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From First Generation To Family Tradition

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By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (Dec. 8, 2016) – As a UCF Alumni board member, season ticket holder, Oviedo resident and occasional guest lecturer, Ryan Vescio ’02 visits UCF’s campus more than most. And when the assistant state attorney returns, his three children are frequently in tow.

Ella, 10, Sophia, 9, and Owen, 5, are big fans of tailgating. They debate the merits of their favorite basketball players. They recently got their wish granted to eat at Knightro’s with their dad. They periodically exchange hellos with President John C. Hitt and his wife, Martha, who know them by name thanks to Owen’s habit of running into their CFE Arena suite when he was 2.

To Ella, Sophia and Owen, the idea of college is nothing out of the ordinary – almost an expected path they will one day follow. The same cannot be said for Vescio, a first-generation college student.

“We never talked about college in my house. For my parents, it wasn’t a reality. You pick a job and you go and do your thing,” he said. “It’s incredible to watch that transition of how much one generation can really change the future of a family.”

The son of a hairdresser and auto mechanic, Vescio grew up in Melbourne in a double wide trailer on the grounds of an elementary school. His father was diagnosed with renal disease when Vescio was 10. The oldest of his siblings, he learned to grow up quickly.

He aspired to be a journalist, and thanks to a persistent teacher, he was granted access to cover his first NASA space shuttle launch at the age of 14 for a middle and high school newswire service he helped start. The news story he wrote landed on the front page of Florida Today’s Sunday edition, above the fold.

With the help of Florida Bright Futures Scholarship and Pell Grants, he made his dream of attending college a reality.

After a brief stint studying journalism at the University of South Carolina, he transferred to UCF to be closer to his ailing father. He also switched gears and took an interest in political science and law.

“I think about if I wasn’t as persistent as I was, if I didn’t want better, if I didn’t have the help of other people, I would have never had the experiences that I’ve been able to have,” he said. “Our university is a little different than the others around us, and I think that that’s nothing but positive. It’s exciting to watch traditions being built, but it’s equally as exciting to not have traditions hold us back. We can do anything, we can be anywhere, we can influence anything.”

He threw himself into college life, and his influence is still part of daily activity at UCF today. He was involved in the plans that led to the Recreation and Wellness Center being built. He also was there the day they came up with the idea to rope off the Pegasus on the floor of the Student Union.

“We never thought it would last,” he said with a laugh. “I get a kick around graduation when I see on social media the big deal about taking a graduation picture with the Pegasus. It really blows my mind.”

Vescio graduated with his bachelor’s in political science one year before his father passed away and says one of his proudest life moments is knowing that his father witnessed his son’s graduation day. He went on to law school at Nova Southeastern and is now director of modernization and assistant state attorney, Office of the State Attorney, 9th Judicial Circuit.

Vescio believes in his public service role and is fueled by fighting for the truth. Most of his work entails homicide and major crime cases. He believes it is an honor to serve as a voice for people who have suffered.

His life has come full circle now as a donor, supporting UCF Athletics, UCF Alumni and first-generation students.

“Being a Knight has given me the opportunity to go out and make a positive impact on our community,” he said. “The only limitation for Knights is our own self reservation.

Why I Give Back, by Ryan Vescio:

We owe it to future students to pay it forward and help them. To me, that’s everything from being involved on the alumni board, to showing up to events, to buying football tickets, to donating money that I have. Although I can’t write a $1 million check today, I know that my donation helps to fund a scholarship. To fund a program to go out and find students. It’s so important to be involved and engaged because there are so many high school students out there right now who think of college as this thing, but they can’t conceptualize it because it’s not a reality in their family or in their neighborhood or environment. That to me is the student that comes here and works even harder because it means so much to them. That’s the student who leaves here and becomes the research scientist, the filmmaker, the lawyer.

