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Give A Bear, Warm A Heart

Bear Campaign-100

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (Jan. 17, 2017) — This Valentine’s Day, students from the UCF College of Nursing will bring love in the form of a cuddly teddy bear to local hospitalized children with the help of alumni, friends and the community.

The “Give a Bear, Warm a Heart” fundraiser enables the public to sponsor one – or an entire unit – of teddy bears wearing UCF nursing scrubs to be delivered the week of Valentine’s Day to sick kids at local hospitals. So far, UCF nursing students will deliver bears to Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, Florida Hospital for Children and Nemours Children’s Hospital.

The college has partnered with MorUniversity, the college’s exclusive scrub provider, to create limited-edition bears outfitted in an exact replica of the scrubs worn by UCF nursing students. To sponsor one Knight Nurse bear costs $50. To reserve bears for two units – 19 bears, plus one for the sponsor – is $1,000; and to reserve nine bears for one unit, plus one for the sponsor, is $500. In sponsoring a unit, donors also can choose to donate their assigned bear.

“In addition to providing comfort and love to a child when they need it most, the Knight Nurse bears will make a positive impact on our nursing students, faculty, research and ultimately, the community,” said Mary Lou Sole, dean of the UCF College of Nursing.

All money raised from this campaign will help support priority areas in the UCF College of Nursing, including student scholarships, faculty research and medical mission trips.

“Like these bears, nurses provide comfort when people need it most. We hope that anyone who has been touched by a nurse will join us in this effort,” Sole said.

One student is looking forward to seeing the smiles on children’s faces when they receive a bear.

“As a UCF nursing student, I am always looking for ways to reach out to the community and provide compassionate care. The bear campaign not only helps students like me, but it is a wonderful opportunity to impact a child’s life,” said Corrine Medeiros, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nursing. “Providing a child with a bear will bring a smile to their face and will make them more familiar with the medical staff.”

The idea for the fundraiser began about three years ago, but this year, the College of Nursing was finally able to launch it after finalizing the details, such as the bears’ replica scrubs.

To sponsor a bear, visit http://nursing.ucf.edu/bears. Any questions can be directed to nursingevents@ucf.edu or by calling the college’s main line at 407-823-2744.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—Jan. 9

1. At UCF, we know how awesome Limbitless Solutions is, so it was great to see the rest of the country learn more about the group during a feature on Sunday’s NBC Nightly News. Didn’t tune in? Don’t worry, you can watch the segment in its entirety ^above^.

2. Job hunting? UCF is hosting a career expo for students and alumni on Jan. 31 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in CFE Arena. Professional attire is required and up-to-date resumes are strongly recommended. Learn more about the expo, including a list of participating employers, by clicking here.

3. Tailgating on Memory Mall is not just for football anymore. UCF fans will now have the unique opportunity to tailgate prior to weekend men’s basketball games through January and February. The first tailgate is scheduled for this Saturday when the Knights take on Houston, and reservations have hit capacity. Learn more about registration for future dates.

4. Sonya Dixon ’96 ’98MBA; Tony Moreno ’91 and Michael O’Donnell ’09MS have been selected as this year’s class for the College of Business Administration’s Hall of Fame. The group will be honored at the 18th annual banquet on Feb. 23 at Rosen Shingle Creek. Several other alumni will be recognized that evening with entrepreneurial awards and Noble Knight awards. For more information regarding the UCF College of Business Hall of Fame, visit cbahalloffame.com or email business@ucfalumni.com.

5. The UCF Colleges of Sciences, Business Administration and Engineering and Computer Science are hosting a Big Data Symposium on Jan. 26 from 6-8 p.m. in the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center. Attendees will hear from some of the top scholars and professionals skilled in analyzing large data sets to reveal patterns, trends and associations to help determine human behavior and interactions, and meet some of the graduate students who will soon be the pioneers of data analytics and data mining for tomorrow’s leading businesses. The evening’s keynote speaker is Lee Odess ’99, vice president of UniKey Technologies.

Although the event is complementary, space is limited. For more details and to RSVP, click here.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—Jan. 3

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1. The men’s basketball team is off to a hot start in conference play and are back at home Tuesday against East Carolina at 7:15 p.m. on ESPNews. The Knights, who have won their last four in a row, are coming off of their biggest American Athletic Conference win ever, defeating Temple 77-53 on Saturday. It was UCF’s largest margin of victory in an AAC game since the conference began play in 2013-14. Need tickets? Click here. Go Knights!

2. UCF Alumni is kicking off 2017 with an IGNITE Tour stop in Naples! Key members of UCF’s leadership will visit Florida’s west coast on Jan. 23. Register for this event and learn more about future stops on the tour by visiting ucfalumni.com/igniteucf.

