Because She Cannes Cannes Cannes

Alumna’s short film honored at world’s most prestigious festival

KatieDamien

Katie Damien, ’01 | Filmmaker, Gorilla with a Mustache Films

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Growing up in a family of movie buffs and watching the Oscars every year, it seemed Katie Damien, ’01, was predestined for a future in film. In fact, she made her first movie when she was 12 years old. And, she hasn’t stopped making movies since.

Born and raised in Florida, Damien chose to attend UCF because, in her opinion, it had the best film program in the state.

“Film students could direct their own work, they got to keep all the rights to their films, and Orlando is the perfect place to be for filmmaking, with all the studios nearby and the city being so production friendly,” she explains. “‘The Blair Witch Project’ had just come out, and UCF’s film program was the place to be.”

Today, she’s the owner of Kd Multimedia, a writer and director, and one of five producers in Gorilla with a Mustache Films.

Damien started the film company with a team of filmmakers she joined in 2010, in order to compete in the 48 Hour Film Project. After winning the competition’s top prize for their short film, “Touched by Angels,” they decided to make more movies together.

Last year, the group competed in the National Film Challenge. But, instead of competing against other local filmmakers, they were competing with filmmakers around the world. In addition, each team was assigned a genre, a character, a prop and line of dialogue that had to be used in its film.

After a long session of brainstorming, one of Damien’s teammates told a story about a friend who rented a car and ended up with the same make and model someone else at the agency had already rented. He didn’t realize he drove off with the wrong car — until he stopped, opened the trunk and found it full of drugs. So, it got them thinking: What would you do if you suddenly found yourself accidentally in possession of a bunch of drugs? And, again, the group won for its short film, “Joint Effort.”

“I was out of my mind excited [when I learned we won],” Damien says. “I was screaming on the phone with the other members of my team. I was in an office full of people when I found out, and they all started to gather around as I was jumping up and down, screaming like a fool.”

But, the excitement didn’t stop there. The National Film Challenge win sent their film to the Short Film Corner at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.

“I knew that Cannes was the top prize, [but] I had to get on a computer real quick and look for myself to make sure it was true,” Damien continues. “When I saw the win with my own eyes, that’s when the screaming started [again].”

Not surprisingly, Damien’s biggest dream is to some day win an Oscar.

“But, in the immediate future,” she says, “I’d just like to have a big enough budget that I can do all the things I want to in a given movie, and be able to pay all my cast and crew properly.”

Q&A Reel

Q. Who was your favorite professor, and why?
A. Sterling Van Wagenen was the director of the film program when I was there. He also taught a directing class that I took. He was amazing. It wasn’t just the knowledge he imparted or the extremely helpful real-world advice he would give, but he had a soothing demeanor about him. He had a way of squeezing your shoulder that just made you feel like everything would be okay. And for a stressed-out film student, sometimes a shoulder squeeze was exactly what you needed. Mary Johnson was a fantastic screenwriting teacher! I still use her template for creating characters when I write scripts. Mark Gerstein and Lori Ingle were also amazing editing teachers. I learned so much from them. And, I can’t skip Jonathan Mednick, my documentary film teacher. He gave me the best advice my senior year. I was working on a short documentary, and he watched it as a work-in-progress and told me: “Make it about the people. Tell their story and the rest will fall into place.” He died suddenly and unexpectedly that summer. I will always carry those words with me. 

Q. How has your UCF degree helped you in your career?
A. Having a film degree, while not essential in this industry, has certainly opened a lot of doors for me. I think the quality of the education I received helped boost the professionalism of my work by leaps and bounds. I was able to try new and difficult things, take risks and fail, all without losing credibility, because I was in a supportive learning environment.

Q. Describe some of your previous films.
A. I’m just now releasing my first documentary feature film, “My Toxic Backyard,” about a community that has been fighting for clean, safe drinking water for decades since it discovered its water was contaminated by an old manufacturing plant where toxic chemicals were dumped into the ground. I’ve made a few comedy films — one comedy/horror about a vampire with a toothache. I made a short drama, “Second Parent,” about how gay parents can’t jointly adopt a child. And, I made a horror film about a couple that accidentally runs over a guy with their car and soon find themselves victims of an elaborate scheme.