One in four students at UCF are the first in their family to attend college. To support first-generation students like Ryan Vescio, click here.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—Dec. 5

1. Get ready for #Bowlando! The UCF football team will play Sun Belt champion Arkansas State in the AutoNation Cure Bowl on Dec. 17 at 5:30 p.m. at Camping World Stadium in Orlando. Tickets are as affordable as $25 on ucfknights.com. We cannot stress buying through UCF enough: in doing so, you’re directly supporting the Knights financially.

Fun fact: In NCAA history, there have been seven FBS teams to go winless and then appear in a bowl game the very next season. UCF is now the eighth, accomplishing the feat for the second time in program history.

While at the bowl game, you’ll get to see UCF linebacker and American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year Shaquem Griffin in action. Griffin was recognized by the conference with the honor on Nov. 30 and featured on ESPN again for his sensational season. This comes one month after a special segment aired on ESPN’s College GameDay.

2. The UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center is the epi-center of graduation preparation as the fall 2016 soon-to-be grads pick up their cap and gowns this week. Commencement is always a wonderful reminder of Knight Pride, so UCF Alumni created special Facebook cover photos for each grad year since UCF’s first – 1970. Find your class and feel free to add a little black-and-gold to your profile. And if you’re a fall 2016 grad, UCF Alumni encourages you to check out the details for the #MyUCFMemory contest as well as our graduation central page.

3. Thank you to all AlumKnights and friends who made #GivingTuesday a rousing success! In support of the global day of giving, a record 260 donors from 16 states made gifts totaling $33,597. More than $10,000 was designated to first-generation scholarships. At UCF, one in four students are the first in their family to attend college.

4. The power of positivity continues to stem from Limbitless Solutions, UCF’s student group that creates 3-D printed bionic arms for children and donates them to families at no cost. Last week, the UCF Board of Trustees voted unanimously to make Limbitless Solutions the university’s newest direct support organization, meaning it will be a nonprofit entity formally affiliated with the university. Although Limbitless has used UCF lab space and worked closely with some faculty members, the group previously has operated as an independent nonprofit group. That same day, it was announced that a video game collaboration from Limbitless and UCF’s School of Visual Arts & Design won the Best Serious Game Innovation award at the Serious Games Showcase & Challenge.

5. The UCF men’s and women’s basketball teams are a combined 13-3 in their first month of the new season. Even better, they are helping out people in need to brighten up the holidays, and you can get your hands on a December Knightro Bobblehead by joining the cause. knightro-santa

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Junior guard Aliyah Gregory started a toy drive last year to benefit The Spring of Tampa, a domestic violence shelter in her hometown. The cause is important to Gregory because her aunt died as a result of domestic violence in 2011. [Read more of that story here.] On Sunday, the women’s team encouraged fans to bring a toy to the game – and did they deliver!

Toys will be collected again on Dec. 10 at the men’s game against Maryland Eastern Shore. The first 100 fans who bring a toy for the 5 p.m. tipoff will receive the surfing Santa Knightro Bobblehead.

Class Gift: Five Funds You Need to Know

gt-graphiccropWe’re one day away from #GivingTuesday, a global celebration of giving. On Nov. 29, you can get involved by making your class gift of $20.16. We know you’ve got passion, especially when it comes to UCF. There are so many worthwhile areas to support fellow students like you, but here are a few in particular we think you should know about. When you’re ready to contribute on #GivingTuesday, please donate here — just select the area you’re passionate about from the designation drop down menu.

1. First-Generation Scholarships
One in four UCF students are first-generation scholars. They are people like President Hitt, who has now conferred more than 200,000 degrees for UCF graduates. Or alumna Kim Wyant, who was the first goalkeeper for the U.S. Women’s National Team and is now the head coach of the NYU men’s soccer team. Or Samantha Ogden, who cried tears of joy on her porch in her two-stoplight hometown when she read the email that said she would be graduating this past August.

For first-generation college students, earning a degree can transform their future in remarkable ways along with everyone in their family for generations to come.

