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The Gregg Hale Project

Film alumnus continues to follow his passion for the big (and small) screen


Gregg Hale, ’95 | Partner, Haxan Films

By Angie Lewis, ’03

If you were a teenager in 1999, chances are you sat in a dark theater with your friends, peeking at the screen through your hands, while watching the “found footage” of three student documentary filmmakers who disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Md.

“The Blair Witch Project,” by Haxan Films, celebrates its 15th anniversary this year, after grossing more than $248 million worldwide and receiving critical acclaim, which included winning the Award of the Youth for Foreign Film at the Cannes Film Festival and the Golden Orange Award at the Florida Film Critics Circle Awards.

The highly successful indie horror film was the creation of five UCF alumni: Michael Monello, ’92; Robin Cowie, ’93; Daniel Myrick, ’93; Eduardo Sanchez, ’94; and Gregg Hale, ’95.

We caught up with Hale, one of the movie’s producers, in Portland, Ore., where he currently lives with his wife, Adrian (Steinbach), ’00, and their two kids, Amelia, 8, and Decker, 6.

Hale and Sanchez still own Haxan Films and continue to make indie movies, as well as television shows, games and comic books, and also do some creative consulting. Most recently, the pair produced a show for ABC called “The Quest,” a fantasy-based reality competition, which began airing at the end of July and wrapped up in September. In addition, their Bigfoot horror film, “Exist,” comes Oct. 24.

“It’s a cycle of developing and then producing,” Hale explains. “When we do the indie thing, we have to sell them. So, we’re trying to transition more into television, which is steadier. There’s more money in it now than there is in indie films, and we don’t have that cycle of taking a long time to create something, then make something, then sell something. We can get in and do it and not worry about the sales aspect.”

Hale and fellow “Blair Witch” producer and UCF alumnus, Monello, are also the the founders of Campfire, a marketing agency that shapes perceptions and enhances brand preference through social storytelling, digital content and physical experiences — just like the promotional campaign they did for “Blair Witch,” which had many people believing the movie was real. Hale remains with the company as an advisor, while Monello serves as its full-time chief creative officer.

“I like the work that we did for Campfire,” Hale says. “We did a lot of cool stuff, like the first season of ‘True Blood’ and the first season of ‘Game of Thrones,’ and we did some cool movies and a lot of video games. It’s good work, but I don’t get passionate about that. I’ve still managed to stay somewhat passionate about TV and film. So, I just opted to do the thing that gets me going.”

In 2013, Hale and Sanchez directed a point-of-view zombie segment called “A Ride in the Park” for the horror sequel “V/H/S 2.”

“Being a filmmaker is the only thing I ever really wanted to do,” Hale says. “I’ve known since I was 11 that that’s what I wanted to do, when I saw ‘Star Wars’ (A New Hope). I was young enough to be totally amazed by the movie in that kid way, but old enough to realize somebody made it — there was a camera, and people behind a camera, and somebody decided what the set was going to look like and what Darth Vader looked like. When Darth Vader walks through the door at the very beginning of the movie, it blew my mind — the visuals, the music, everything. That’s the moment I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker.”

As a child, Hale used a Super 8 camera to make short films, stop-motion animation and zombie movies. And, in true young, male filmmaker fashion, he also blew up toy soldiers with fireworks and filmed it.

Before Hale was in the spotlight for “Blair Witch,” he worked as a set dresser for Disney’s “The All New Mickey Mouse Club” and on the swing gang in the art department for the HBO miniseries “From the Earth to the Moon,” both of which were produced in Orlando.

Hale grew up in Kentucky and was on his way to California to pursue his film education at UCLA or USC (“because those are the big, famous film schools”), when he got a call from a childhood friend who was working on “Superboy” in Orlando. That was right before Universal Studios Orlando opened and right after Steven Spielberg told the world via “The Today Show” that Central Florida would be Hollywood East. So, Hale, like all of the other film students who weren’t already working in L.A., decided to head south.

Before starting college, Hale served in the U.S. Army to earn money for school. He’d already been working in the industry when he started taking film classes at Valencia College, where he says he enjoyed learning the technical skills necessary for filmmaking. When he got to UCF, he says he enjoyed the opportunity to make his own films in a structured environment, with access to resources and instructors.