Q. Are you currently working on any other film projects?
A. I’m currently in post-production on my first comedy feature film with the same group I made “Joint Effort.” It’s called “One Hell of an Angel,” and it’s about a demon who gets in trouble for asking too many questions in hell and is punished by being forced to work with an angel on an impossible mission to get a washed up rock star to write a song that will change everything.

Q. All-time favorite movie?
A. “Strictly Ballroom”

Q. Worst movie you’ve ever seen?
A. The first movie I ever made as a kid. It was so bad I destroyed it.

Q. Favorite movie genre?
A. Action

Q. If someone made a movie about your life, what would the title be?
A. “The Mad World of a Creative Mind”

Q. What or who inspires you?
A. In the film world, Robert Zemeckis. That man can make any kind of movie and make it well.

Q. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
A. Beer taster. I’ve heard that’s a thing…

More Info

Check out Katie Damien’s day-by-day journal of her experience in Cannes.

Standing for Opportunity

PaulFermo

Paul Fermo, ’92 | Commander, U.S. Navy

By Lauren Whalley

“I decided to take a tour of the school, and I was sold”, says Comm. Paul Fermo, U.S.N., ’92, who chose to pursue his bachelor’s degree at UCF in business management.

“I could apply my degree directly to business or something else I chose to do. Whether you are in private industry, government or nonprofit, there’s always going to be some element of business and management involved. I see that in the work that I do at the Pentagon.”

Outside of academics, Paul was involved in various organizations on campus, including the Orientation Team, LEAD Scholars program, and was even nominated for Homecoming court. He also held several office positions for his fraternity, Sigma Chi, which included chapter president.

“I definitely made the most of my years at UCF”, he says. “UCF is doing great things in many fields — engineering, management, computer science, medicine — there’s so much to be proud of. I hope [current] students are proud of the school, because, as a UCF alumnus, I certainly am.”

In addition to Paul’s UCF education, he’s been awarded several additional degrees, including two master’s degress, but he hasn’t stopped there. Paul was recently accepted into MIT to pursue his third master’s degree, this time in business administration. He credits UCF for motivating him to keep furthering his education.

“UCF was my first introduction to the idea that education is about challenging the way I think about things, and what I learned in the classroom could be applied directly to what I did outside of the classroom.”

A Knight of Opportunity
Paul knew he wanted to become a Navy fighter pilot at a young age, when his father took him to see the Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron, and Paul’s childhood dream became his reality. For several years, he served as a combat search-and-rescue helicopter pilot, and, in 2001, Paul was chosen for a highly selective transition program from helicopters to jets.

“After being deployed several times to both Iraq and Afghanistan, I’m fortunate enough to be one of the very few naval aviators who can say that they’ve led combat missions in both helicopters and jets,” he says.

Due to his vast experience, Paul was chosen to serve as a fellow for a member of Congress who served on the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.

“It was an incredible experience for me. It made me a much more informed strategic leader.”

Paul currently serves as the Air-Sea Branch chief for the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he addresses Department of Defense immediate and long-term tactical aviation and maritime force requirements.

In Paul’s military career, he says the UCF Creed is constantly in motion. “Integrity, excellence, community — they’re all central to the ethos of the military profession.”

It’s not just through his military service that Paul proudly represents the creed, but also in his personal life, where he is a member of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. During his last deployment to Afghanistan, the Baltimore Chapter held its annual walk for JDRF, and, although Paul was not there physically to participate, he was able to address the entire crowd from his base on the jumbotron at the Baltimore Ravens Stadium.

“It was a way of bringing a global awareness to a disease,” he says.

Measure of a Knight’s Success
According to Paul, the greatest benefit of being in the military is the people with whom he gets to work and interact.

“The military is a human organization, and it’s comprised of an amazing collection of bright, selfless and dedicated professionals. I’m honored to have made some friends, and I’m sad to have lost a few along the way, but it’s really great to serve with men and women that I admire”, he says. “The greatest measure of my success is knowing that I have served my country well.”

Q&A

Q. If you could visit any historical site in the world, what would it be and why?
A. The Great Wall of China. It’s a fascinating structure.