BONUS: Your donation to this particular fund is like the Daily Double on “Jeopardy!” minus the risk. For every dollar you donate, the state of Florida will donate another, effectively DOUBLING the impact your gift. So if you donate $20.16, it’s really $40.32.

2. Knights Helping Knights Pantry
The Knights Helping Knights Pantry has grown over the last seven years from a closet in the Student Union to its own mini market that provides food, clothes and toiletries to students in need.

And they know how to make a dollar stretch. Their top two highly in demand items are peanut butter and pasta. One donation of $50 translates into 40 jars of peanut butter or 60 one-pound bags of pasta.

“Without the donations and the funding, we would not be able to provide any of these services to students,” said Jessica Roberts, a manager at the Pantry. “If you really look at it, all the food is donated or purchased through monetary donations. Every clothing item, every food item is donated by someone in the Orlando community. Without those donations we wouldn’t be here.”

3. Everyday Champion Student-Athlete Scholarships
Everyday Champions Scholarships enable student-athletes to fulfill their aspirations on the field and in the classroom. There are numerous stories of how a scholarship has changed a student-athlete’s life. Here’s one of our favorites:

Before beginning her freshman year at UCF, rower Leonie Hamel was in a terrible boating accident while training with her native Ireland national team. She nearly drowned and broke her back in six places. She thought she lost her chance to come to UCF, but head coach Becky Cramer said her scholarship would be waiting for her when she was recovered, no matter how long that took.

“There was always that light at the end of the tunnel for me,” Hamel said.

After months of recovery, she did come to America. And she has helped UCF clinch back-to-back conference championships and NCAA Championship appearances over the last two years. The health sciences major has also participated in Knights Without Borders (an international service learning group) and served on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee executive board.

4. UCF Student Emergency Fund
The UCF Student Emergency Fund is used for students who face emergency financial hardship and need scholarship to continue to pursue their higher education. It can help pay for a plane ticket home when a student’s loved one passes away unexpectedly. Or assist students who are unable to complete forms for federal student aid because of citizenship or other hardship.

5. Area of Greatest Need
If you just aren’t sure where to donate but want to help, this is the fund for you. UCF will make sure your gift gets put to good use.

Five Funds Alumni Need to Know for #GivingTuesday

gt-graphiccropWe’re one day away from #GivingTuesday, a 24-hour online fundraising campaign that will make a difference in the lives of UCF students. We know you’ve got passion, especially when it comes to UCF. There are so many worthwhile areas to support at one of the nation’s largest institutions, but here are a few in particular we think you should know about. When you’re ready to get involved on #GivingTuesday, please donate here — just select the fund you’re passionate about from the designation drop down menu.

1. First-Generation Scholarships
One in four UCF students are first-generation scholars. They are people like President Hitt, who has now conferred more than 200,000 degrees for UCF graduates. Or alumna Kim Wyant, who was the first goalkeeper for the U.S. Women’s National Team and is now the head coach of the NYU men’s soccer team. Or Samantha Ogden, who cried tears of joy on her porch in her two-stoplight hometown when she read the email that said she would be graduating this past August.

For first-generation college students, earning a degree can transform their future in remarkable ways along with everyone in their family for generations to come.

BONUS: Your donation to this particular fund is like the Daily Double on “Jeopardy!” minus the risk. For every dollar you donate, the state of Florida will donate another, effectively DOUBLING the impact your gift. So if you donate $20, it’s really $40. $50 is really $100… you get the idea.

2. Knights Helping Knights Pantry
The Knights Helping Knights Pantry has grown over the last seven years from a closet in the Student Union to its own mini market that provides food, clothes and toiletries to students in need.

And they know how to make a dollar stretch. Their top two highly in demand items are peanut butter and pasta. One donation of $50 translates into 40 jars of peanut butter or 60 one-pound bags of pasta.