His advice to current UCF film students? “There’s talent and intelligence and all of the other attributes that are part of being a successful filmmaker, but you need perseverance,” he says. “It’s a hard business. If you allow yourself to get discouraged, you’re not going to make it as a filmmaker. There have been a lot of ups and downs for me and Ed. Since ‘Blair Witch,’ we haven’t had that level of success we started out with, and that can be a downer at times. Things don’t always go the way you want them to go, but you have to stick with it. It’s a blessing and a curse.”

Let’s Get Reel Q&A

Q. Favorite UCF memory?
A. Going to class. I enjoy learning. The classes I enjoyed the most were film theory and film history. They were non-production classes, where you’re just learning for learning’s sake.

Q. If money was no object and you could make any movie, what story would you choose to depict?
A. We have a couple of properties that we’ve been developing that are “pie in the sky.” So, I’d like to make a big fantasy thing that my kids could go see. The TV show that was just on ABC, my kids could watch, which I was super psyched about. It’s the first thing I’ve done that my kids could actually see.

Q. Most memorable work experience so far?
A. I feel super lucky to be doing what I’m doing, and to be able to have done it as long as I’ve done it. When “Blair Witch” got into Cannes, we all went, and got to go to some big parties — these crazy, over-the-top parties. And, we’re standing on this beach with drinks, dressed in jeans and T-shirts, and there were guys with Rottweilers on chains guarding the edges of the party. We’re just standing there like, “What in the hell are we doing here?” That was all such a whirlwind.

Q. Last movie you watched?
A. “Kelly & Cal”

Q. All-time favorite movie?
A. “Fellowship of the Ring”

Q. If someone made a movie about you, what would the title be?
A. “One Lucky Dude”

Q. What TV show are you embarrassed to admit watching?
A. “Naked and Afraid”

Q. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
A. Staying in the film business when I wanted to get out of it

Q. What subject do you wish you’d paid more attention to in school?
A. Typing

Q. Favorite place to visit?
A. It’s a tie between Japan and New Zealand. New Zealand is one of the most spectacular visual places I’ve ever been with maybe the nicest people on the planet. And, Japan is just a very foreign culture that I’m really drawn to. I really like the way the Japanese people do everything.

Q. Something you learned in the past week?
A. That salmon stay at sea three to four years before returning to spawn (I just went and watched the salmon run yesterday.)

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

They’re Hired!

Alumni land jobs at big companies

Nicole Willis, '09, gives a tour at Google Plus in Chicago. (Photo: Courtesy of Nicole Willis)

Nicole Willis, ’09 (center), gives a tour at Google Plus in Chicago.
(Photo: Courtesy of Nicole Willis)

Career Spotlight | Quentin Hibbs, ’13; Nicole Willis, ’09; and Madeline Wahl, ’11

By Jennifer DiDomenico, Central Florida Future

UCF is home to more than 60,000 students through hundreds of degree programs, and according to Forbes, 60 percent of college graduates can’t find work in their field of study. But some UCF grads are proving this statistic dead wrong.

From Kennedy Space Center to Google to the Huffington Post, Knights all over the country have secured jobs at prestigious companies.

Quentin Hibbs, who graduated from UCF in summer 2013 with a master’s in business administration, works as a resource and budget analyst at Kennedy Space Center.

“I met the right person at the right time and got the opportunity to get an internship,” Hibbs says. “I was getting interviewed when I didn’t realize it. It taught me to always be aware that anything can happen at any time.”

Though NASA has closed its shuttle program, a lot of research continues to be conducted at the space center.

“There are many things still going on, and [NASA] will eventually start launching human-rated rockets again,” Hibbs says. “I’m just one piece of the overall puzzle, but I do notice it takes all the pieces to make a solid space center work. It’s a great feeling to be a part of that.”

NASA isn’t the only big company employing UCF grads.

Alumna Nicole Willis graduated with a degree in journalism in 2009 and today she acts as a community partnership marketer for Google Plus in Chicago.

“I think I’ve been pretty lucky in that the jobs I’ve gotten so far I haven’t had any connections with. I don’t think that’s very typical,” Willis says. “I was just really lucky. I worked really hard and applied far and wide.”

While attending UCF, Willis interned at a print newspaper, a magazine and a public relations company. Each internship, she says, gave her a glimpse of its respective industry.

“It’s important, while you’re at UCF, to meet lots of people and have lots of internships,” Willis says. “You need to find what it is that you’re passionate about. Internships show you what your role in the industry is.”