Q. What kind of car did you drive in college?
A. I drove a beat-up old Toyota!

Q. Batman or Superman?
A. Superman. He can fly!

180 Degrees

Alumna teacher inspires students with her transformative life story

JillSchenk

Jill Schenk, ’90 | Physical Education Teacher, San Diego High School

By Kelsey Moscater

As a UCF alumna, “American Gladiator” contestant, Donald Duck impersonator and lover of all things animals, you may think Jill Schenk, ’90, was born of sunshine and positivity. However, her life as a young adult was far from this fallacy. In fact, UCF was one of many locations that she attempted to take her life.

An amazing athlete, Jill rode into college on five athletic scholarships. Yet, the pressure of being “good enough” plagued her, and Jill hated herself. She began to abuse drugs and alcohol, which cost her the scholarships, and got her kicked out of two colleges.

“I hated myself and, because I did, I couldn’t accept love or kindness from others,” she explains. “It really is true what they say: You can’t love others until you love yourself. I hid in my addictions with alcohol, drugs, anorexia and bulimia. I also was a cutter. I wanted someone to save me and, if someone tried, I thought there was something wrong with them. I didn’t realize that I needed to work on loving myself.”

So, how did a woman who struggled through such dark times in her youth become one of San Diego’s most inspiring teachers?

It took the 12-Step Program and the encouragement of men and women all over the world who’ve worked through these obstacles themselves. She realized that the bad times developed into learning experiences, and she was on this earth for a greater purpose. Jill believes that her primary purpose is to stay sober and help others to achieve sobriety by learning how to live and enjoy life one day at a time.

Now, Jill shares her bright personality with her students at San Diego High School. At the conclusion of each class, she has her students repeat the following: “I’m awesome. I’m beautiful. I’m confident. I’m determined. I’m enthusiastic. I can do anything I put my mind to.”

After years of turmoil and personal conflict, Jill is now 20 years sober. These days, Jill balances her time helping others become clean and sober, being the best teacher she can be, volunteering for Big Animals for Little Kids and taking care of her own four-legged children.

Busy and bustling as she may be, Jill is an inspiration to everyone with whom she crosses paths.

Inspirational Q&A

Q. What did you want to be when you grew up?
A. A veterinarian, but everyone loves animals. Not everyone likes kids or teenagers. I just wanted to help a kid not take the path I took. And, if he or she did, I wanted to let them know it’s never too late to change.

Q. How has your UCF degree helped you in your career?
A. It landed me a teaching job in Malibu, at Our Lady of Malibu, where I taught many of the stars’ kids, like Nick Nolte, Cindy Williams, Pat Benatar and many more.

Q: How has your UCF experience connected you to people and/or opportunities?
A: I’ve met a few people here in San Diego where we go watch UCF play football, but I don’t stay long because I’m sober and bars aren’t really where I hang out anymore.

Q. Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A. Thoughts lead to words. Words lead to actions. Actions lead to habits. Habits create your character. Your character creates your destiny. Change your thoughts from negative to positive and it will change your future. It all begins with my thoughts. I wish I would have known that in high school or college.

Q. What’s your favorite activity to do with your students?
A. I love dancing with my students or spraying them with the water hose on hot days. I enjoy playing soccer with a yoga ball. It’s absolutely hilarious.

Q. What was it like to compete on “American Gladiators?”
A. It wasn’t at all what I expected. Three-thousand people tried out, and I was one of 13 to be picked. The show was filmed in one arena, so they’d set up one event, then put Gladiators and contestants in, then switch Gladiators and contestants, then switch them again. Then, they would tear down that set and put up another one. It took an hour and a half between each event, when on television it looked like just a commercial. The show changed my life and brought me out to California.

Q: Happiest and/or proudest moment of your life?
A: My sobriety date: Feb. 5, 1994. My family threw me a surprise 20-year sobriety party. That was amazing, because there was a time in my life when I couldn’t even go 20 hours. I also have three U.S. patents, and I’m the co-producer of a movie. And, I was very happy to get the Inspirational Teacher Award.