“Without the donations and the funding, we would not be able to provide any of these services to students,” said Jessica Roberts, a manager at the Pantry. “If you really look at it, all the food is donated or purchased through monetary donations. Every clothing item, every food item is donated by someone in the Orlando community. Without those donations we wouldn’t be here.”

3. Everyday Champion Student-Athlete Scholarships
Everyday Champions Scholarships enable student-athletes to fulfill their aspirations on the field and in the classroom. There are numerous stories of how a scholarship has changed a student-athlete’s life. Here’s one of our favorites:

Before beginning her freshman year at UCF, rower Leonie Hamel was in a terrible boating accident while training with her native Ireland national team. She nearly drowned and broke her back in six places. She thought she lost her chance to come to UCF, but head coach Becky Cramer said her scholarship would be waiting for her when she was recovered, no matter how long that took.

“There was always that light at the end of the tunnel for me,” Hamel said.

After months of recovery, she did come to America. And she has helped UCF clinch back-to-back conference championships and NCAA Championship appearances over the last two years. The health sciences major has also participated in Knights Without Borders (an international service learning group) and served on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee executive board.

4. UCF Student Emergency Fund
The UCF Student Emergency Fund is used for students who face emergency financial hardship and need scholarship to continue to pursue their higher education. It can help pay for a plane ticket home when a student’s loved one passes away unexpectedly. Or assist students who are unable to complete forms for federal student aid because of citizenship or other hardship.

5. Area of Greatest Need
If you just aren’t sure where to donate but want to help, this is the fund for you. UCF will make sure your gift gets put to good use.

 

 

Five Ways Philanthropy Impacted UCF This Year

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Image taken as part of the UCF Marine Turtle Research Group’s permitted research

1. Research
Thanks to donor support for more than three decades, UCF’s Marine Turtle Research Group has played an integral role in sea turtle recovery on Central Florida beaches. Last year, UCF’s section of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge – which was created in 1991 because of UCF research – counted a record 14,905 green turtle nests. In comparison, there were less than 50 nests when UCF first started monitoring the area in the early 1980s. And they are seeing growth in other turtle populations, too — this year saw 17,192 loggerhead nests (second highest since 1982) and 55 leatherback nests (highest since 1982).

History was made in July when UCF and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reached an agreement to establish a permanent conservation research facility along the Brevard County coastline. The new agreement allows UCF to build a new facility at the refuge that will not only protect research equipment and house workers overnight, but also foster collaborations with visiting scientists and international research partners.

UCF must raise $5 million within the next five years to construct the new buildings. Want to help? Here’s how.

2. Resources for Student-Athletes
In order to achieve their level of success on the field and in the classroom, UCF’s teams need a team of their own to support them. This year, several members of their team stepped up to the plate in a big way.

Thanks to John Euliano’s $1.5 million gift, the baseball team is on its way to having a state-of-the-art facility. This facility will not only benefit the student-athletes, coaches and fan experience, it will also provide an edge in recruiting.

Of equal importance for the student-athletes is ensuring a quality education. Northwestern Mutual worked with UCF Athletics to develop the Northwestern Mutual Everyday Champions Scholarship Program, which will fund three student-athletes’ scholarships per year over the next three years. In total, this will provide nearly $150,000 in student-athlete scholarship support.

3. Experience Learning
Students and faculty from UCF’s medical, nursing, physical therapy and social work schools provided free care to nearly 200 Apopka-area farmworkers back in July. The team’s philanthropic spirit fueled their mission, allowing UCF students to render care to people who really needed it while learning invaluable experience along the way. Faculty helped by outfitting the clinic’s facilities while the College of Medicine held a bake sale to pay for medication and food they provided to the farmworkers on the day of care.


It’s just one of the many service contributions that Knights participate in worldwide every year, allowing them to apply lessons learned in the classroom and simultaneously fulfilling one of the university’s primary missions: Impacting our society positively. Here are a couple more service learning programs at UCF funded by donations:
The Burnett Honors College
Knights Without Borders

4. Giving Lives Back
This year, alumnus Jim Rosengren ’81 gave a generous gift of $1 million to UCF RESTORES, allowing the PTSD clinic to have a fighting chance of keeping its doors open and continuing to treat veterans with uniquely effective techniques (and train new therapists in those techniques).

