To Have And To Hold, Forever Black And Gold

Alumni Brent and Bryanna Beumel were married in November by one of their favorite UCF professors, Jeff Biddle

ORLANDO, Fla. (Feb. 14, 2017) – Brent Beumel ’14 and his fianceé Bryanna La Londe ’13 were driving back to Florida in November 2015 from a weekend trip in Savannah, where Brent had just popped the question in a historical bed and breakfast.

Giddy off the high of their engagement, they started imagining what their wedding day would look like. Who would officiate the ceremony?

Without a moment’s hesitation, long-time UCF sports and exercise science instructor Jeff Biddle emerged at the top of their list.

“He’s what every professor should be to a student. He doesn’t want you to just come in and get your degree and walk out. You could go into his office anytime he was in there and talk with him. He loved to get to know people and what you wanted to do with your life,” Bryanna said. “He was the first person we thought of.”

The now-Beumels met in 2012 in a biomechanics class at UCF’s South Lake campus in Clermont.

They started out as friends. Bryanna had plans to move to Portland, Oregon, at summer’s end. After a month, their relationship progressed to more than friends.

“And then I didn’t go! And it worked out well,” Bryanna said with a smile.

The two finished their sports and exercise science degrees, frequently driving the hefty commute out to Clermont – Bryanna drove 70 miles one way from her mother’s home in Merritt Island — because they loved the program and professors, especially Biddle, so much.

“Every class that he taught in our major, I tried to sign up with him. He made the drive out to Clermont worth it,” said Brent, who lived less than eight miles from UCF’s main campus at the time. “It was an hour to get out there, but you knew when you’d have him at 8 o’clock in the morning it was going to be fun. It wasn’t just staring at a PowerPoint for an hour and a half. You were interacting with him and all the other students. He made it enjoyable. He’s not one we’ll forget.”

Bryanna, a first-generation student, graduated in 2013 and is now working in the rehabilitation department at Arnold Palmer Hospital. Brent graduated a year later as a second-generation UCF alumnus.

As fate would have it, Brent’s parents met while they were students at UCF at a house party on Alafaya. His mother Linda graduated in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry.

They didn’t expect that decades later, their son would mirror their love story and find his future wife while at school.

“UCF helped make me who I am. The experiences I had through sport and exercise molded me into the trainer and coach that I am now,” said Brent, who works at CrossFit Firebase in Orlando. “I view it as a starting off point. That’s where we met. It’s where my parents met, as well. It holds a special value in that to me.”

Brent and Bryanna got married on Thanksgiving weekend in 2016 at Club Lake Plantation in Apopka with a black-and-gold-bow-tie-clad Biddle as their officiant.

Their grandparents gifted the couple their wedding rings and served as ring bearers in their ceremony.

The gold band of Brent’s ring belonged to his grandfather. It had to be pieced back together after it was cut off his grandfather’s finger following a motorcycle accident.

When the jeweler melded it together, he chose a black zirconium to sandwich it, making it the perfect color combination for Brent’s UCF roots.

As the couple anticipated, Biddle was a hit among the family in attendance. He was as comical and engaging in the ceremony as he is in the classroom.

In order to perform the ceremony, the professor needed to obtain a notary license. He told the couple to leave the logistics to him and insisted on paying the associated fee.

Biddle, who makes it a point to attend as many of his students’ commencement ceremonies as he can, said that Brent and Bryanna’s request to serve as their officiant was an honor and a privilege.

That realization hit him even harder when he recently watched their wedding video.

“Their kids and their kids’ kids are going to be watching that video. I’m permanently a part of their lives and their family’s lives from now on. And that’s pretty cool,” Biddle said. “I am thrilled that they asked me, thrilled that they wanted me to do it. It is certainly one of the bigger moments to happen in my life.”

What he may not realize is that he already secured a special place in their lives a long time ago.