After realizing that print journalism was struggling and knowing she wanted nothing to do with public relations, Willis decided to follow her college dream and start fresh in a big city.

“A couple of years after [I moved], I found this role at Google and I just applied for it. I wasn’t sure what would happen, but I thought, ‘Why not?'” Willis says.

Willis is one of many UCF grads who have relocated for their careers. Two years after graduating, Madeline Wahl, ’11, saw a tweet regarding the Huffington Post Editorial Fellowship Program. She sent her résumé and cover letter via email, went through several rounds of interviews and was quickly offered a position at the headquarters in New York.

Wahl was first the social media fellow for the Office of Arianna Huffington. She’s currently an associate editor.

“It was exhilarating that I was being considered for such an incredible job,” Wahl says. “I had two weeks to relocate to New York. It was so exciting and I couldn’t have been happier. Moving to New York for this job has been the best decision I’ve ever made.”

With a website hosting information for more than 75 million global readers and more than 50,000 bloggers, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the stress of it all.

“The office environment is truly one of a kind,” Wahl says. “There are nap rooms in the office, healthy snacks, and weekly exercise classes.”

This story was published Sept. 17 on centralfloridafuture.com. It was republished with permission from the editor.

More Info

Want help finding your dream job?

UCF Alumni Career Services

Be sure to register and join us for our “Journey to Career Success” monthly beginner’s workshop on Nov. 4, and learn about resume and cover letter writing, utilizing LinkedIn, KnightLink and networking, bettering your interview skills, and maximizing UCF resources and the UCF alumni community.

Birchbox of Surprise!

Alumna receives job offer on national TV


UCF alumna Desiree Quinto, ’12, (right) was offered a job with Birchbox on “Good Morning America.” (Photo: Courtesy of Desiree Quinto)

Career Spotlight | Desiree Quinto, ’12

By Adam Rhodes, Central Florida Future

Imagine finally getting that job offer that has seemed so far away for so long. Now imagine getting it on national television.

For Desiree Quinto, a 2012 UCF graduate, that was her reality on Oct. 13, when, after two long years of job hunting, she was offered a job as a discovery specialist for her dream company, Birchbox, on “Good Morning America” during a segment about college graduates struggling to find work.

“I love the transparency there and the culture of the office,” Quinto says of the company. “CEOs are walking around, sitting side by side with their employees and getting to know [them]. There’s so much inspiration and room for growth. Ever since I walked in, I knew it was where I wanted to work.”

While Quinto was sure of her desire to work for Birchbox, she had no idea about the outcome of that “Good Morning America” segment.

“I had no idea,” she explains. “Even [that] morning I had no idea that was happening. I got in there at 5 a.m. and couldn’t be near TVs or have my phone.”

Even before she graduated UCF with an interdisciplinary studies degree, Quinto says she had been applying to places in New York City in hopes of moving there after graduation.

During her time at Valencia College, and then UCF, Quinto immersed herself in volunteer and nonprofit work.

At Valencia, she became a member of the Model United Nations. Then at UCF, she made the dean’s list a handful of times and became a member of the Nonprofit Management Student Association and the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Through those organizations, Quinto was able to become a certified nonprofit professional.

It’s that nonprofit experience that Quinto says made her competitive in the job market.

Even with that competitive edge, Quinto says, she still had trouble landing a job, despite getting relatively far with several interviews. Since graduation in December 2012, Quinto had been in South Florida working at a Mexican restaurant, Baja Cafe Dos.

But that’s all about to change as she makes her journey to her dream city.

As a Birchbox discovery specialist, Quinto will work directly with customers either over the phone or online through social media and email.

“She really showed us that she cared about the customer experience and what it really means to work with a customer and give them a great experience,” says Melissa Enbar, director of recruiting and talent development for Birchbox. “She showed us she was curious and asked a lot of questions. She was interested about the job in the company.”

Aside from Quinto’s curiosity and people skills, Enbar also says she stood out thanks to the research she did about the company.

“She was really knowledgeable about Birchbox,” Enbar says. “She did her research on what we do and how we do it.”

Quinto is able to finally live her dream of living in New York City, moving to Queens in mid-October to start her position as a discovery specialist at her dream company.

This story was published Oct. 15 on centralfloridafuture.com. It was republished with permission from the author.

More Info

Want help finding your dream job?

UCF Alumni Career Services

Be sure to register and join us for our “Journey to Career Success” monthly beginner’s workshop on Nov. 4, and learn about resume and cover letter writing, utilizing LinkedIn, KnightLink and networking, bettering your interview skills, and maximizing UCF resources and the UCF alumni community.