“After three weeks of treatment, 67 percent of veterans no longer have PTSD — and more importantly, at follow-up six months later, we haven’t seen them relapse,” said Deborah Beidel, a UCF Pegasus Professor of psychology who leads the UCF RESTORES clinic.

The $5 million Department of Defense grant that allowed Beidel to establish the clinic in 2011 only covers treatment of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, not those from other conflicts. Nor does it allow Beidel and her colleagues to treat other groups, like first responders, who actually suffer from PTSD at a higher rate than the military.

To continue its mission and work, the clinic needs to rely on private philanthropy to fund the program’s annual costs. You can be the difference: Donate Now. (Be sure to click the designation drop down and select UCF RESTORES)

5. A New Partnership for Rosen, Arts and Humanities

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Gregory Elias, a Curacao-born lawyer and businessman, had never stepped foot on campus when he donated $5 million to establish the Gregory Elias Entertainment Management Program, a partnership between the Rosen College of Hospitality Management and College of Arts and Humanities.

Thanks to his generosity, nearly 200 students are pursuing an education they are passionate about, which aligns with Elias’ goals.

“It’s not about money, it’s about love,” he told them when he visited UCF for the first time in September. “If you don’t have the love for what you are doing, you cannot succeed and be happy.”

 

 

 

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—Nov. 21

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1. Save the date for Giving Tuesday! A wonderful counterpoint to Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday began five years ago as a grassroots initiative to remind us all of the true meaning of the holiday season. On Nov. 29, UCF will encourage donations of all sizes to support students in their greatest areas of need. Follow along via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or by using the hashtag #GivingTuesday.

2. It was a busy week for UCF Athletics, so here’s the breakdown:

      • Be proud of UCF student-athletes because they take care of business on and off the field. For the third year in a row, they boast the best graduation rate in nation among public universities.
      • In his first year as head coach, Scott Frost is as been named a national semifinalist for Coach of the Year. The list includes a field of 16 candidates, and the winner will be announced on Dec. 29.
      • Speaking of football coaches, UCF honored retired coach George O’Leary at the last home game of the season on Saturday, unveiling a statue and presenting him with a commemorative football on the field.
      • It’s rivalry week! The War on I-4 matchup against USF is set for noon Saturday on CBS Sports Network. The football trophy was revealed Sunday, and fans can view it first-hand and take pictures with it before Saturday’s game in the Bulls Zone, located near stadium Lot 6 outside of the south end zone. For those keeping tally at home, the Knights currently lead the Bulls, 15-9, for bragging rights in the year-long rivalry competition involving 14 sports. The winning university will take possession of the season-long trophy to display on its campus for the following year.

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  • UCF Men’s Basketball big man Tacko Fall was unstoppable against defending national champion and nationally ranked Villanova in the Gildan Charleston Classic Championship game Sunday night. Fall was selected to the All-Tournament Team after he tied the school record for field goal percentage in a game, sinking all 10 of his shot attempts – by the way, the record was last set in 1980 – to finish with 20 points and 13 rebounds.

3. The Knights Helping Knights Pantry expanded its services to include rentable blazers. The blazer-rental service joins other clothing resources offered at KHK Pantry. Students also can pick out to keep five donated business attire items and enough donated casual attire items to meet their need. For those interested in donating food, toiletries or clothing, donations can be dropped off at the Pantry in Ferrell Commons or at donation boxes located around campus.

4. Happy 40th Anniversary, School of Public Administration! On Nov. 14, both Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer proclaimed it “UCF School of Public Administration Day.” Throughout the past 40 years, the School of Public Administration has produced multiple generations of public service professionals. Read more about this wonderful program here.

