAA Women's Basketball coach who had died of Breast Cancer, so for Breast Cancer Awareness month (October) we had donated 20% of all sales of any pink items to the foundation. We raised about $2000, which was incredible. The partnership with them had definitely exposed us to supporters of the cause who might not have heard of our company otherwise. My most opportunistic partnerships have without a doubt been my co-workers, specifically Austin Crane (fellow UCF Knight), who have been nothing short of a blessing to the company.

What are the future plans for your business?

We've got a ton of surprises for our fan base literally within the coming weeks, and we're fully intent on expanding our line of products to beyond socks. We'd love to sponsor premiere athletes, host fun events, and make our presence felt outside of the digital world. It would be great to have an actual retail store in a major city (LA, NY, Chicago), while at the same time expanding our international sales through the website.

How did your education at UCF help you to reach your entrepreneurial career goals?

I was a Broadcast major when I first started the business, so I actually had no formal experience with entrepreneurship. I did however have a professor recently whose passion for teaching kept me attentive even through a three-hour class period. That enthusiasm and commitment to reach others is something that I try to emulate through the company. I was also fortunate enough to have terrific mentors from the UCF Men's Basketball staff (where I was a student -manager for 3 years) who were always willing to impart wisdom. I cannot stress how important they all were to not only the shaping of my brand's identity, but also my own identity.

What are your best memories at UCF?

Most of my best memories without a doubt come from my time working with UCF Men's Basketball (where I spent a majority of my college experience). I was able to travel to places I might never have been otherwise, and got the chance to be a part of something that was bigger than myself. One memory that will never fade is when we beat the University of Florida at the Amway Center, which happened to be on my 21st birthday. The people I met through UCF Basketball (from coaches, players, managers, and trainers) have become my closest friends, and are people that I would do anything for.


How do you stay connected with fellow alumni?

A lot of my friends from UCF work with me on the company, so we're connected every day. Other alumni I keep up with through social networking, but if I can find a spot for them at Rock 'Em, they're more then welcome to join us for the ride!

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webphotoTheresa Manahan couldn't get enough black and gold, earning a bachelor degree as well as two masters degrees at UCF. In her five years at the university she immersed herself in several activities, competing as a hurdler for the women's track and field team, running on the cross country team, as well as being an active member in Catholic Campus Ministries. She served in leadership roles in the Radio, Television, News Directors Association, as a student-athlete representative to the university when UCF switched affiliations to Conference USA, serving as an ambassador on the President's Leadership Council and being an integral part of launching the DeVos program's Hope For Stanley nonprofit in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. She currently lives in Charlotte, N.C. and works as a sports journalist writing for the SportsBusiness Daily as well as a contributing writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com. Read on to find out more about Theresa.


What college did you graduate from at UCF?

Nicholson School of Communication in Summer '06 with a B.S. In Broadcast Journalism; College of Business Administration in Winter '08 with a Masters in Business Administration; Spring '09 with a Masters in Sports Business Management.

How did your career lead you to begin writing for ESPN?

My undergrad was journalism and I knew I wanted to go into sports, but wasn't sure if I would do sports event planning, be a sports lawyer or do sports journalism. When I entered the DeVos Sports Business Management masters I solidified my choice after two internships with ESPN, finding a passion for news magazine and long-form pieces aired on "Outside the Lines" and "E:60." I interned with the local ABC affiliate as well as the Orlando Magic in grad school and took an internship with the SportsBusiness Journal in Charlotte immediately following graduation. The sports industry is a small world and through connections and past work experience I made inroads with ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com while also being hired fulltime as a staff writer covering sports business for the SportsBusiness Daily. Somehow being a sports business journalist is a marriage of all three of my degrees.

What are your most notable articles published?

The most glamorous of my pieces are mostly for ESPN The Mag and ESPN.com since sports business isn't too thrilling a read for all my friends. My writing for the World Wide Leader really picked up this year after writing a piece on the U.S. men's beach volleyball team (with UCF grad Phil Dalhausser!) sporting Loudmouth apparelfor the London Games. That was followed by a piece on then Bobcats player and now Spurs F Boris Diaw and his love of photography. With my Orlando connections I did an ESPN The Mag piece on the implosion of the Amway Arena and another Body Shot feature on Bobcats C Bismack Biyombo and his crazy long wingspan. There's more in the hopper with a piece about golfer Ben Crane being the mastermind behind a knockoff "Golf Boys" music video, one on Amar'e Stoudemire and his Nike goggles, plus a month-long food diary with NFL Panthers WR Steve Smith. I still look forward to the day when I realize my dream of covering issues that affect sport and society and global events like the Olympics or World Cup. Rio de Janeiro – here I come!