“Being a first generation degree seeker – professors are who I looked up to for guidance and direction throughout the whole process. Dr. Biddle was a role model for me,” Bryanna said. “Finding what you love to do may change over the years and that’s OK. That is something I learned from him. I don’t even know if I’ve ever told him this, but it’s how I feel about him and what he’s done for me.”

Alumnus Holds Key To Big Data

Big Data Symposium’s keynote speaker Lee Odess ’99 alongside his family

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (Jan. 23, 2017) – In the past, the biggest threat from a data breach was to the individual. But now with the onset of Big Data, there are much bigger threats and even bigger opportunities.

Few people, however, understand what Big Data is or how it can be used, said Lee Odess ’99, vice president of UniKey and the keynote speaker for UCF’s Big Data Symposium on Jan. 26 at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center.

“The goal of my presentation is, more or less, to give real life examples of what Big Data is and the impact it can have,” Odess said. “Typically you are either super smart on Big Data and have a hard time communicating it, or you are a person who has heard of it but isn’t too sure how to get started. My goal is to bridge the two.”

Practical examples of Big Data are everywhere and can be implemented by both big and small companies. For instance, a company can analyze marketing impacts via its social media reach; predictive analytics can narrow in on customers’ shopping preferences; or it can help analyze where a business should open up its next retail location.

Big Data’s role in our society is one of the reasons UCF’s Colleges of Science, Business and Engineering and Computer Science came together to host the symposium. UCF business professors Robert Porter ’81 ’10PhD and Amit Joshi, PhD; statistics professor Shunpu Zhang, PhD; and Ivan Garibay ’00MS ’04PhD, director of UCF Research Information Systems and chief information officer at the UCF Office of Research and Commercialization, are among the speakers who will talk about practical ways companies, nonprofits and individuals can tap into Big Data to benefit their communities and society.

Odess was a natural choice for the talk because of his familiarity with the use of Big Data within his own profession.

“For UniKey we didn’t wake up one day and say, ‘Hey, we need Big Data.’ We did however say, ‘Hey, we need to start understanding exactly how, when, where our customers are using the locks and mobile applications powered by UniKey,” he said. “So we put the systems and tools in place to be able to collect every bit of data we could. Then once we had it, we spent the time to come up with the algorithms and dashboards to easily digest the information. Now, with a touch of a button we are no longer guessing how, when and where customers are using the product. We are 100 percent clear on it.“

In 2012, Odess was the director of sales operations for security company Brivo Systems when he was watching “Shark Tank” on television one night and saw fellow UCF alumnus Phil Dumas ’05 pitching his smart lock. It was the first time in Shark Tank history that all five investors wanted to buy into an idea.

Odess reached out to Dumas after the show and said that given their UCF roots and similar industries, they should get to know each other. Dumas agreed.

They kept in touch over the years, and when Brivo Systems was sold in 2015, Odess wanted to join with a startup that had growth opportunity. He saw UniKey as that opportunity.

His day-to-day responsibilities as vice president include business development, human resources, participation in the overall strategy for the company and its existing customer base.

Dumas and Odess aren’t the only Knights with UniKey. Odess said 80 percent of the company’s 50 employees are alumni.

“Initially people think we’re from Silicon Valley. When we tell them we’re from Orlando, we explain to them we have some hidden gems here, one of them being the university,” he said. “We look for people that want to be in this area. We think the school does a really good job preparing the students for work. It just makes sense. There isn’t a need for us to look outside what’s in front of our face.”

Odess speaks from experience.

Born in Cleveland, he grew up in South Florida before he moved to Pittsburgh, where he graduated from high school. He considered nearly two dozen universities and picked UCF because he said it just felt right.

“There seemed to be a lot of history to be written,” he said. “I liked that.”

The day after he graduated with his bachelor’s in business, he packed up his car and started driving toward Pennsylvania, where a job with Lutron Electronics awaited him.

After eight years with Lutron, he moved to Washington D.C. and worked for a variety of companies, including several startups of his own, Fresh Confections and energy + light + control llc.

