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Know When to Hold ‘em…

Legal Knights & Friends Alumni Chapter hosts annual Casino Knight


UCF alumni and friends from the Central Florida legal community mingled at Ember in downtown Orlando for a fun night of blackjack, craps, roulette and poker at the Legal Knights & Friends Alumni Chapter‘s annual Casino Knight on Oct. 29.

Beginners and high rollers alike enjoyed fine wines, craft beers and hors d’oeuvres, while pressing their luck with the house.

Proceeds from the event will benefit scholarships for students in pre-law programs.

“Since this organization started, we’ve always focused ourselves on providing UCF students aspiring to go to or are already in law school with something many different lawyers in our local community didn’t have while in school: Perspective and the opportunity to help fund the start of their careers,” says Mike Mendez, ’04, immediate past chair of the Legal Knights & Friends Alumni Chapter. “I’ve met all of the recipients of the scholarships we’ve awarded throughout the years, and there’s no better feeling than seeing the difference we’ve made for these hard-working students.”


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UCF’s Haunting History

Photo: thecheerfulwanderer.blogspot.com

(Photo: thecheerfulwanderer.blogspot.com)

During the first half of the 20th century, the Carey Hand Funeral Home was the largest in Central Florida, serving a five-county area, including Orange, Seminole, Osceola, Polk and Hillsborough. The modernized funeral home, built by the company in 1918, now houses — wait for it… — the UCF Executive Development Center in downtown Orlando!

In 1885, Elijah Hand moved to Orlando from Indiana and became the city’s first embalmer. He formed a partnership with E.A. Richards, the city’s first undertaker, and the two combined Richards’ furniture business with Hand’s embalming. Richards left the partnership in 1890, and the business was renamed Elijah Hand’s Furniture, Undertaking and Livery Stable.

In 1907, Hand’s son, Carey, a trained embalmer, moved to Orlando to join his father’s business, eventually buying out his father in 1914. He continued to run the business until his death in 1946. His wife sold the business the following year, and subsequent owners kept the Carey Hand name.

Carey Hand was the first funeral home in Florida to have a chapel, and housed the first crematorium built south of Cincinnati and Washington, D.C.

The building was used as a mortuary until 1992. It’s often a featured stop on haunted tours of downtown Orlando.

Happy Halloween from your friends at the UCF Alumni Association!

More Info

Read the UCF Libraries Special Collections’ history guide of the Carey Hand Funeral Home.

Service to UCF 2014

The 2011 recipient of the Service to UCF Award, Karl Hodges, '82, '13, presented the award to this year's recipient, Melanie Fernandez, '86, '91.  (PHOTO: Brandon Chestnut)

Karl Hodges, ’82, ’13, the 2011 recipient of the Service to UCF Award, presented this year’s award to Melanie Fernandez, ’86, ’91.
(PHOTO: Brandon Chestnut)

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

Melanie Fernandez flourished from an average UCF student simply trying to find her way, to a major force in the Central Florida business community and a huge part of UCF’s success. Her current consulting firm grew too, resulting from an opportunity to purchase the firm where she had been previously working as partner, a position she received after 10 years with the firm.

Learn more about Melanie:

Distinguished Student 2014

Donna Perez, '83, '88 (left), the 1982 winner of the Distinguished Student Award, presented this year's award to Cynthia Florentino, '14. (PHOTO: Brandon Chestnut)

Donna Perez, ’83, ’88 (left), the 1982 winner of the Distinguished Student Award, presented this year’s award to Cynthia Florentino, ’14.
(PHOTO: Brandon Chestnut)

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

Cynthia Florentino graduated from UCF with a political science degree after dedicating the majority of her time to professional development and extracurricular involvement. Florentino served in a cabinet position for the UCF Student Government Association and enrolled in a federal college program, where she became chair of the President’s Leadership Council her senior year. She currently attends graduate school in Washington, D.C., and continues to pursue her dream of transforming lives with the use of the Internet as a tool for empowerment.