3. Just before the close of 2016, two police officers retired from UCFPD after they dedicated more than 60 years combined to protecting and serving the community. Sgt. Hugh Carpenter retired after 33 years with UCF where he first started as a parking services employee before rising through the ranks to sergeant. Cpl. Chuck Reising retired after 10 years with UCFPD following his 25 years with the Orlando Police Department. He trained all three of UCFPD’s other K-9 teams and retired along with his K-9 partner, an 8-year-old German Shepherd named Max.

4. The 23rd annual Joseph C. Andrews Mentoring Celebration breakfast that highlights leadership in the UCF community will be in the Student Union on Jan. 30. Beginning at 8 a.m. in the Pegasus Ballroom, the event hosted by the Black Faculty and Staff Association at UCF will feature keynote speaker Marc Lamont Hill, host of BET News and VH1 Live, and a CNN political contributor. Hill is a journalist, professor at Morehouse College in Atlanta and a social-justice activist. His speech will focus on how culture, education, community involvement and mentoring intersect.

The event is open to the public. It’s $350 to purchase a table and $35 for an individual ticket. Money raised will support scholarships and annual celebration breakfasts. Contact DeLaine Priest at DeLaine.Priest@ucf.edu by Jan. 13 to reserve a seat.

5. In case you missed it, the alumni-loaded Jonnie Morgan Band won a national songwriting contest and will get to record at legendary Village Studios in Los Angeles. Check out this UCF Alumni Today feature on how Morgan found his passion for music while he was still a student at UCF.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—Dec. 26

As we countdown the final week of 2016, we take a look back at five memorable UCF moments that happened this year.

  1. IGNITE: The Campaign for UCF launched.
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  2. We united as one. #OrlandoUnited
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  3. We were inspired by those who know no limits.
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  4. Three athletes, one referee and one Paralympian made their countries and their alma mater proud beyond measure at the Summer Olympics.
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  5. The university handed out its 300,000th degree, and we feel like we’re just getting started.
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Alumni Band Rocks On To Big Win

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (Dec. 23, 2016) — A self-taught musician, Jonnie Morgan ’10 won a national songwriter contest last week that will send his band – the aptly named Jonnie Morgan Band – to Los Angeles for a recording session in legendary Village Studios.

“We really want to put Orlando on the map as a music city. It’s very important to me to try to build that culture, and that’s why this contest is almost as important to me as anything else,” he said. “I feel like there’s a responsibility to represent where you’re from.”

Morgan grew up on the west coast of Florida and ended up at UCF based off a recommendation from his 10th-grade high school Spanish teacher.

He studied economics and minored in marketing – not exactly the DNA of rock stars. But as a junior, the he started to write his own music.

His inspiration for one of his earliest songs was what else, but a relationship. He called the love song Saranade, named after the girl he wrote it for.

“To this day, it’s still some people’s favorite song of mine,” he said. “Once I wrote that song, the floodgates opened. Everyone was like where are these songs coming from?”

Soon after he formed a band with bass guitarist Jeremy Adams ’12. The two serendipitously met at a pizza place on campus.

They drafted other bandmates along the way, including Brandon Sollins ’11 ’15MS, at open mic nights and local gigs. He thanks former SGA presidential duo Logan Berkowitz ’08 and Brandon Delanois ’10 for always pushing him to perform by booking him for tailgates or happy hours at the Dungeon.

“I love this university. I love everything that it stands for. The experiences. The friends that I’ve made. The people that have helped me and still help me to this day,” he said. “This is the place where I found out I wanted to do music for the rest of my life, and I think that’s something special.”

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The band has experienced some pretty cool moments, like opening up for Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Cheap Trick at the 2013 SunFest. Even though some of the players have changed in the lineup, the Jonnie Morgan Band has become family.

That family includes Morgan’s wife, Amie, who has been there rooting for him every step of the way, even as she battled breast cancer twice before the age of 29.

Morgan was in the room with her both times she learned she had cancer. He was there for her treatments, the scans, the tests and cared for her through six surgeries. Their first four months of marriage earlier this year included the bulk of her chemotherapy treatment.

“I am so thankful that I have had Jonnie next to me through this, I am not sure how I would have handled it without him,” she said. “I am a very practical person, and I never expected to be a musician’s wife. It’s a bit of a different lifestyle. But I see this guy, and he is just so talented. As an added bonus, he has surrounded himself with such an amazing group of guys in the band. We have really created such a great JMB family, and I am so thankful for each one of them.”

Now that Amie has been deemed cancer free, the band went back to recording music and booked tours in different regions of the United States in the New Year.

When a booking agent called about the EON One Take contest, Morgan figured why not? The contest was judged by legend Quincy Jones and Andrew McMahon (known for hit song Cecilia and the Satellite).

JMB made it to an initial cut of 20 semifinalist, to a top 10, to finally the last band standing with a trip to Village Studios.