In order to become more acclimated to a new city, he rekindled his relationship with UCF by joining the D.C. alumni chapter.

Now that he’s back in Orlando, he is happy to have an opportunity to further his relationship with his alma mater by lending his time to the symposium.

“I’m proud of the fact that I have an opportunity to make a difference,” Odess said. “There’s a true partnership with the university – it has aspirations and goals, and I feel like it realizes that the people that have come out of it are going to help carry it in that direction.”

The Symposium will be held Jan. 26 from 6-8 p.m. at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center. The event is free, but RSVP online is required. To learn more about the event, click here.

Alumni Band Rocks On To Big Win

By Jenna Marina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From First Generation To Family Tradition

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By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (Dec. 8, 2016) – As a UCF Alumni board member, season ticket holder, Oviedo resident and occasional guest lecturer, Ryan Vescio ’02 visits UCF’s campus more than most. And when the assistant state attorney returns, his three children are frequently in tow.

Ella, 10, Sophia, 9, and Owen, 5, are big fans of tailgating. They debate the merits of their favorite basketball players. They recently got their wish granted to eat at Knightro’s with their dad. They periodically exchange hellos with President John C. Hitt and his wife, Martha, who know them by name thanks to Owen’s habit of running into their CFE Arena suite when he was 2.

To Ella, Sophia and Owen, the idea of college is nothing out of the ordinary – almost an expected path they will one day follow. The same cannot be said for Vescio, a first-generation college student.

“We never talked about college in my house. For my parents, it wasn’t a reality. You pick a job and you go and do your thing,” he said. “It’s incredible to watch that transition of how much one generation can really change the future of a family.”

The son of a hairdresser and auto mechanic, Vescio grew up in Melbourne in a double wide trailer on the grounds of an elementary school. His father was diagnosed with renal disease when Vescio was 10. The oldest of his siblings, he learned to grow up quickly.

He aspired to be a journalist, and thanks to a persistent teacher, he was granted access to cover his first NASA space shuttle launch at the age of 14 for a middle and high school newswire service he helped start. The news story he wrote landed on the front page of Florida Today’s Sunday edition, above the fold.

With the help of Florida Bright Futures Scholarship and Pell Grants, he made his dream of attending college a reality.

After a brief stint studying journalism at the University of South Carolina, he transferred to UCF to be closer to his ailing father. He also switched gears and took an interest in political science and law.

“I think about if I wasn’t as persistent as I was, if I didn’t want better, if I didn’t have the help of other people, I would have never had the experiences that I’ve been able to have,” he said. “Our university is a little different than the others around us, and I think that that’s nothing but positive. It’s exciting to watch traditions being built, but it’s equally as exciting to not have traditions hold us back. We can do anything, we can be anywhere, we can influence anything.”

He threw himself into college life, and his influence is still part of daily activity at UCF today. He was involved in the plans that led to the Recreation and Wellness Center being built. He also was there the day they came up with the idea to rope off the Pegasus on the floor of the Student Union.

“We never thought it would last,” he said with a laugh. “I get a kick around graduation when I see on social media the big deal about taking a graduation picture with the Pegasus. It really blows my mind.”

Vescio graduated with his bachelor’s in political science one year before his father passed away and says one of his proudest life moments is knowing that his father witnessed his son’s graduation day. He went on to law school at Nova Southeastern and is now director of modernization and assistant state attorney, Office of the State Attorney, 9th Judicial Circuit.

Vescio believes in his public service role and is fueled by fighting for the truth. Most of his work entails homicide and major crime cases. He believes it is an honor to serve as a voice for people who have suffered.

His life has come full circle now as a donor, supporting UCF Athletics, UCF Alumni and first-generation students.

“Being a Knight has given me the opportunity to go out and make a positive impact on our community,” he said. “The only limitation for Knights is our own self reservation.