A Knight of Honor

The UCF Alumni Association will present its annual awards during Homecoming week


For the past 34 years, the UCF Alumni Association has been honoring Knights who “Reach for the Stars.” Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing the stories of this year’s recipients, who will be presented with their Knighty statues (as seen above) at the 2014 Black & Gold Gala on Thursday, Oct. 23.

The Distinguished Alumnus/a award is the association’s top award, given to someone who has risen in his/her profession to a national level. The Distinguished Student award is given to a current undergraduate student who is active on campus and in the community, and has displayed leadership and academic success. The Service to UCF award is given to an alumnus/a who has served UCF over a number of years either as a volunteer or lifetime employee. The Professional Achievement award winners are selected by each individual college and are given to alumni who are standouts in their respective fields.

Check out this year’s awardees:

Top Awards

Distinguished Alumna

Lesa Roe, ’91 | Deputy Associate Administrator, NASA

Distinguished Student

Cynthia Florentino, ’14 | Google Policy Fellow, U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Service to UCF

Melanie Fernandez, ’86, ’91 | Partner, Cross, Fernandez & Riley LLP

Professional Achievement Awards

The Burnett Honors College

David Huffaker, ’97 | Senior Researcher, Google Inc.

College of Arts and Humanities

Rob Schaer, Ph.D., ’02 | Musician, self-employed

College of Business Administration

Mary Merrell Bailey, J.D., ’85, ’89, ’01, ’07 | Managing Partner, Your Caring Law Firm

College of Education and Human Performance

Pam Stewart, ’85 | Commissioner of Education, Florida Department of Education

College of Engineering and Computer Science

Vinod Philip, ’00 | CEO (Generators Business Segment), Siemens Energy Inc.

College of Health and Public Affairs

Lt. Jean-Marc Chanoine, J.D., ’07 | Navy Judge Advocate Corps, U.S. Navy

College of Medicine

James Norman, M.D., ’82 | Senior Surgeon, Norman Parathyroid Center

College of Nursing

Patricia Celano, ’10 | CNO/Vice President, Florida Hospital Orlando

College of Optics and Photonics (CREOL)

Michael Mielke, Ph.D., ’00, ’03 | Chief Scientist, Raydiance

College of Sciences

Gwen Griffin, ’85 | CEO, Griffin Communications Group

Rosen College of Hospitality Management

Stuart Newmark, ’08 | Executive Vice President/COO, Yedla Management Company

Stay tuned for more about these ambitious Knights:

  • Week of Oct. 27 — Lesa, Cynthia and Melanie
  • Week of Nov. 3 — David, Rob, Mary, Pam, Vinod and Jean-Marc
  • Week of Nov. 10 — James, Patricia, Michael, Gwen and Stuart

Three Blades to the Wind

Engineering alumnus helps harvest natural energy


Michael Hayman, ’03 | Professional Engineer/Project Manager, Moventas

By Angie Lewis, ’03

If you’ve ever driven through Texas, California or Iowa, you’ve probably passed a field of steel towers that look like giant fans. These wind turbines, situated on wind farms, capture the natural wind in our atmosphere and convert it into mechanical energy, then electricity.

“What a lot of people call a fan is the rotor on a wind turbine,” explains Michael Hayman, ’03, professional engineer and project manager for Moventas in Portland, Ore. “These things turn about 14 to 20 rotations per minute, but, a generator, which makes electricity, needs to turn at about 1,000 rpm. So, we make a bunch of gears that turn this from high torque, low rotation to low torque, high rotation. It’s a transmission system, very similar to a car, but it’s just one speed.”


Like most engineers, Hayman showed an inclination toward math and science in school. Working on cars with his dad during his childhood steered him toward an interest in mechanical systems. Although he set his sights on being a pilot for the Air Force or Army, his cataracts prevented him from serving in the military. Instead, he went back to his foundation and pursued a degree in mechanical engineering.

Hayman started his career at the Kennedy Space Center, where he was part of the Return to Flight program after the Columbia disaster, in which he was involved with getting Discovery back up and running. A few years later, knowing the shuttle program would eventually be coming to an end, he sent out his resume, and was contacted by Celerity, a company in Portland that makes machines that make microchips. After a few years working on the design side of engineering, he realized it wasn’t for him, so he once again sent out his resume, and then heard from Vestas, which makes wind turbines. That’s where he discovered a love for wind energy.