“This is what we’re supposed to do and this is the time to do it,” he said.

Village Studios has hosted legends like Fleetwood Mac, The Rolling Stones, B. B. King and Bob Dylan to current artists like Lady Gaga, Coldplay, Taylor Swift and John Mayer. Even soundtracks like “The Bodyguard” and “The Shawshank Redemption” were recorded there.

He said winning the contest has helped give him the confidence to continue pursuing what he feels is his purpose in life – helping people. He believes music is the tool to achieve it.

“If you look at some of the greats – Bob Marley, Bob Dylan – they have shaped people’s lives. They help you when you’re down. They help you think about things differently,” he said. “I feel like that’s one of my purposes.”

First International Alumni Chapter Established

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Cynthia Young, PhD (left), Yahya Alassaf ’16PhD (center) and Julie C. Stroh (right) announce UCF’s first international alumni chapter

 

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (Dec. 20, 2016) — With 31 active chapters in cities across the country, UCF Alumni announced the addition of the UCF International Alumni Chapter of Saudi Arabia on Tuesday morning – the first international chapter in university history. The inauguration ceremony was held appropriately at the UCF Global building.

It will be led by Yahya Alassaf, who earned his doctorate in civil engineering during December’s fall commencement. Alassaf will be returning to his native country in three weeks to begin his career in academia as a civil engineering professor at Northern Border University, located in the city of Arar.

“UCF has been and will be a special place for every Saudi. It’s a place where people dedicate their life to supporting us and making us better,” Alassaf said. “To be a part of and to lead the first international alumni chapter at UCF is a great honor. It means a lot to all of us. It means the spirit of UCF will be with us forever. We are proud to support and represent UCF in Saudi Arabia and beyond.”

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Alassaf said he came up with the idea a few months ago. The idea became a reality after meetings with UCF Vice Provost for Faculty Excellence and UCF Global Cynthia Young, PhD; Assistant Vice President for UCF Global Nataly Chandia; and Senior Associate Vice President for UCF Advancement Julie C. Stroh.

Stroh said half of UCF’s alumni base lives in the Central Florida area and roughly 200,000 alumni live in the state of Florida, but as UCF looks to strengthen its global presence, international alumni chapters seem like the logical next step.

“UCF is nothing if not entrepreneurial. It’s important that we look across the country and across the globe for these connections,” she said. “Diversity is important. The beauty of this culture – the smell of the Arabic coffee in the room, the lovely music playing, the beautiful faces – how could that not be important?”

Young said of the 75 conferred Ph.D. degrees last weekend, 25 percent were bestowed to international students like Alassaf. However, of all the undergraduate students at UCF, half of 1 percent are international students. She hopes to increase that number to 5 percent (3,000 undergrads) and challenged the alumni chapter to help in achieving that goal.

“Think about how you can impact not just graduate students but undergraduate students and help them transform their lives by coming to UCF,” she said in her address to the crowd. “You’re truly ambassadors.”

Alassaf took the message to heart.

“I assure you that every Saudi Alumni will be a great representative of the values of UCF and its commitment to excellence,” he said. “And we will do our best to be an exceptional alumni chapter for UCF.”

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—Dec. 19


1. Although the football team didn’t get the result it wanted at the AutoNation Cure Bowl, the Orlando Sports Foundation and AutoNation combined to donate $1.15 million to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. UCF researcher Annette Khaled, PhD, and Dean of UCF’s College of Medicine Deborah German, MD, were on hand to support the cause.

P.S. We enjoyed seeing so many alumni and friends at our last tailgate of the season. We’re already counting down the days until 2017, but in the meantime, you can relive Saturday’s fun and tag yourself in this Facebook gallery.
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2. “There was no way I was going to miss his graduation. He changed my life.” – That’s original bionic kid Alex Pring, who surprised Limbitless Solutions founder Albert Manero as he walked across the stage at commencement on Saturday. Manero is now a three-time UCF alumnus after receiving his doctorate over the weekend. Twenty-nine other Limbitless members earned degrees among the nearly 5,400 Knights who graduated this December.

View: UCF 2016 Fall Graduation Exposure Gallery

3. Switching gears to basketball, both the men’s and women’s teams are off to great starts in their new eras. Senior guard Zykira Lewis became UCF’s record holder for all-time 3-pointers over the weekend. Everyone’s favorite big man Tacko Fall dropped a career-high 31 points on Sunday, and he’s still leading the nation in field goal percentage, converting an average of 83 percent of the shots he attempts. Both squads have home games this week and several over the holiday break. Check out their schedules: Men | Women (Helpful hint: ticket links are listed for each game).