Why I Give Back, by Ryan Vescio:

We owe it to future students to pay it forward and help them. To me, that’s everything from being involved on the alumni board, to showing up to events, to buying football tickets, to donating money that I have. Although I can’t write a $1 million check today, I know that my donation helps to fund a scholarship. To fund a program to go out and find students. It’s so important to be involved and engaged because there are so many high school students out there right now who think of college as this thing, but they can’t conceptualize it because it’s not a reality in their family or in their neighborhood or environment. That to me is the student that comes here and works even harder because it means so much to them. That’s the student who leaves here and becomes the research scientist, the filmmaker, the lawyer.

One in four students at UCF are the first in their family to attend college. To support first-generation students like Ryan Vescio, click here.

UCF Alumna Bright As Broadway

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By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (Nov. 16, 2016) – Three weeks after earning her degree a semester early in December 2014, Abby Jaros sat on her bed alongside her parents in a packed up apartment.

All at once, Jaros realized the leap she was about to take in moving to New York City to pursue a career in theater. She questioned herself: Is this really what I should do?

“My dad said, ‘You know what Abby? If not you, who?’” Jaros recalled. “And that is a confidence that I have to take with me everywhere that I go.”

Since then, Jaros has appeared in several regional theater productions and is fresh off her first national tour for Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat. The tour spanned nine months and included a trip to Japan.

Recently, she returned to UCF’s School of Performing Arts to conduct an informational workshop with current students. As someone who has navigated the ins and outs of making it in the city on her own, Jaros wanted to provide some guidance to the school that became like a family to her.

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Abby Jaros’ workshop at UCF School of Performing Arts

“From the second I stepped foot on this campus, it felt like home. The people here were so welcoming,” she said. “In life, you really have to thank the people who put themselves out there for you. And this was the only school that did. I am forever thankful to people who go out on a limb for me. I’m thankful to represent UCF.”

Jaros grew up as a dancer. She always viewed it as a hobby until she started musical theater in high school as a creative outlet.

She intended to study marine biology in college. Her parents were supportive of her passion for theater, but also erred on the side of practicality when it came to her future career path.

That all changed when Jaros attended Broadway Theater Project, a three-week intensive learning experience under the direction of Broadway directors, choreographers, casting directors and producers.

Before her final showcase of the Project, with her parents sitting in the audience, Jaros was given the Gregory Hines Scholarship, presented to students who show artistic merit. The scholarship offers training and performance opportunities and encourages pre-professional level students to continue with their studies with on-stage performing experience.

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AbbyJaros.com/Dancers Of New York

She’ll never forget the date, Aug. 1, 2010, when her parents encouraged her to follow her dreams.

“They said they were 100 percent behind me because of getting the scholarship that day,” she said. “They said, ‘We will accompany you to any audition you want to go to. Whatever you want, we will do whatever it takes.’”

Since moving to New York City, the musical theater alumna is constantly on the move. She has been seen for commercial work, television and film roles and of course, theater work.

She is helping a fellow UCF alumnus work on his script for a feature film. She has been featured on the Dancers of New York blog and had a personal project video go viral on YouTube.

When her friends invited her on a weekend getaway to Disney this fall, she booked her trip with some extra days set aside to visit UCF.

“I wanted to come and see my alma mater and really give back because they gave me so much. I think that’s the most important thing – remembering your roots and where you came from,” she said. “A lot of alums from here help me up in New York. It’s such a great community.”

Jaros covered the basics – who photographs good headshots, social media tricks to finding an affordable place to live and where to attend worthwhile classes.

She also offered up words of encouragement, motivating the students to put themselves out there and connect with people.

When she recounted her story of the insecurity she felt before making the leap to New York, senior Amanda Hornberger wiped away tears from her seat in the crowd. Hornberger said it was comforting and helpful to learn from someone who understands the journey that she herself is trying to pursue.

“What I loved that she kept saying was: ‘Find your people. We are a community.’ That’s why I do theater and performing to begin with because I found a community of people here,” Hornberger said. “There is something special about people in the arts. They understand how to be there for each other.”