5. Knights have been making headlines recently in the Orlando Sentinel:

UCF Alumna Bright As Broadway

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By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (Nov. 16, 2016) – Three weeks after earning her degree a semester early in December 2014, Abby Jaros sat on her bed alongside her parents in a packed up apartment.

All at once, Jaros realized the leap she was about to take in moving to New York City to pursue a career in theater. She questioned herself: Is this really what I should do?

“My dad said, ‘You know what Abby? If not you, who?’” Jaros recalled. “And that is a confidence that I have to take with me everywhere that I go.”

Since then, Jaros has appeared in several regional theater productions and is fresh off her first national tour for Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat. The tour spanned nine months and included a trip to Japan.

Recently, she returned to UCF’s School of Performing Arts to conduct an informational workshop with current students. As someone who has navigated the ins and outs of making it in the city on her own, Jaros wanted to provide some guidance to the school that became like a family to her.

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Abby Jaros’ workshop at UCF School of Performing Arts

“From the second I stepped foot on this campus, it felt like home. The people here were so welcoming,” she said. “In life, you really have to thank the people who put themselves out there for you. And this was the only school that did. I am forever thankful to people who go out on a limb for me. I’m thankful to represent UCF.”

Jaros grew up as a dancer. She always viewed it as a hobby until she started musical theater in high school as a creative outlet.

She intended to study marine biology in college. Her parents were supportive of her passion for theater, but also erred on the side of practicality when it came to her future career path.

That all changed when Jaros attended Broadway Theater Project, a three-week intensive learning experience under the direction of Broadway directors, choreographers, casting directors and producers.

Before her final showcase of the Project, with her parents sitting in the audience, Jaros was given the Gregory Hines Scholarship, presented to students who show artistic merit. The scholarship offers training and performance opportunities and encourages pre-professional level students to continue with their studies with on-stage performing experience.

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AbbyJaros.com/Dancers Of New York

She’ll never forget the date, Aug. 1, 2010, when her parents encouraged her to follow her dreams.

“They said they were 100 percent behind me because of getting the scholarship that day,” she said. “They said, ‘We will accompany you to any audition you want to go to. Whatever you want, we will do whatever it takes.’”

Since moving to New York City, the musical theater alumna is constantly on the move. She has been seen for commercial work, television and film roles and of course, theater work.

She is helping a fellow UCF alumnus work on his script for a feature film. She has been featured on the Dancers of New York blog and had a personal project video go viral on YouTube.

When her friends invited her on a weekend getaway to Disney this fall, she booked her trip with some extra days set aside to visit UCF.

“I wanted to come and see my alma mater and really give back because they gave me so much. I think that’s the most important thing – remembering your roots and where you came from,” she said. “A lot of alums from here help me up in New York. It’s such a great community.”

Jaros covered the basics – who photographs good headshots, social media tricks to finding an affordable place to live and where to attend worthwhile classes.

She also offered up words of encouragement, motivating the students to put themselves out there and connect with people.

When she recounted her story of the insecurity she felt before making the leap to New York, senior Amanda Hornberger wiped away tears from her seat in the crowd. Hornberger said it was comforting and helpful to learn from someone who understands the journey that she herself is trying to pursue.

“What I loved that she kept saying was: ‘Find your people. We are a community.’ That’s why I do theater and performing to begin with because I found a community of people here,” Hornberger said. “There is something special about people in the arts. They understand how to be there for each other.”

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—Nov. 14

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1. The 2016 30 Under 30 class gathered to be honored Saturday at FAIRWINDS Alumni Center during the Indoor Tailgate. They then were recognized on the field at Bright House Networks Stadium during the football game. This incredible group of individuals includes CEOs, researchers, an NBA referee, teachers, medical professionals and game developers. VIEW THE CLASS.

2. If you live in Central Florida and love UCF (who doesn’t?), then you don’t want to miss an unforgettable evening this Wednesday at the Country Club of Orlando. AlumKnights and friends of UCF are cordially invited to a social reception and a special conversation with President John C. Hitt that discusses the importance of IGNITE: The Campaign for UCF’s impact on the university’s future. For more information and to register, click here.