4. We’d like to send a big congratulations to the Jonnie Morgan Band, named for its founder, UCF alumnus Jonnie Morgan ’10. The band won a national contest on Friday that featured judges Quincy Jones and Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness, and will get to record at legendary Village Studios in Los Angeles. Be on the lookout for a story this week on ucfalumnitoday.com about the band’s journey to victory.

5. UCF is coming for you, Naples! The next stop on the IGNITE Tour is headed to Florida’s west coast on Jan. 23. Register for this event and learn more about future stops on the tour by visiting ucfalumni.com/igniteucf.

Holiday Helpers

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By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (Dec. 14, 2016) — The Knights Helping Knights Pantry found allies in the UCF Parent & Family Philanthropy Council and UCF College of Business Alumni Chapter this holiday season.

Related: Photo Gallery

Eight members of the parent council, which is newly formed this year, sorted professional clothing and packed 50 bags of roughly 270 pounds of food and supplies on Dec. 9. The bags of food are meant to help students get through winter break when the pantry is closed from Dec. 13 to Jan. 9.

“They’ve provided for at least 50 students, who are now going to be able to eat this holiday season. That’s what it comes down to,” Knights Pantry manager Jessica Roberts said. “I’m so glad we could work together. Knowing they didn’t just want to make a donation and have that be the end of it, but that they wanted to come in, work with the pantry, find out what we’re about, means a lot to me.”

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. The bag-packing was the parent council’s first hands-on service project – one that applies to an issue not just at UCF, but nationwide.

In early December, CNN featured a new report that found 48 percent of more than 3,000 students surveyed from 34 colleges experienced food insecurity in the past 30 days. At UCF, a study done by Dr. Amy Donley in the UCF Sociology Department showed that 23.2 percent of the 902 student respondents have experienced or are experiencing homelessness.

Parents like Monica Green spent an hour packing bags of food and supplies and also sorting through donated professional clothing from the College of Business Alumni Chapter. Green was compelled to get involved with the parent’s council because she felt a duty to find a way to support the university that was a second home for her two children.

“You have to give back to the community,” Green said. “This was a great opportunity to help, but my heart breaks for the kids. I’m glad that the university as a whole has recognized the need and is doing something, and we can help to meet that need.”

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The council’s idea to help the pantry was first formed in October when Hurricane Matthew shut down campus operations for 48 hours. Members of the council wondered how students were getting the resources they needed.

The university executed its emergency plan for Hurricane Matthew, but when the group learned of the pantry’s closure for the winter break, the parents wanted to find a way to help. Their efforts were bolstered by the College of Business Alumni Chapter, which contributed 250 pieces of clothing to stock the pantry’s professional wardrobe choices.

Marketing alumna Roslyn Antoniazzi ’08, who serves as vice chair of the College of Business Administration Alumni Board, said she was glad that she could rally together support from alumni to take care of current students.

“I was absolutely thrilled to see there is support for the students and that there’s an option to not have to choose between buying that book or something to wear for an interview,” she said. “It’s helping to drive the university’s mission to set up students for success post-graduation.”

Students can pick up bags from the Student Care Services office until Dec. 22, and again starting Jan. 3.

How You Can Help
The pantry hopes to revolutionize its day-to-day operation by purchasing a commercial refrigerator. Thanks to donations already generously given and a matching gift pledge by Publix, the Pantry is $1,000 shy of its fundraising goal. Help make a difference, Give Today.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—Dec. 12

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1. Heading to the AutoNation Cure Bowl game this Saturday to cheer on the Knights? Don’t miss out on the Official UCF Tailgate at Tinker Field! Hang out with hundreds of fellow Black and Gold fans while enjoying food, beverages, a pregame concert featuring the Eli Young Band as well as special appearances from UCF Director of Athletics Danny White, the cheer team, Marching Knights and leading breast cancer researchers. To secure your spot at the tailgate, click here.

2. Nearly 5,400 UCF students are expected to graduate this weekend, including a business administration student who will receive the university’s 300,000th degree since classes began in 1968. Here’s something to hang their cap on: 48 percent of UCF students graduate without any educational debt. Nationally, only 33 percent of students graduate debt-free.

3. Here’s something that will make you feel good: several groups around UCF’s campus are collecting toys, blankets, gift cards and miscellaneous items to share with others in the community during the holiday season. There’s still time to help the cause, if you’re interested.

4. The year 2030 seems a long way off, but UCF is always looking ahead to the future. In this Orlando Sentinel article, Provost Dale Whittaker predicts that by 2030, UCF will become one of the state’s preeminent research universities, a title that’s currently only held by the University of Florida and Florida State.

5. The UCF men’s soccer team hired a new head coach on Dec. 6, Scott Calabrese. A conference and NSCAA region coach of the year at FIU, he took the Panthers to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in over 10 years by capturing the 2015 Conference USA Championship. He has ties to the Central Florida area, beginning his career as an assistant coach at Stetson from 1998-99.

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.

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