Life Below Zero

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By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (Nov. 4, 2016) — When Tracey Mertens ’92 was a hospitality management student at UCF in the early 1990s, she never envisioned a life where she would be professionally trained in night vision goggles usage. Or winter hazard protection.

Yet, today she lives in Kodiak, Alaska, well-educated in both thanks to her auxiliary public affairs specialist role with the U.S. Coast Guard. She has immersed herself within the team, learning anything she can, to better reflect the Coast Guard’s impact through her writing, photography and social media duties.

Merten credits UCF for giving her the foundation she needed to forge her own path to success that led her to opening her own seven-bedroom specialized rental property, managing a public relations and marketing firm and volunteering more than 4,500 volunteer hours over the last three years with the U.S. Coast Guard.

“It’s an exceptional school. You can tell the difference between someone who has had that good college foundation and who hasn’t,” said Mertens, one of the first recipients of the Harris Rosen Hospitality Management Scholarship. “Finding your place in the world has everything to do with using that experience at UCF to reach out, touch, talk to and traverse as many pieces as you can.”

Over the last two decades of her professional career, Mertens has accumulated an extensive list of varied experiences. She worked on a ranch in Wyoming. Trained with an equestrian center. Sampled many professional roles at Arabian Nights. Was part of the team that set up the dinner show attraction American Gladiators Orlando Live. Served as domestic violence counselor. Worked within child protective services. Owned a consulting company.

“I have a weirdo resume. It’s got parts and pieces on it that people go, ‘You did what?! How did you get there?’” she said.

Tracey Mertens '92 (photographer) on the job for the U.S. Coast Guard
Tracey Mertens ’92 (photographer) on the job for the U.S. Coast Guard

She did it by following her passions, and that’s the message she wants to make sure she passes on to other soon-to-be Rosen graduates. That’s why despite the 5,000-plus miles between Kodiak, Alaska, and Orlando, Mertens is a mentor with the college.

The mentor program launched in 2011 and has seen tremendous growth in recent years. Mertens and her mentee, Erinn Drury, are one of 165-and-counting matches within the program this year.

Their match seems dictated by fate. Drury can’t stop thinking about moving to Alaska after graduation.

Drury, a Satellite Beach native, was a freshman in 2013 when she attended a career fair for Rosen. There, she met a representative from Princess Cruises who served routes in Alaska. She was intrigued and proceeded to spend last May through October working at a lodge south of Denali.

She spent eight weeks of fall away from campus, juggling online classes with limited internet access and pulling off straight As by the end of the semester.

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Like her mentor, Erinn Drury wants to live in Alaska after graduating Rosen College of Hospitality Management.

“Never seeing mountains, never seeing snow, never experiencing the 22 hours of daylight or darkness, it was completely life-changing for me. When I left, I never stopped thinking of Alaska,” she said. “When you test the limits and get outside your comfort zone, it’s when happiness happens.”

When Drury applied for a mentor, she wasn’t sure who she would end up with. So she was thrilled that Mertens was someone she could relate to so easily. Their first phone conversation lasted two hours.

“I could hear in her voice the passion that she has,” Drury said. “How you get from UCF business hospitality to the Coast Guard is incredible. [She showed me] you don’t have to keep yourself within the boundaries of what the norm is. You can push yourself.”

In addition to running her PR business and award winning rental property, Guardian Landing, Mertens has been designated as the Kodiak Air Station’s official photographer and social media spokesperson.

Her photos have been published in various publications and even on the national U.S. Coast Guard Instagram’s account.

Her work to provide community awareness has been well received. She claimed second place in the national 2014 JOC Alex Haley Awards for Outstanding Individual Achievement, the Coast Guard’s highest recognition in public affairs. Additionally, she earned the national Coast Guard History Foundation 2013 Heritage Award for Individual Achievement.

Photo by Tracey Mertens '92
Photo by Tracey Mertens ’92

“The search and rescue team’s mission is such a nice, clean line of positive intent to serve humanity. I’m very honored to be a part of that,” she said.

