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Five Things Alumni Need to Know — Oct. 5, 2015


After discovering her under the hood of his car last Monday, Steve Collins,
a UCF journalism professor, adopted 6-week-old Honda,
who joins a 12-year-old sister named Cocoa.
(PHOTO: UCF Nicholson School of Communication Facebook page)

Here are five things you should know this week:

  1. We’ve got lots of fun alumni events happening this week, including the return of UCF MedTalk, which will discuss “Tackling Breast Cancer,” on Wednesday; the UCF Alumni Indoor Tailgate for the UCF vs. UConn game on Saturday; and the Tampa Bay UCF Alumni Chapter’s AlumKnight Out at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, as Blake Bortles and the Jaguars take on the Buccaneers! The Space Coast UCF Alumni Chapter will also be making the trip to Tampa for the game!
  2. On Wednesday, President Hitt discussed the transformative power of higher education, his belief that a university has a responsibility to lift up its community, and — when it comes to the size of the student body — you can be both big and good during his annual State of the University address.
  3. Two UCF professors landed multi-million-dollar NASA grants, focused on asteroids, comets and Venus, for missions that could take flight as early as 2020.
  4. It was a purrrfect ending for a 6-week-old kitten that was discovered under the hood of a UCF journalism professor’s car last Monday.
  5. An Orlando bar made national news, offering patrons free beer during UCF football games until the Knights can break their losing streak.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know — Sept. 28, 2015


Here are five things you should know this week:

  1. On Oct. 1, the UCF College of Arts and Humanities Alumni Chapter, and the Orlando Museum of Art, will host Eclectic Knights VII, part of OMA’s 16th season of 1st Thursdays. The event features more than 50 pieces of artwork, made exclusively by UCF alumni, faculty and staff.
  2. On Saturday, Oct. 3, the UCF Alumni Association will participate in beautification efforts at Orlando’s historic Greenwood Cemetery, as part of UCF’s annual day of service, Knights Give Back. In addition, the UCF College of Sciences Alumni Chapter will assist the biology department’s efforts to restore degraded shorelines and oyster reefs at the Indian River Lagoon.
  3. UCF College of Business Administration student Jesse Wolfe, owner of O’Dang Hummus, will be featured on the Oct. 2 episode of ABC’s “Shark Tank” with his company’s custom flavors of hummus and hummus-based salad dressings.
  4. UCF MedTalk returns on Oct. 7, when Dr. Annette Khaled will discuss “Tackling Breast Cancer,” as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This popular event, hosted by the UCF College and Medicine and UCF Alumni Association, presents informal talks about current and innovative issues in medicine in a casual setting.
  5. Former UCF student Rob Starkman launched Rock ‘Em Apparel from his college apartment, and has since brought in more than $1 million in revenue each of the last two years for his unique brand of socks, which include UCF designs.

UCF Research Earns Big Bucks


UCF Ends Fiscal Year with $133.4 Million in Research Funding

Researchers at UCF received $133.4 million in research funds during the past fiscal year.

The funding totals reflect a rise in federal funding over the previous year, from $72.2 million to $74.2 million, and a continued national affirmation of UCF’s strengths in research and innovation. Researchers also received $47.5 million from industry sources and $11.7 from the state and local governments.


University Innovation Alliance Receives $8.9 Million Grant from DOE

The U.S. Department of Education has announced that the University Innovation Alliance, of which the University of Central Florida is a member, was selected as the recipient of the First in the World competition to encourage innovation among institutions of higher education. Georgia State University, on behalf of the alliance, was awarded $8.9 million to conduct a four-year research study on the group’s 11-member campuses around the nation to evaluate the effectiveness of advising in increasing retention, progression, and graduation rates for low-income and first-generation students.


Air Force Awards $5.87 Million Laser-Research Contract to UCF

A $5.87 million contract has been awarded by the Air Force to optics researcher Martin Richardson and his University of Central Florida team to develop new concepts for high-power fiber lasers. The contract is the one of the largest made by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research to a single university for development of fiber lasers.


UCF Board of Trustees Revises Downtown Campus Plans


Rendering of proposed UCF Downtown campus
(PHOTO: UCF Board of Trustees online agenda)

By Eric Gutierrez
Digital Producer, Central Florida Future

Moving forward with plans to establish a stronger downtown presence, UCF’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved of a revised plan for the Downtown Orlando campus. “This update is very different than the plans we saw in January,” Chairman Marcos Marchena said.

The revised plan proposes building an academic services building and renovating the existing Center for Emerging Media. The academic services building will cost about $60 million to build, and renovations for the Center for Emerging Media building will cost about $5 million.