Wind technology is important to our future because there are no emissions, Hayman says. “I think that as far as all of the new renewable energies go, wind technology is the most viable right now. A couple of years ago, before fracking really started taking over, about 2008, the price of wind energy was actually less than oil. And, I think we’ll continue to go down that trend, because technology has come along where we’re getting into the megawatt class of electricity, and we can be considered more of a major provider in this niche field.”

Hayman says studies have shown that wind energy could provide about 20 percent of the national power need, whereas, now, it provides less than 1 percent.

So, where can you harvest wind energy? In the U.S., the middle of the country is perfect — the plains region, in particular — because of the constant, steady flow of wind from one direction, Hayman explains. There are many wind farms in the Northeast, but not so many in the Southeast, due to the region’s frequent afternoon thunderstorms, which produce turbulent airflow and would cause a lot of wear on the turbines — and that wouldn’t be profitable.


Wind farms, like this one, typically use three-bladed turbines, which harvest wind and convert it into energy.

Although the Moventas factory produces gearboxes, as a project manager, Hayman spends most of his time dealing with customer service and problem solving. Compared to some of his previous positions, this position allows him to have a lot of latitude in making decisions and running his department the way he sees fit, which he really enjoys.

“I also take a lot of satisfaction when we implement a program and it works, and we get customer satisfaction out of that,” he says. “I like being able to set ourselves up for success.”

Power Up Q&A

Q. Favorite UCF memory?
A. I don’t know if those are fit to print! I was in the Greek system. I was a Pi Kappa Phi. I was also a senator for three years for the College of Engineering, and I was the finance chairman [for the Student Government Association]. Before I was 21, I had a $6.5 million budget (through SGA). It was all of those experiences, where, for as young as I was, I had a lot of influence for what happened on campus. It felt like I was making a difference on campus. I believe I was finance chairman when we approved George O’Leary’s contract. I was also there when we approved the budget to build the Rec Center, and for the expansion of the Student Union. So, it felt like, hey, we’re doing big things, and that was a point of pride while I was there.

Q. What advice would you give to current UCF engineering students?
A. Don’t be as concerned about your grades. Do as well as you can. There were so many people in that program who were just worried about doing well in class and not really seeking out internships and co-ops or any sort of practical experience. Engineering within school and within the profession are night and day different. While in school, I went out and found an internship for myself. I worked two summers at Tampa Electric Company. I feel like the classroom education is definitely your foundation, and you need to have that, and I got an excellent experience from UCF. But, you need actual, practical, day-to-day experience. Because we were working, our grades probably suffered a little bit, but all of us who did work left college with a job. And, I knew a lot of straight-A students in engineering — which is almost impossible to do — who were left on the bench. If you’re concerned about having a job when you graduate, internships are the way to go.

Q. Any hidden talents?
A. I play the guitar — poorly. When I moved to Portland, I started taking improv classes. I started performing improv and stand-up a few years ago. I haven’t done much recently due to a busy schedule, but it’s something I think I’ll do off and on for a long time.

Q. What’s the wallpaper on your phone and/or computer?
A. The wallpaper on my personal computer is a night launch of the space shuttle. The wallpaper on my phone is my girlfriend and I wine tasting.

Q. What’s your No. 1-most-played song?
A. Comfortably Numb — Pink Floyd

Q. What TV show are you embarrassed to admit watching?
A. It used to be “Fashion Police.” RIP, Joan. I guess now it would be “Deadliest Catch.”

Q. Last book you read?
A. “American Fraternity Man” written by one of my fraternity brothers and UCF Professor, Nathan Holic, ’02

Q. Best thing about living in Portland?
A. So many things are so close. There are more breweries in Portland than anywhere else. An hour south is premium wine country. An hour to the west is the Pacific Ocean. An hour to the east is Mt Hood, great snowboarding in the winter and camping in the summer. An hour to the north is Mt. St. Helens, which is also great hiking. There are a number of farms in the area, so there’s great local produce. And, everyone up here is so friendly.

Q. Favorite childhood toy?
A. Transformers

Q. What/who makes you laugh out loud?
A. I like a number of comedians, but I have to give it to Daniel Tosh, ’96, a UCF alumnus.