3. UCF Football is bowl bound! Thanks to a 24-3 victory over Cincinnati on Saturday, the Knights will be heading to a bowl game for the seventh time in the last 10 years. For more information and to secure bowl game tickets, click here or call 407-823-1000. The Knights’ bowl destination will likely be announced on Dec. 4.

A big thank you again to all our service members who were honored on Military Appreciation Day! The Marching Knights put on quite a #UCFSalutes halftime show.


P.S. Twenty-five of the special helmets worn by the UCF football team last Saturday are now available for sale. Part of the proceeds will be donated to charity. Learn more information, and purchase now.

4. UCF political science student Amber Mariano made headlines late last week after becoming the youngest person elected to Florida’s House of Representatives. The 21-year-old’s win was one of the biggest upsets of the Florida state races. She ran against incumbent Rep. Amanda Murphy, and defeated her in a squeaker by less than 750 votes. “It’s awesome that I get to fight for my community. “I’m ready to work,” she said. Spoken like a true Knight.

5. As we gear up for football’s final home game of the season, here are some Must Knows:

– UCF Alumni Indoor Tailgate will start at 5 p.m. Here’s a look back at last week’s fun: PHOTO GALLERY.
– Gameday attire is a little trickier this Saturday: Lower Level and Student Section #UCFansWear white, Upper Level #UCFansWear black
– If you aren’t in town and need a watch party, check out our official locations. The game will air on ESPNews.
– Traffic alert: Due to Light Up UCF, part of West Plaza Drive is closed until January.  Speaking of Light Up UCF, it officially opens this Friday (Nov. 18).

 

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—Nov. 7

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1. The College of Medicine’s 10-year anniversary was one for the books. Missed the celebration? Check out the Facebook gallery. And now a word from Dr. Deborah German, vice president for medical affairs and founding dean of the medical school:

“After a decade together, I am still continually amazed by what we can achieve when we work together. Ten years ago, President Hitt’s vision was of a medical school that would serve our Central Florida community by offering the very best in medical education, research and patient care. Today that dream has become a reality.”

2. Thanks to a solid defensive effort – no kidding, UCF safety Drico Johnson outscored Tulane himself – UCF Football nabbed a 37-6 win on Saturday to kick off its three-game homestand. The UCF Alumni Indoor Tailgate helped get gameday started (Photos: Indoor Tailgate | Game ), and this Saturday, you can do it all again. FAIRWINDS Alumni Center will open its doors at 9 a.m. for the noon kickoff against Cincinnati on ESPNU. #UCFansWear gold to the game. Out-of-towners, need a watch party?


3. In a salute to Veterans Day Weekend, UCF Football’s game Saturday is Military Appreciation Day. Military, veterans and first responders receive free entry to the game. Those looking to secure tickets are encouraged to do so ahead of Saturday by registering here. They will also be eligible to purchase tickets at a discounted rate for friends and family attending the game with them.

4. We’ve got three words for ya: Light Up UCF. It’s bigger and better than ever in its ninth year. The festivities begin Nov. 18 with a new light show featuring more than 30,000 lights and music. The nightly activities run through Jan. 7. More details.

5. Just in time for Election Day, Knightro’s latest bobblehead has been revealed, and he pulls off red, white and blue just as well as black and gold. One guaranteed way to get your hands on “Knightro For President” is to purchase men’s basketball season tickets. Speaking of basketball, heads up: the women’s team holds its home opener this Sunday at 2 p.m. and the men will tip off at CFE Arena a day later (Nov. 14) at 7 p.m.

Life Below Zero

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By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (Nov. 4, 2016) — When Tracey Mertens ’92 was a hospitality management student at UCF in the early 1990s, she never envisioned a life where she would be professionally trained in night vision goggles usage. Or winter hazard protection.