Learn more about Cynthia:

Alumnus Competes in National Halloween TV Special

From left to right: Andy Bauer, '02, Sabrina Soto, Dave Gugel and Michael Moloney (Photo courtesy of Andy Bauer)

From left to right: Andy Bauer, ’02, Sabrina Soto, Dave Gugel and Michael Moloney
(Photo courtesy of Andy Bauer)

Andy Bauer, ’02, and Dave Gugel, are participating in ABC’s “The Great Halloween Fright Fight,” in which six families compete to make the greatest haunted Halloween displays. Celebrity designers Michael Moloney (of ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”) and Sabrina Soto (of HGTV’s “The High/Low Project”) are the judges. The winners get bragging rights and a $50,000 prize.

Andy and Dave’s displays, “Terror at Tee Lake,” are described by ABC as a lakeside cabin resort with a handmade drive-thru haunt spanning their four-acre property, with a variety of unique displays from a “Day of the Dead” area to a carnival zone with clowns. Using Andy’s expert graphic design skills and Dave’s construction know-how, the pair created a world of eerie neon characters, waiting for you behind every bend.

This is the couple’s fifth year creating haunted displays in Michigan, where they live, but their 10th year including their time in Florida.

“The Great Halloween Fright Fight” airs from 8-9 p.m. Oct. 28 on ABC.

More Info

Check out Andy and Dave’s Tee Lake Resort website for more Halloween fun!

Homecoming Highlights 2014

Alumni and students celebrated another awesome week of Homecoming activities

More than 1,000 students ...

More than 1,000 students stormed the Reflecting Pond, hoping to catch one of this year’s Homecoming-themed rubber ducks at tradition-favorite, Spirit Splash. Homecoming is the only time of the year students are allowed in the pond. (PHOTO: Brandon Chestnut)

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Homecoming 2014 was the best yet!

On Thursday night, the UCF Alumni Association hosted its annual Black & Gold Gala, an awards ceremony honoring alumni who “Reach for the Stars.” (Check out the Alumni Awards page for more info about all of this year’s recipients.) Knights, dressed in their best black and gold, sipped cocktails, nibbled on passed hors d’oeuvres and bid on silent auction items, raising more than $22,000 for student scholarships. As attendees entered the CFE Arena for dinner and the awards presentation, the room sparkled with shiny gold chairs, black and gold tablecloths, and golden candlelight. The evening was emceed by Central Florida News 13 Anchor Ybeth Bruzual, ’05, who brought her fun energy and spirit to the festivities.  Overall, it was a perfect Knight!

Friday morning, alumni hit the links at ChampionsGate Golf Club for the annual Homecoming Golf Tournament, where Knightro made a special appearance to get some help with his putting game. That afternoon, students jammed to live music and got fired up for the big game, with the help of UCF football players, cheerleaders and dancers, as well as members of the Homecoming Court, before jumping into the Reflecting Pond for Spirit Splash. And, later that night, the Young Alumni Chapter hosted its annual Black & Gold Takeover at Ember in downtown Orlando, where Knights relaxed and reminisced before the next day’s match up against the Owls.

On Saturday afternoon, the UCF Alumni Association hosted a very busy Indoor Tailgate party, while the College of Engineering and Computer Science Alumni Chapter hosted a Homecoming barbecue and reunion tent party on the lawn of the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center. To top it all off, UCF beat Temple 34-14 in a Homecoming victory!

Check out all of the photo galleries:

We don’t know about you, but we can’t wait to do it all again next year!

Go Knights! Charge On!

Distinguished Alumna 2014

UCF President John Hitt presents the 2014 Distinguished Alumna Award to Lesa Roe, '91. (PHOTO: Brandon Chestnut)

UCF President John Hitt presents the 2014 Distinguished Alumna Award to Lesa Roe, ’91.
(PHOTO: Brandon Chestnut)

Lesa Roe, ’91 | Deputy Associate Administrator, NASA

Balance doesn’t seem to be a concept too difficult for a rocket scientist, but striking equilibrium between her commitment to education and her desire to solve real-world problems prove to be among the top concerns for Lesa Roe. Fortunately, she was able to simultaneously work and study in UCF’s space program and currently serves as NASA’s deputy associate administrator. She continues to integrate the learning process with the implementation of logistic solutions and aims to further her education in all of her pursuits, whether working on orbiter communication systems or the Hubble Space Telescope.

Learn more about Lesa:

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.

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