As for Drury, she can’t wait to move to Alaska and start her own professional adventure. And she hopes to meet Mertens in person one day.

#ThankADonor: Bonded By Chemistry

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By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (Oct. 13, 2016) – Fate, and a dash of chemistry, brought together two-time alumna Cynthia McCurry and current College of Sciences student Lauren Gandy.

McCurry has supported a scholarship for the College of Sciences since 2001. Students of various science majors have received the scholarship over the years, but until this fall, it had been awarded just once to a chemistry major.

So McCurry’s day was made when she found out Gandy, this year’s George and Geraldine McCurry Endowed Scholarship recipient, shared her interest in chemistry.

“I’m just so glad that there are students coming out of the school who are making a difference,” McCurry said. “I’m especially pleased that we are turning out sciences majors who are women.”

McCurry graduated in 1980 with her bachelor’s degree in chemistry before earning her master’s in industrial chemistry two years later.

Gandy is a double major in forensic biochemistry and French. She is also pursuing two minors in chemistry and biomedical sciences. She decided to attend UCF because of its forensic science program and plans on furthering her education in a biochemical doctoral program.

One day, she would like to work within a chemical preparedness center to support safety from chemical attacks for the Department of Defense and the military.

The two talked about this and more during their first meeting in an event organized by the College of Sciences that paired donors with their recipients.

“I was fortunate to receive a scholarship last year as well but I didn’t get a chance to meet the donor. I think this year has been changed in so many ways because I’ve been able to meet her and see that chemists are supporting chemists. Engineers are supporting engineers. Just continuing that legacy,” Gandy said. “It’s so wonderful knowing there are people out there who I can look up to and who are supporting students like me.”

McCurry and her siblings set up the George and Geraldine McCurry Endowed Scholarship in honor of their parents, who she said always pushed their children to invest their time in education. All three of the McCurry children received degrees from UCF.

“We never thought of not going to school,” McCurry said. “We wanted to do the scholarship in their name. They were so happy that UCF was built here in Orlando and that we were able to attend. I try to support the school the best that I can.”

It took McCurry and Gandy less than two hours and one shared meal to form an emotional connection. As they neared the end of their conversation, they both started to tear up.

“I’m just so honored that I was able to help you in some small way,” McCurry told Gandy.

Gandy paused for a moment and replied, heartfelt: “Words can’t really express it.”

 

Fantas-tech Enterprise

View More: http://earthwalkermedia.pass.us/ifix

ORLANDO, Fla. (Sept. 22, 2016) – Chris Johncke, ’08, founder and CEO of iFixYouri, attributes his success in life to the laws of attraction: If you exude positivity, positivity you shall receive.

It’s how the UCF alumnus credits building his company from a Craigslist ad to a 15-store-and-counting enterprise – one that has grown so much it is now the official device repair shop of the Boston Red Sox.

“Who would think that fixing phones would get you tied in doing business with the Red Sox?” Johncke said. “It’s an honor and a testament to hard work. If you put forth hard work, you’re going to get great results. If you’re going to put out positive energy, positive things are going to come back to you.”

Johncke did not set out to create a burgeoning technology business. iFixYouri is a result of a Plan B.

After graduating from UCF with a bachelor’s degree in engineering technology, Johncke started working for a tech company in Lake Mary. When the economy dipped, Johncke was laid off.

The South Florida native moved back to the Palm Beach area and lived with his sister Michelle while he job hunted. To supplement his unemployment checks, he advertised computer repair on Craigslist.

He stumbled into the phone repair business out of necessity. When his own cell phone screen shattered, he figured out how to fix it on his own to save himself Apple’s repair fee.

When his friend asked him to fix her phone, too, Johncke updated his Craigslist ad and started driving around Palm Beach to work on customers’ devices with supplies he stashed in the trunk of his car.

“I always had an entrepreneur’s mindset. I always wanted to own my own business,” Johncke said. “You never know how things are going to pan out, but if you tell yourself something enough, you eventually figure out your path.”