Yet, today she lives in Kodiak, Alaska, well-educated in both thanks to her auxiliary public affairs specialist role with the U.S. Coast Guard. She has immersed herself within the team, learning anything she can, to better reflect the Coast Guard’s impact through her writing, photography and social media duties.

Merten credits UCF for giving her the foundation she needed to forge her own path to success that led her to opening her own seven-bedroom specialized rental property, managing a public relations and marketing firm and volunteering more than 4,500 volunteer hours over the last three years with the U.S. Coast Guard.

“It’s an exceptional school. You can tell the difference between someone who has had that good college foundation and who hasn’t,” said Mertens, one of the first recipients of the Harris Rosen Hospitality Management Scholarship. “Finding your place in the world has everything to do with using that experience at UCF to reach out, touch, talk to and traverse as many pieces as you can.”

Over the last two decades of her professional career, Mertens has accumulated an extensive list of varied experiences. She worked on a ranch in Wyoming. Trained with an equestrian center. Sampled many professional roles at Arabian Nights. Was part of the team that set up the dinner show attraction American Gladiators Orlando Live. Served as domestic violence counselor. Worked within child protective services. Owned a consulting company.

“I have a weirdo resume. It’s got parts and pieces on it that people go, ‘You did what?! How did you get there?’” she said.

Tracey Mertens '92 (photographer) on the job for the U.S. Coast Guard

Tracey Mertens ’92 (photographer) on the job for the U.S. Coast Guard

She did it by following her passions, and that’s the message she wants to make sure she passes on to other soon-to-be Rosen graduates. That’s why despite the 5,000-plus miles between Kodiak, Alaska, and Orlando, Mertens is a mentor with the college.

The mentor program launched in 2011 and has seen tremendous growth in recent years. Mertens and her mentee, Erinn Drury, are one of 165-and-counting matches within the program this year.

Their match seems dictated by fate. Drury can’t stop thinking about moving to Alaska after graduation.

Drury, a Satellite Beach native, was a freshman in 2013 when she attended a career fair for Rosen. There, she met a representative from Princess Cruises who served routes in Alaska. She was intrigued and proceeded to spend last May through October working at a lodge south of Denali.

She spent eight weeks of fall away from campus, juggling online classes with limited internet access and pulling off straight As by the end of the semester.

erinn-drury-her-mentee2

Like her mentor, Erinn Drury wants to live in Alaska after graduating Rosen College of Hospitality Management.

“Never seeing mountains, never seeing snow, never experiencing the 22 hours of daylight or darkness, it was completely life-changing for me. When I left, I never stopped thinking of Alaska,” she said. “When you test the limits and get outside your comfort zone, it’s when happiness happens.”

When Drury applied for a mentor, she wasn’t sure who she would end up with. So she was thrilled that Mertens was someone she could relate to so easily. Their first phone conversation lasted two hours.

“I could hear in her voice the passion that she has,” Drury said. “How you get from UCF business hospitality to the Coast Guard is incredible. [She showed me] you don’t have to keep yourself within the boundaries of what the norm is. You can push yourself.”

In addition to running her PR business and award winning rental property, Guardian Landing, Mertens has been designated as the Kodiak Air Station’s official photographer and social media spokesperson.

Her photos have been published in various publications and even on the national U.S. Coast Guard Instagram’s account.

Her work to provide community awareness has been well received. She claimed second place in the national 2014 JOC Alex Haley Awards for Outstanding Individual Achievement, the Coast Guard’s highest recognition in public affairs. Additionally, she earned the national Coast Guard History Foundation 2013 Heritage Award for Individual Achievement.

Photo by Tracey Mertens '92

Photo by Tracey Mertens ’92

“The search and rescue team’s mission is such a nice, clean line of positive intent to serve humanity. I’m very honored to be a part of that,” she said.

As for Drury, she can’t wait to move to Alaska and start her own professional adventure. And she hopes to meet Mertens in person one day.

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