Partnership Spotlight: Curley & Pynn

Roger Pynn, ’73, president of Curley & Pynn and chair of the UCF College of Sciences Dean’s Advisory Board, has been a supporter of his alma mater and the UCF Alumni Association since he graduated. Dan Ward, ’92, vice president of Curley & Pynn, began serving on the UCF Alumni Association Board of Directors in 2006, and is currently back on the board for yet another term. With the association’s need for public relations, Roger, Dan and their partner, Kim Taylor (a UF alumna), stepped forward to help. Most recently, they have contributed their expertise to the alumni association’s strategic plan, which was implemented on July 1.

Dan Ward, '92 (left), and Roger Pynn, '73, toast their alma mater in the conference room at Curley & Pynn.

Dan Ward, ’92 (left), and Roger Pynn, ’73, toast their alma mater in the conference room at public relations firm and UCF Alumni partner, Curley & Pynn.

We sat down with Roger and Dan to ask them more about this integral partnership.

Q. Describe the history of Curley & Pynn’s partnership with the UCF Alumni Association.
A. Curley & Pynn has been a proud partner of the UCF Alumni Association for many years. Roger’s walls are covered with memories of alumni association projects, including one of his earliest efforts, leading the Alumni Trust — a drive to raise $1 million for scholarships for merit scholars. The donors are recognized in perpetuity at Alumni Trust Plaza in front of Millican Hall, where the statue honoring former UCF President Charles Millican stands.

Roger was named Distinguished Alumnus in 1989. Dan served on the alumni board of directors for six years, and was asked by current Chair Peter Cranis, ’84, to return for another one-year term.

Q. Why does Curley & Pynn choose to partner with the UCF Alumni Association?
A. First and foremost, we partner with UCF Alumni because of our love for the university and the impact it has had on our firm and our team of professionals. We also are drawn to the association’s mission. As a public relations firm, much of what we do is based on engagement, and the creation and management of relationships, and that’s central to the Alumni mission as well.

Q. How many UCF alumni does Curley & Pynn employ?
A. We currently employ five proud UCF Knights, as well as an intern from the UCF Nicholson School of Communication. A degree is not a prerequisite for employment, but it certainly doesn’t hurt!

Q. How has Curley & Pynn benefited since partnering with the UCF Alumni Association?
A. The primary benefit for any UCF Alumni partner is relationship building. The UCF Alumni Association creates opportunities for all alumni to connect with one another, with the university and with business partners throughout the region. The old saying that you’re judged by the company you keep is true, and we believe UCF Alumni has reached a point of prominence throughout the state.

Q. How does Curley & Pynn contribute to the UCF Alumni Association?
A. In addition to our board service, Curley & Pynn provides in-kind public relations advice and counsel to the association. We also assign an account team to manage brand identification and strategic communication programs for the association, in support of its strategic plan.

Q. How is Curley & Pynn involved with UCF Homecoming?
A. We’ve long been sponsors of the Black & Gold Gala, and work each year to drive public awareness of Homecoming events and of Distinguished Alumnus award winners.

Q. Is there any additional information you’d like to share about the Curley & Pynn and UCF Alumni Association partnership?
A. We’re tremendously excited about the year ahead, as we develop communication strategies and programs to support the 2014-2019 strategic plan, which seeks to expand the reach of the association and refine its focus around themes of communication, engagement, relevancy and sustainable funding.

Paying It Forward

The UCF Community Volunteers Chapter cleaned gravestones at Greenwood Cemetery in Orlando during the university's annual Knights Give Back service day.

The UCF Community Volunteers Chapter cleaned headstones, grave markers and memorials at Greenwood Cemetery in Orlando during the university’s annual Knights Give Back service day.

Community Service | Knights Give Back 2014

This year’s Knights Give Back on Oct. 11 marked the eighth anniversary of UCF students, alumni, faculty and staff, coming together to make a lasting impact on the Central Florida community through various service projects.

The New York UCF Alumni Chapter started early, manning a water station for the Susan G. Komen Race for a Cure in Central Park on Oct. 7.