Q. What advice would you give those who are facing struggles similar to those of your past?
A. As long as the body is still breathing and the heart is still beating, there is always hope for things to get better. One day at a time, you can be free of your addictions and live a happy, joyous and free life. You can change from negative and destructive to positive and creative.

More Info

Watch “Inspirational Teacher: Jill Schenk” on NBC 7 San Diego.

Master of the Brewniverse

Alumnus crafts unique flavors for passionate connoisseurs

RonRaike

Ron Raike, ’91 | Brewmaster/Certified Cicerone, Cask & Larder

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Most people wouldn’t associate computer engineering with beer, but for Ron Raike, ’91, the two went together like a burger and a pale ale. As he earned his master’s degree at UCF, Raike says the College of Engineering and Computer Science’s core program contributed to many aspects of the mechanics and methods of brewing, as well as the research and formulation required for the process. (His math minor didn’t hurt either!)

“I couldn’t afford what I liked to drink, and got interested in beer history, brewing culture and brewing science,” he explains. “Interest became a passion to figure out what went into beers from around the world, and trying to brew them on a small scale. Then, I realized that I had to get into the beer business.”

After working more than a decade for Shipyard Brewing Company, which focused on flavored beers, Raike decided he wanted to get back into the roots of brewing classic styles and local production to help Central Florida grow a local beer scene. He found that opportunity at Winter Park’s Cask & Larder, where he works as brewmaster and a certified cicerone (the beer equivalent to a wine sommelier).

Raike describes a typical day as: “Get in early, make beer. Make sure everything is working and flowing at the bar. Send kegs to the distributor. Formulate and schedule future beers. Work with Cask & Larder chefs in creating food-friendly products. Enjoy fruits of labor. Repeat!”

Pint of History
Cask & Larder is one of more than 2,800 small and independent craft breweries across the nation, and one of more than 100 in Florida — with many more to come.

According to the Florida Brewers Guild, our brewers comprise only 5 percent of the total beer sold in Florida, yet they provide approximately 85 to 90 percent of all beer-related jobs.

In fact, other UCF alumni brewers are helping to create jobs in the Sunshine State. Tampa’s Cigar City Brewery has more than 50 full-time employees, including its vice president, Justin Clark, ’03, and is currently considering an $8 million expansion. In addition, Oakland Park’s Funky Buddha Brewery employs nearly 30 workers, including co-owner and brewmaster, Ryan Sentz, ’99, and is in the midst of a $3 million expansion.

Both breweries, along with Cask & Larder, regularly appear on “best of” beer lists, which are helping to drive a new kind of tourist to our state: craft beer enthusiasts. These passionate connoisseurs specifically plan vacations to states and cities that host their favorite breweries and give them an opportunity to check out new breweries.

Liquid Bread 101
Raike brews and serves up his recipes to plenty of beer tourists and locals alike, but he also shares his knowledge and passion with fellow Knights, as a guest lecturer for HFT 4864 — Seminar in Quality Brewing and Fine Beer in the UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management. He describes the course as taking students “from stabbing a can with a pencil and shotgunning it to pinky-out sampling to find the finer, subtle nuances of beer styles and how well each works with food pairings.”

As he inspires future generations of brewers, Raike hasn’t forgotten the influence UCF Professor Robert Ashley had on him when he was a student. He credits Ashley with giving him the motivating push that made him think about what he was focused on and where he was going in his life. And, he’s never looked back.

“It’s a passion for me — not work,” he says. “There are days when the time flies by. Sometimes, I’m busy all day and worked through the day without stopping, and without realizing 10 hours just went by.

“Time for a beer.”

Q&A On Tap

Q. Favorite beer you’ve ever brewed?
A. I love peanut butter, so brewing any of the peanut butter beers I’ve released over the years is always a great day.

Q. Favorite craft beer/brewery?
A. Big fan of Odell’s in Fort Collins, Colo. All of their beers are solid, and I appreciate the growth and production model they follow. I always get excited when someone shares one with me. (Hint hint.)

Q. Have you ever brewed a beer that didn’t turn out so well?
A. I’m my worst critic. I’m always critical of my beers and brewing techniques, always looking at ways to improve and make them better next time. There are some beer styles that I’m not a fan of, but I brew them to make sure the customer is always seeing unique and different products.