Johncke’s business has now blossomed to more than a dozen stores and a mail-in center in the Palm Beach, Central Florida and Boston-area regions. With half of their stores in Central Florida, including one across from UCF’s main campus, they currently employ roughly a dozen UCF alumni or students in addition to students from Valencia College and Seminole State College.

“We pride ourselves in being a business that’s been founded by Knights,” he said.

His sister, Michelle Zausnig, ’03, an advertising/public relations alumna, joined the team in 2011. She described a feeling of similarity in iFixYouri’s growth with that of UCF’s rise in notoriety.

“When I started, nobody really knew who UCF was. Over the years, UCF became such a big thing,” she said. “It’s the same thing when I talk about the company we have here. Chris started from the back of his car and … it’s been nonstop, explosive growth throughout the years. It carries that same sense of pride that I had seeing UCF grow so much.”

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iFixYouri fully supported a Pulse tribute mural painted on the side of its Mills 50 store.

Johncke and his team are loyal to their roots. It’s important to them that the company maintains a close-knit feel within the local community.

That’s why Johncke whole heartedly agreed to have a Pulse tribute mural painted on the side of the Mills 50 District store on the corner of Colonial Drive and Mills Avenue.

“I gave them free reign to put whatever on the building. [Artist Andrew Spear and Mills 50 executive director Joanne Grant] came up with a great concept, and the feedback from the community has been amazing,” he said. “Being that’s such a highly trafficked intersection in the Orlando area, it spreads a lot of care and love. It’s something for not only iFixYouri, but for everyone that lives in Orlando. It’s something they can be proud of.”

Johncke’s love for the city seems to go hand in hand with his feelings about his alma mater.

“What UCF gave to me was an education that was second-to-none. I was able to learn who I am and what I want to do,” he said. “Some of my best friends that I have to this day are UCF Knights. It wouldn’t have been possible to get on this track right now had it not been for all the resources that UCF was able to provide for me.”

Spread Of Support

lawrence-and-award_story

By College of Sciences Communications

ORLANDO, Fla. (Sept. 14, 2016) – There are diehard Knights, and then there are Carol Lawrence, ’71, and her husband, Jim, ’70.

Their lives are so entwined with UCF that John T. Washington, UCF’s first African-American faculty member and for whom a campus building is named after, officiated their wedding in 1972.

Carol and her husband have remained active with UCF as philanthropists and proud Knight fans over the last four decades. In early August, the Lawrences established the Jim and Carol Lawrence Funds, making a generous donation to UCF.

“UCF is the reason we have been married almost 44 years so we wanted to acknowledge its contribution to our relationship,” Carol said. “Also, because we benefited greatly from our FTU educations, we felt it would be appropriate to give back to UCF by leaving it a portion of our estate.”

These funds will support departments, clubs and organizations across the university for which Jim and Carol maintain a passionate advocacy. Seventy percent of the gift will support six different academic departments and initiatives, with half of their gift allocated to the Department of Psychology and the Department of Political Science – Jim’s and Carol’s majors, respectively.

The fund will also create an endowed fund in sociology, coastal research, public administration and Africana studies. This support will be used for scholarships, resources, faculty salaries and grants. In addition, the funds will provide operational support for the UCF Equestrian Club and UCF Alumni Engagement and Annual Giving.

As unwavering Knight Fans, the Lawrences also designated 25 percent of the fund to support UCF Athletics to establish student-athlete scholarships.

Due in part to her continued partnership with UCF, her accomplishments as a professional and her extensive community engagement, Carol was honored by the College of Sciences this year with the Outstanding AlumKnight award.

“I am honored to count Carol Lawrence as our AlumKnight,” said Kerstin Hamann, Ph.D., Pegasus Professor and chair of the Department of Political Science. “Carol embodies UCF values through her professional success, community involvement, and her enduring dedication to UCF. She is a wonderful role model for our students and we are delighted to present her the award.”