On Oct. 11, many of UCF Alumni’s local and regional chapters and clubs participated in the official day of service with KGB events across the nation:

  • The Chicago UCF Alumni Chapter helped to plant trees, and spread seeds and mulch at the Montrose Beach Bird Sanctuary. | VIEW PHOTOS
  • More than 70 UCF College of Sciences Alumni Chapter alumni and student volunteers assisted the UCF Biology Department with its efforts to restore degraded shorelines and oyster reefs by building oyster mats and replanting mangroves for future deployment at the Indian River Lagoon. | VIEW PHOTOS & FULL STORY
  • UCF Community Volunteers Alumni Chapter members, along with UCF student volunteers, wore their get-dirty clothes to help clean headstones, grave markers and memorials at Greenwood Cemetery.
  • The Palm Beach County UCF Alumni Chapter partnered with Paint Your Heart Out and the Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach County to paint the exterior of an elderly couple in need in West Palm Beach. | VIEW PHOTOS
  • Philadelphia UCF Alumni Club volunteers packed food for local families in need at the Philabundance Hunger Relief Center.
  • The Tampa Bay UCF Alumni Chapter partnered with The Salvation Army of Hillsborough, Chase Bank, Tampa Bay Harvest and Wigwam Organics, as well as other community partners, to support local food banks in the Tampa Bay area.
  • Volusia/Flagler County UCF Alumni Club members donned their sneakers and sunscreen to help clean up Turie T. Small Elementary School and its surrounding area.

In addition, Washington D.C. UCF Alumni Chapter volunteers walked dogs around to perspective families through Lucy Dog Rescue on Oct. 12; the Charlotte UCF Alumni Club will paint a house for Habitat for Humanity on Oct. 18; and, on Oct. 25, Baltimore UCF Alumni Club members will clean up the wetlands/harbor and help with various landscaping/gardening projects on the campus of Living Classrooms, while the Dallas/Ft. Worth UCF Alumni Club will cheer on and provide water for runners in the CF Climb, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s race for a cure.

Check out some more of the photos from this year’s Knights Give Back service projects.

Thank you to all of those Knights who give their time to help others!

Since 2007, UCF volunteers have served more than 22,000 hours at Knights Give Back, saving Orlando more than $440,000! Go Knights!

Monkey Business

Hospitality alumna gracefully transitions into the tech world


Laurell Shaffer, ’06 | Enterprise Customer Success Manager, Survey Monkey

By Angie Lewis, ’03

As a little girl, Laurell Shaffer, ’06, dreamed of being a Rockette. She grew up taking dance classes and performing her craft in various recitals. However, her career path twirled her in a much different direction. So, instead of doing high kicks at Radio City, she’s taken to the stage of high tech.

As an enterprise customer success manager for the world’s most popular online survey software, Survey Monkey, Shaffer spends her days making sure the company’s largest customer organizations are set up on the system, and, ultimately, successful.

Shaffer earned her bachelor’s degree in hospitality management and began her career with a position at the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville, Tenn. A few years later, she received an opportunity with Hyatt in San Francisco, and made the cross-country move.

While living in the City by the Bay, Shaffer became fascinated by the start-up world and technology, and found a company called Eventbrite, which combined what she knew about events from working in hotels with technology, and she made the switch.

When deciding to move to Portland, Ore., with her now fiancé about four years later, she was able to easily transition to Survey Monkey since Eventbrite has a partnership with the company.

“I find it really exciting,” she explains. “One of the reasons I got away from hotels and moved into technology was because I found that the hotel industry gets to be really stagnant. I refer to it as the ‘good old boys club.’ And, this is absolutely the opposite. When you’re in a young, small company, you have access to leadership, you have access to tools, you’re growing much faster, and everything is quicker. A lot of times, processes aren’t defined and you’re defining them on your own, which I really enjoy. There’s not a lot of red tape. You can make what you want out of it.”

Survey Monkey serves customers of every field, including higher education, corporations, government agencies, magazines and professional sports teams, among others.

It also has an incentive program, called Contribute, where people can register to take surveys, and, for each survey that’s taken, the company donates 50 cents to a charity of the survey respondent’s choosing. So, Shaffer finds herself not only helping her customers set up their surveys, but also taking many surveys in her own personal time.

“Also, when I take surveys, I’m more inclined to find out if they’re using Survey Monkey and, if they’re not, finding out who the competitor is, why they’re different than us and why that organization would be using them,” she says.

Although her career path didn’t lead her to a New York City stage, she feels like she made the leap into a job that’s just the right fit.

“I love to interact with people,” she says. “I think that’s the link from hospitality. I like the relationship-building aspect of the role. And, it’s different every day. This is the most removed I can probably be from hospitality, but it’s still a fun job!”