Q. How do you come up with your recipes?
A. Some are thought out way in advance. Some are spontaneous when something new comes available or chefs are working on a new dish. I’m always thinking and talking to the chefs to see what they’re thinking and what might work as a pairing or on its own as a potential beer.

Q. If you could eat only one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
A. I hope a Cuban sandwich qualifies as a food — that would be my choice. And, a side of black beans and rice. I never get tired of this one.

Q. And, with what beer would you pair that food?
A. I am a fan of the freshest beer available and usually gravitate to the most recently tapped tank here or keg at a bar. Lately, I have been a big fan of hop-forward, session-style pale ales and IPAs. These are lower in alcohol, but bigger in flavor and are quite nice.

Q. What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten at Cask & Larder?
A. Top picks for me are the Bama Burger paired with the 5 Points India Pale Ale, the Grilled Redfish paired with Larder Lager, Happy Hour Oysters with the Olde Southern Ginger Wit, House-made Ribeye Hotdog with Red Drum Ale… I could go on.

4EK Spotlight: Kelsey Moscater

KelseyMoscater

Kelsey Moscater | Ambassador/Vice President of Marketing, 4EVER KNIGHTS

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Junior Kelsey Moscater has been interning with the UCF Alumni Association since the first semester of her freshman year. During that time, she has become an integral part of the communications team, for which she uses her advertising/public relations major to monitor, plan and craft content for the association’s social media channels, update the alumni website, and run analytical data to see how content is doing and how it can be improved.

Despite taking a full load of classes, serving as an ambassador and the vice president of marketing for 4EVER KNIGHTS (student alumni association), and working on the Street Team for Hunter Vision, Kelsey never fails to bring an infectious, positive attitude and bright, cheerful smile to the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center, where she works 20 hours a week.

As she takes on an additional social media internship with Toyota of Orlando this summer, we wanted to find out more about this bundle of energy.

10 Questions with Kelsey

Q. How do you think your UCF degree will help you in your future career?
A. I’ll be facing the world with a degree from the institution that has provided me with limitless opportunities and the best experiences of my life. I think that everything this university has done for me will set me apart, and I’ll be prepared for any challenge life throws at me. Bring it on!

Q. Favorite UCF memory so far?
A. I got to take photos on the football field for the (nail-biting!) 2013 Homecoming game. The energy from the stadium pulses right through you, it’s incredible. I loved every second of the experience — especially since I got to snap photos of my friend Joe as he was crowned Homecoming King!

Q. How do you hope your leadership will affect the future of 4EVER KNIGHTS, the alumni association and/or the university?
A. I’m hoping that this year’s superstar marketing committee can work cohesively to promote our events to more students, utilize valuable feedback from students and alumni, and, most importantly, I hope the committee itself gets some great experience along the way! The more involved we are with UCF, the more beneficial the 4EVER KNIGHTS experience will be to all of our members. 4EK is the largest student organization on campus, so we have the potential to impact our university in a great way. I think our team can take on this task and work to improve our university, our alumni and the 4EK program.

Q. What’s your favorite thing about your job?
A. Expressing my creativity. When I get to write copy or come up with details of a social media campaign, I love it!

Q. Least favorite?
A. The hardest part is using all my brainpower for my internship, and then having to go do homework, or study, or work at my other job. It’s exhausting, especially when you have to turn down plans with friends or miss out on a fun event on campus. But it’s part of being responsible and building a future, so I power through.

Q. What one thing drives you absolutely crazy?
A. When someone ruins the punch line of my jokes. C’mon you guys, give a girl a chance!

Q. Hidden talents?
A. I’m great at sleeping. Just kidding. I can play the guitar and violin.

Q. If you could eat only one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
A. Does it have to be ONE food? Because 4 Rivers has a whole menu…

Q. What or who inspires you?
A. My parents inspire me in every way. They’ve worked ambitiously their entire lives to build everything our family has, and there’s never been a time that they haven’t given their all to give my brother and me the best life possible. I can’t thank them enough.