What prompted you to get involved with the UCF Alumni Association's Regional Outreach program?

A lot of my girlfriends went to UF and were really active in their alumni clubs all over the country. Plus my best friend works in the alumni department at the Univ. of Richmond. Having these resources around, I asked what their clubs were doing and reached out to see if we had one in Charlotte. Low and behold I got in when we were just starting a program and now, still in the early stages, we are thriving! We have a full turnout for UCF football games and a great group to take advantage of the fun attractions the city has to offer!

What are some of the activities your group has done?

Most recently we hosted a happy hour with the UF alumni chapter in Charlotte at the World of Beer. Alumni brought items to donate to local charities and we mingled with the Gators while a band jammed out on stage. We also attended a minor league hockey game featuring the Charlotte Checkers this winter, we were nearly champs at trivia night at a local watering hole and are planning a BBQ picnic and field day in the park with more Florida university alumni associations.

What is one of your favorite memories from your time at UCF?

Way back in the day the basketball program was on a hot streak and UCF was having a stellar season with Dexter Lyons at the forefront of the attention. Lyons had this outrageous afro and his moves on the court got everyone on their feet. After the team made a run in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, President John Hitt wanted to be the first to show his support and congratulate the program. Hitt (as well as then Board of Trustees Chair Dick Nunis) sported this hilarious black afro wig with school spirit written all over it. It ignited UCF pride for the program and I've never seem the old arena so happenin.'

As a club leader in the Charlotte area, do you have any advice or words of wisdom for fellow UCF alumni?

There is still a lot more supply than demand in the job market, so it's all in who you know. UCF alumni are some of the best resources to get a connection within a workplace or an introduction for a job. Plus, most have been in the city for a while and can tell you the fabulous places to eat, shop or explore. So reach out, and share your school spirit with the UCF family. If nothing else, you can talk about missing the weather in the Sunshine State!


"We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” –Frederick Douglass

The stories of the past come to life not only by chance or virtue, but also by the sheer will and determination of the transcriber. For University of Central Florida alumna Joanne Harris, '88, that effort has enabled her to tell tales of the past across different mediums.

In September 2011, Harris' book, "Safety On The Rails: The Union Switch & Signal Story" was released after she was commissioned to chronicle the legendary Union Switch and Signal company whose origins date back to the 1880s in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The company, now known as Ansaldo STS, was instrumental in the railway signaling industry, having endured the wrath of the Great Depression, several wars, and economically trying times. Thanks to Harris' thorough coverage, readers can learn how Union Switch & Signal created a foundation for which to conduct business in an increasingly advanced railroad industry. Every employee that had the vision of what the company could be, including founder George Westinghouse, is detailed in this reflective work as a way to celebrate the company's 130th anniversary.

Harris added to her impressive résumé by releasing her first foreign documentary short film at the Downtown Boca Film Fest in Boca Raton, Florida in 2011. The film, "A Mass of Wine," was filmed on location in Oberlinxweiler, Germany and tells the story of that very town from 1750-1870 thanks to the work of a dedicated citizen who considered it his duty to preserve his town's past.

After attending a presentation discussing Heinrich Schwingel's life, including his preservation of books and other unique pieces of the town's history as the German army attempted to vacuum out the town's history, Harris transcribed his text by hand into modern German and discovered there was a story most definitely worth telling. Hitler's Youth were sent into towns to rid Oberlinxweiler of any pre-war literature and writing, but thanks to Schwingel's understanding of the importance of the past and history of his town, enough documents and writings were saved over time to ensure the world would know they existed.

Harris also screened the film at The Indie Gathering in Cleveland, Ohio and and the LDUB Film Festival in Lake Worth, Florida. At the Indie Gathering, the film won 4th place amongst the Documentaries submitted.

Joanne Harris' success across several media platforms is definitely worthy of recognition. The UCF Alumni Association would like to congratulate her on her tremendous accomplishments as well as wish her the best of luck in her future endeavors.

Harris' first book fair is Saturday, Feb. 4, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.at St. Margaret's Episocopal Church located at 114 N. Osceola Ave. Inverness, Florida. Copies of the film, "A Mass of Wine," will also be available.

 
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