A Barrel of Q&A

Q. Favorite UCF memory?
A. My first Spirit Splash [in fall 2002], because it’s so unique and wildly fun.

Q. Favorite UCF class?
A. I had an event class that I really liked at the Rosen campus. There was a lot of hands-on stuff. [My professor] helped run the halftime shows and performances at the football games, so for one of our activities, we were able to go down to the field and participate, with headsets on and helping to coordinate things. I also participated in the Culture and Cuisine class (my junior year) that takes students to Paris in the spring, which was amazing. We met with chefs, and we tasted wine, and saw all these amazing sights. It was my first time in Europe.

Q. Were you involved in any extracurricular activities at UCF?
A. I [was in a] sorority for the first two years. I [also] was part of the Hospitality Association once I [went] down that path. I did a bunch of events, and a New York trip for certain members of the association to go to the restaurant show at the Javitz Center in New York.

Q. What advice would you give to current UCF hospitality students?
A. Take advantage of all the programs, because there are some really neat ones, and the classes are so unique. I’ll talk about classes that I took in college, and I don’t think other schools have anything like them. It is a really special program for hospitality. I don’t think there are many out there that compete with it.

Q. Last thing you Googled?
A. Do I need an adapter for electronics in Thailand?

Q. What TV show are you embarrassed to admit watching?
A. “So You Think You Can Dance.” It’s not so much the show, but the level of obsession I have with it that gets embarrassing.

Q. What do you do for fun?
A. Volunteer, hike, cook, taste all of Portland’s amazing food

Q. If you could eat only one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
A. Froyo

A Legacy of Higher Education


Alumni Legacy Program | Admissions Workshop

The UCF Alumni Association, in partnership with the UCF Office of Undergraduate Admissions, hosted its annual Legacy Admissions Workshop on Oct. 7.

This free information session gives UCF alumni an inside look at ways to help their children prepare for one of the most important decisions of their lives — applying for college! It’s geared toward alumni parents of any level students (although, it’s most useful for alumni with children in sixth through 12th grades), and emphasizes the special planning necessary to maximize opportunities in a highly competitive admissions market.

Elizabeth Costello, director of UCF’s undergraduate admissions, served as this year’s guest speaker, discussing topics that included setting an admissions timetable, the application process, and essays and extracurricular activities.

The evening also included a Q&A session, and was simulcast online. Parents are encouraged to come back each year as their children advance through school.

Have a school-aged child and want to be invited to next year’s workshop? Or, would you like more information about this special program? Email legacy@ucfalumni.com.

UCF Alumni Takes Austin by Knight

Alumnus Chris Thomas, '93, '96 (back row, second from left), hosted the Austin UCF Alumni Club for a special evening overlooking the Texas State Capitol.

Alumnus Chris Thomas, ’93, ’96 (back row, second from left), hosted the Austin UCF Alumni Club for a Networking Knight with distinguished guest speakers. This special event took place overlooking the Texas State Capitol.

By Vanessa Bershad, ’05
Assistant Director
Alumni Relations, Outreach and Engagement

Networking Knight | Austin UCF Alumni Club

With the help of the UCF Alumni Association and the local Austin UCF Alumni Club, Chris Thomas, ’93, ’96, hosted a “Premier Knight in Austin” on Sept. 30, featuring distinguished guests, Tom Messina, ’84, executive director/associate VP of the UCF Alumni Association; Michael Johnson, Ph.D., dean of the UCF College of Sciences; and Paul Jarley, Ph.D., dean of the UCF College of Business Administration.

During this special evening, Messina shared the latest and greatest happenings at the alumni association, Dean Johnson highlighted prestigious College of Sciences faculty member, Kate Mansfield, Ph.D., and her groundbreaking research with sea turtles (Mansfield was recently appointed to be the lead researcher in a global study of sea turtle behavior), and Dean Jarley spoke about the power of students taking their UCF educations to all corners of the U.S. and around the world, noting that nearly 50,000 UCF alumni hold a degree from the College of Business.

Thomas is the managing partner of the Austin office of CohnReznick Tax and Accounting. He is a native of Central Florida and has had the opportunity to move around the U.S. thanks to his job at the firm. He and his wife attended the 2014 Fiesta Bowl, where his spirit was reignited after visiting the UCF Alumni event tent. During the “Premier Knight in Austin,” he shared his personal enthusiasm for UCF, his desire to connect with other Knights in Austin and to help future Knights through mentoring, internships, professional connections and more.

Want to hold a similar event in your city? Email UCF Alumni for information.

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