Q. Happiest/proudest moment of your life so far?
A. I was having a particularly rough semester, but I whipped myself into shape and pulled out a 4.0, landed a new internship and remembered how blessed I am. I’m really proud of that.

Mouse Down, Hands Up!

Alumnus stops crime one computer at a time

ChristopherCecil

Christopher Cecil, ’12 | Sergeant/Computer Forensic Examiner, Indiana State Police

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Christopher Cecil, ’12, has been fascinated with computers since he was a child. He even remembers his very first computer — a Texas Instrument TI994A. But, that interest never transpired into a career — at least, not right away. But, in 2003, while working at the Men’s Warehouse in Evansville, Ind., a chance encounter with a retired Indiana State Police officer finally set his destiny in motion.

“He worked undercover for years as a criminal intelligence officer,” Christopher explains. “As he recanted stories of crimes he’d investigated and solved, I realized I wanted to be a trooper and serve my state. In the end, I sold him a suit, and he sold me the Indiana State Police. I wonder who got the better bargain.”

Christopher joined the Indiana State Police Academy in May 2004, and, after 22 weeks of training, he was appointed as an Indiana State Trooper and assigned to patrol duty in the Jasper District of southwestern Indiana.

After three years, he was promoted to detective and reassigned to the Criminal Investigations Division, where he worked a wide variety of cases involving murder, theft, robbery, sex crimes and everything in between.

While working as a detective, Christopher became interested in crimes involving computers and the Internet. Lucky for him at the time, the state police was recruiting for training in on-scene computer forensic triage exam, for which he was selected.

In August 2007, he was once again promoted and reassigned, this time to the Internet Crimes Against Children Unit. During his tenure, he investigated people who sexually exploited children. Much of his investigative work consisted of working undercover online, locating people who were sharing child pornography.

While working in the unit, Christopher continued his education by attending various law enforcement classes. During that time, he also began the online computer forensics graduate program UCF.

In October 2013, he was promoted to his current position, as sergeant/computer forensic examiner, and reassigned to the Cyber Crime Unit in Indianapolis.

There’s no typical day at work for Christopher. Because his unit is the busiest of all five offices in Indiana, he says he and his team are constantly taking in new evidence, performing exams or being called to assist with search warrants. They also provide forensic support to many other agencies, including the FBI, Secret Service and Indianapolis Metropolitan Police, among others.

Behind everything he does is one major motivation: Christopher likes helping people. In fact, if he wasn’t working in his current field, he says he’d probably attempt being a doctor. But, for now, he’s helping to heal people’s emotional wounds, and that’s satisfying work.

“There’s no better feeling than seeing a person smile or express a sigh of relief when you recover a stolen item or arrest the person who harmed them.”

Lights and Sirens Q&A

Q. What movie can you quote word for word?
A. “Die Hard”

Q. Happiest moment?
A. There have been so many. Let’s see… The day I graduated Marine Corps boot camp, the day I graduated from undergraduate school (University of Evansville), the day I was appointed an Indiana State Trooper, the day I graduated from UCF, and, most recently, the day I was promoted to sergeant and reassigned to the Cyber Crime Unit as a computer forensic examiner.

Q. What makes you laugh out loud?
A. Watching reruns of “Seinfeld.”

Q. What did you want to be when you grew up?
A. G.I. Joe

Q. What do you do for fun?
A. I run and cycle. I usually participate in two or three half marathons a year, and several shorter races throughout the year. My fastest half marathon time is 1:40:46. It’s my goal this year to beat that time.

Q. What’s something most people don’t know about you?
A. At one time, I contemplated becoming an Episcopalian priest.

Q. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
A. I hope to learn how to fence.

Gold Standards

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

MeganLicata

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

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 I 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.

Ice-Cold Oscar

Alumnus snags Hollywood’s top honor

MoHassan

Mo Hassan, ’11 | Lighting Assistant, Walt Disney Animation Studios

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.

BOD Spotlight: Ericka Dunlap

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Ericka Dunlap, ’05 | UCF Alumni Board of Directors

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Who could 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.

BOD Spotlight: Monica Thorsen

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Monica Thorsen, ’02 | Treasurer, UCF Alumni Board of Directors

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.