To fund the project, the plan proposes asking the state for about $19 million — about one-third the amount UCF originally asked from the state to build the downtown campus’ first academic building. The remaining funds will be paid for by the university and through private donations.

“We are working with our partners to address parking and housing downtown,” said Provost Dale Whittaker.

The proposed academic building would house academic programs that are well suited for the downtown environment and are expected to bring out more than 7,000 students to the downtown campus the first year. “We’ve refined our plans to include nine academic degree programs with strategic emphasis to meet workforce gaps in Florida,” Whittaker said. “We see the new academic building to be a key catalyst to the development of this campus.” So far, the programs offered are centered around health care, communications, technology, social work and legal studies.

The downtown campus would offer students work and internship opportunities that would apply what they learn in the classroom into the real world, he said.

Though plans for the downtown campus are set to continue, the projected opening date has been pushed back an extra year. “We moved from [opening in] fall of 2017 to fall of 2018,” said Grant Heston, vice president of communications and marketing.

The downtown project has always aimed to improve students by bringing them downtown and improving downtown by having students in the area, Heston said. The overall impact of the project will affect the downtown area in a very positive way, he said.

This story appeared in a Sept. 24, edition of the Central Florida Future online. See original article.

Anthropology Speaker Series


The Orlando Science Center, in partnership with UCF, is proudly hosting a special guest speaker series in conjunction with the Mummies of the World: The Exhibition. Topics will feature studies on current anthropological and archaeological research around the world, including mummification, bioarchaeology and forensic anthropology.

The Mummies of the World exhibition depicts a once-in-a-lifetime collection of real mummies and artifacts from around the world. This fascinating acquisition includes ancient mummies dating back as far as 4,500 years. An intriguing mix of old and new, the enchanting exhibit bridges the gap between past and present with contributions from 10 world-renowned institutions and two private collectors.

The special presentations will take place on the following select Saturdays at 1 p.m. in the Digital Adventure Theater:

Sept. 26
J. Marla Toyne, Ph.D. | Ancient Trepanation (Cranial Vault Surgery) in Peru

Oct. 10
Sandra Wheeler, Ph.D. | Mummies Inside and Out: Mummy Studies and Modern Science

Oct. 24
Lana Williams, Ph.D. | Going Out in Style — Beauty Tips from Egypt’s Mummies

Nov. 14
Sarah Barber, Ph.D. | No Mummies, No Problem

The speaker series is included with general admission to the Orlando Science Center. Student discounts are available with valid ID. Seating is limited.

UCF Names New Associate VP for Alumni Relations


By Zenaida Kotala

After a nationwide search, UCF has named Julie C. Stroh associate vice president of alumni relations and executive director of the UCF Alumni Association.

“This is a tremendous opportunity,” Stroh said. “UCF’s huge and vibrant alumni community has vast potential to effect positive change here and around the world. I’m very excited to act as a catalyst by helping members connect and engage with each other and their alma mater.”

Stroh currently serves as associate vice president for regional outreach in the Office of Government Relations and Community Engagement at Ball State University in Indiana. Prior to that, she was Ball State’s associate vice president of alumni programs, and president and CEO of the Ball State University Alumni Association. She begins at UCF in mid-October.

“I am thrilled to welcome Julie to our UCF Advancement team,” said Michael Morsberger, UCF vice president for Alumni Relations and Development. “The search provided us with many worthy candidates, but Julie’s extraordinary breadth and depth of experience in leading large-scale alumni relations programs as both an executive and a volunteer made her the clear choice.”

A committee of diverse stakeholders led by former UCF Alumni Association Board Chair Mike Manglardi, ’84, conducted a national search to fill the position.

Stroh’s key goals will include fostering mutually beneficial relationships between the university and its approximately 250,000 alumni.

In addition to her experience as an alumni relations executive, Stroh has also been a volunteer alumni leader for her alma mater, the University of Michigan. She has served nine years — including two as chair — on the board of directors of Michigan’s Alumni Association, among the world’s largest and most active alumni bodies.

Stroh has strong ties to Florida, having lived in the state for more than 20 years. She earned her master’s degree in liberal studies at the University of Miami and later held several key leadership positions in the university’s Office of Alumni Relations.

This story appeared Sept. 23, 2015, on UCF Today. See original article.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know — Sept. 21, 2015


(PHOTO: newdogworld.com)

Here are five things you should know this week:

  1. On Wednesday, the UCF College of Sciences will host its Distinguished Speakers Series, featuring “Archaeology from Space,” presented by Dr. Sarah Parcak, a National Geographic Society Fellow and associate professor of anthropology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
  2. On Saturday, Sept. 26, the UCF Alumni Association will host a family-friendly black and gold tailgate party in South Carolina, before the Knights take on the Gamecocks.
  3. Engineering students repaired the “Wind Dancer” sculpture of Pegasus, located outside the Burnett Honors College, which was vandalized after the first home football game. UCF alumnus Jeff Douglass, ’02, who contributed significantly to the cost of the sculpture in 2007, offered to cover the cost of the repairs, which were minimal, thanks to the engineering students’ work.
  4. UCF is the first public university in Florida to allow Canine Companions for Independence dogs in training to live in dorms. Robin, a 5-month-old yellow, lab is the first on-campus resident, and lives with her student trainer, sophomore Morgan Bell.
  5. The UCF Recreation and Wellness Center now has an adaptive-climbing rock tower that allows wheelchair-bound students to experience the freedom of new heights.

Students Who Use Wheelchairs Find Freedom on
Rock-Climbing Tower


By Gene Kruckemyer
UCF Today

Inch by inch, participants pull themselves to the top of UCF’s adaptive-climbing rock tower, ascending high above their wheelchairs and achieving new heights that others sometimes think they can’t reach.

“It feels like a bit of freedom,” said Katherine Torres, a student majoring in health services administration who has a muscle weakness that doesn’t allow her to stand or walk. “I’ve always been one to challenge myself. And when a lot of people say I can’t do something — just watch. I didn’t know what to expect, but when I got half way there I thought to myself ‘I’m going to keep on going. I can do this.’”

Some other universities in Florida offer rock climbing to their students, but UCF is the only one to have an adaptive climbing wall, giving students with limited mobility a chance to climb, said Nathan Vink, assistant director of UCF’s Outdoor Adventure program.

This summer the Recreation and Wellness Center provided special training to eight staffers to jump-start its new adaptive-climbing program.

“This is a growing focus in recreation — to look beyond the able-bodied student and offer opportunities to all students, whether with physical or mental disabilities,” Vink said about the campus Student Assisted Workout program. “Our goals are also to try to reach the students who aren’t here yet, to open up opportunities. We have students who don’t have the same abilities, but they do have abilities.”

The adaptive-climbing program empowers students, whether beginners or experienced, to reach their potential on the 41-foot tower.

“They challenge themselves. They set their own goals,” Vink said. “We don’t tell them they have to reach the top. We’re supportive of what they want to achieve.”

The center trained staffers in the techniques of harnessing climbers in the equipment and controlling the safety ropes as the participants ascend. The climbers use a handlebar-style device that grips a rope and slowly ratchets them upwards as they repeatedly pull downward on the bar.

The ratchet system requires a quarter of the strength that other climbers would need to ascend the rope. There are different seat harnesses with various strapping and padding to help with pressure issues, and participants with prosthetic limbs can use the equipment in a way to help propel them up the rock face.

Torres, who also works in the Recreation and Wellness Center, said she heard about the campus climbing tower two years ago when she was a freshman, and has long wished she could somehow try to scale it — even if the prospect of ascending the tower was a little intimidating. And now with the staffers on duty to help, she has made the trip up twice.

Kristen Cioce, who uses a wheelchair because of a spinal cord injury, was hesitant at first to try the tower, but said she went up to fulfill a promise to one of her physical trainers — and it was an exhilarating experience that she’d do again if the opportunity came up.

“It was not something I was looking forward to doing. At first it was something I was trying to get out of,” said Cioce, who graduated last month with a master’s degree in social work. “But it’s an amazing opportunity that UCF offers.”

Vink said the staffers also talk with the climbers to allay any fears about heights or falling. And as the climbers ascend, staffers “belay” the safety ropes — or take up the slack to prevent slips.

“Every student is unique,” he said. “We just try to see how we can help them.”

Three students used the system during the summer, and now that the fall semester has started, Vink expects others to check out the adaptive-climbing experience.

What advice do the veteran climbers have for others?

“I highly recommend it to any student who has inabilities,” Cioce said. “Just follow your gut if you’re being led to do it. You don’t have to get to the top.”

And while people in wheelchairs usually feel smaller than others, Torres said, “This is a time to feel bigger than everyone. You can have a different perspective.”

For more information about the climbing program or to schedule a climb, visit http://rwc.sdes.ucf.edu/facilities/climbing-tower.

UCF Helps Evans High School Students, Community

(PHOTO: Evans Community High School website)

(PHOTO: Evans Community High School website)

By Nada Hassanein
Digital Producer, Central Florida Future

Last October, Thomas Milbry set aside his marketing studies once or twice per week to mentor freshmen at Evans Community High School in Pine Hills. In this troubled, high-crime neighborhood, many students lack support at home to succeed in school. But with the help of UCF and volunteers like Milbry, ECS has been changing that.

Tucked away off Silver Star Road, ECS is the first “community school” in Florida, providing Pine Hills’ high school students with extra development initiatives, such as tutoring after normal school hours. ECS also aims to help students flourish during difficult home situations, whether that means donating a handicapped van to a disabled student whose parents couldn’t afford one, or providing a student’s mother, who was suddenly and tragically shot, with an at-home nurse aide.

In 2013, the U.S. Census reported that 23 percent of the town’s population was living below poverty level — compared with 19 percent in Orlando — and about 30 percent of the city’s residents were children.

The “community school” concept aims to address those issues by giving students holistic care. Along with extra academic services and mental health counseling, the school has its own wellness center with a physician, dentist and nurse on staff.

UCF is one of four partners that support ECS with mentoring through a Freshman Success class. Volunteers from campus also help organize focus groups with community members and families to analyze what other projects need to be implemented at the school.

“The main reason is because the needs of this community are great,” says Amy Ellis, assistant director of the UCF Center for Community Partnerships. The center, which is behind UCF’s involvement with ECS, has a goal of becoming a model for other areas in Florida to establish their own community schools.

“When we first began, the school was a D/F school,” Ellis says. “It was a struggling, inner-city high school.”

Nine years later, the Orange County school is rated a B/C, with 2,484 students enrolled last year, and more than 300 enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program.

According to data provided by the school, only 64 percent of seniors graduated in 2005, but now that statistic has increased to 78 percent.

“I’m a product of a great mentorship,” says Jarvis Wheeler, ECS director, remembering his own mentor in college at Florida State University, whom he is now naming his son Lawrence after. “He was a leader on campus. I didn’t even think that existed.”

Wheeler extended an invitation to UCF to begin a mentoring program at ECS last fall.

UCF molecular and microbiology alumnus Nathan Wooding, a volunteer coordinator last spring semester, dedicated six days per week to help ECS grow and sustain its programs. Along with recruiting other volunteers from UCF, Wooding managed the school’s food pantry, helped organize school events and spearheaded the freshmen mentoring program.

Wooding’s own mentee was a senior track runner who had to leave his dedication to the team to focus on grades in order to graduate.

“A lot of [students] at Evans High School may not have family who have gone to college,” Wooding says. “[My mentee] wasn’t aware of scholarships or how university admissions work. … He didn’t always have someone to talk to.”

Wooding says his former mentee, now a Valencia College student, is hoping to pursue a business degree.

Also involved with ECS is Hannah Nguyen, a UCF health services administration graduate student. Nguyen says her department is working on streamlining programs to train mentors, and is brainstorming for ways to bridge together prospective UCF volunteers with the school itself.

“The system would guide mentors if they don’t know how to mentor in a certain situation,” she says. “We’ve [also] identified a disconnect between UCF and Evans students. … There are still a lot of students not familiar with Evans.”

To help connect UCF and ECS students with one another, Nguyen said a weeklong “UCF Take-Over” event is planned for October. More than 30 campus organizations will showcase their services to ECS students.

This story was posted in a Sept. 13, 2015, edition of the Central Florida Future online. It has been slightly edited in accordance with AP and alumni association style guidelines. See original article. 

UCF Welcomes Puppy to Dorm Life


(PHOTO: UCF Today)

By Candace Campos
News 6 Reporter

Here at UCF, there is a new student enrolled. She might be young and even a bit furry, but that isn’t stopping this pup from working toward her own very special degree.

Five-month-old Robin is the first assistance dog in training living on the UCF campus. It’s all part of the new partnership UCF has with Canine Companions for Independence. [UCF is the first public university in Florida to allow Canine Companion dogs in training to live in dorms.]

“She was just a sleepy little nugget,” says sophomore Morgan Bell, Robin’s roommate and student trainer. “She was in her kennel, and all curled up. It was just love at first sight.”

Bell will volunteer her time over the next year training Robin on more than 30 commands and basic obedience skills, including walking on a leash and behaving in public.

“So far, she knows her name, ‘down,’ ‘sit,’ ‘dress,’ [and] ‘kennel,'” Bell explains.

This dynamic duo will be seen around campus as Robin learns to socialize in different environments, including meeting strangers, attending classes, and other social situations.

“We raise assistance dogs to serve individuals with developmental disabilities or injuries,” says LeAnn Sieffereman, manager of the Canine Companion’s Puppy Program.

So, this duo will have to part ways eventually, as Robin will move on to care and support someone in need.

“Just thinking that she’ll go on and help someone else… She’s given me a lot of love, and I want her to give that to someone else, too,” Bell says.

Robin will stay here for another year or so before she graduates to her master’s degree, where she’ll continue to train with Canine Companions and, hopefully, find her match.

This story was transcribed from the video above. It has been slightly edited in accordance with AP and alumni association style guidelines.

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