The Lawrences attended UCF when it was still Florida Technological University, just a few years after FTU welcomed its inaugural class.

Jim graduated in 1970 with his undergraduate degree in psychology before earning his master’s degree in psychology from Middle Tennessee State University and doctoral degree in psychology and child development from the University of Kansas.

Carol graduated with her undergraduate degree in political science/public administration in 1971.

“That graduating class was so small, maybe 400 or less,” Carol recalled. “The graduation ceremony was held off campus.”

After graduating from UCF, Carol earned her master’s degree in public administration from Florida Atlantic University and went on to work as a research associate at the FAU-FIU Joint Center for Environmental and Urban Problems. There, she worked with the late Dr. John M. DeGrove, the architect of Florida’s 1985 landmark growth management legislation.

Carol left the center in 1976 to work as a budget analyst and lobbyist for the Miami-Dade County State Legislature. The couple moved back to central Florida in 1980 where both found success as licensed real estate brokers. They remain active brokers of their 32-year old RE/MAX office.

However, after more than 25 years since leaving UCF, Carol decided in 1998 that being owner and manager of a company wasn’t her only end goal and enrolled in the University of Orlando School Of Law, now known as Barry University Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law.

“I was 56 years old when I enrolled,” Lawrence said. “That’s an age when most people are contemplating retirement, and I set out to fulfill the dream of being an attorney that I had since I was 14 years old.”

Upon passing the exam in 2002, Lawrence was sworn in as a member of the Florida Bar. After years of working only for herself, she described the move to start her own law firm as a natural progression.

She opened her law firm in 2003 and a title insurance agency in 2006, both of which she still owns and operates today in addition to her role as an owner and broker of her and Jim’s RE/MAX franchise.

Although she now works up to 13 hours per day at three different jobs and volunteers for numerous community activities, Carol has no intention of giving up her dynamic life.

“When someone asks me why I haven’t retired, I have a go-to reply,” she said. “‘Retire? Why, I’m just getting started.’”

UCF Alumnus Heads to Rio for Fourth Paralympics

Courtesy of USA Volleyball

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (Sept. 6, 2016) — When UCF alumnus Chris Seilkop, ’92, was named to his first Paralympics roster in 1996, his family was ecstatic.

As Seilkop gears up for his fourth Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro this month – securing his place in history as Team USA’s first four-time, men’s sitting volleyball Paralympian – their enthusiasm has noticeably dropped off.

“I think they’re all kind of used to it, this being my fourth time. ‘Oh you’re going again, huh?’” he joked with a hearty laugh.

But he’s thrilled, coming back after eight years of retirement.

“I really have an internal desire to be the best I can be in whatever I do. It’s just a drive,” he said. “I can play sitting volleyball for many years and I know I can still get better. I want to get better. The game is fun again.”

Seilkop, a native Floridian, became an amputee at age 7 after an accident with a lawn mower that severely damaged his right leg below the knee. The youngest of five, Seilkop was not exempt from sibling competition.

“It was natural to get out there and play with them,” he said. “They would tackle me and knock me down just like they would anyone else.”

Seilkop’s older sister Sharon attended UCF, and the university appealed to him because of its proximity to his hometown. He needed to stay relatively close to his prosthetist in DeLand.

UCF was good to him. He met his future wife, Rhonda, during the spring break of his junior year. He also found his calling in a sport that would eventually take him around the world.

Although he identified as more of a basketball player, he competed in volleyball games organized by his fraternity, as well as intramurals.

“My knowledge or growth or love for the game really started at UCF,” he said.

While pursuing his degree in political science, he searched for a standing basketball program for disabled individuals, but found none. Wheelchair basketball didn’t appeal to him. Then, his friend showed him a magazine article about amputees playing volleyball.

“I wanted to compare my athletic ability as an amputee to other amputees. I never saw another amputee younger than 60 my entire life growing up in DeLand because they’re all retired,” Seilkop said.

Seilkop got in touch with the team, and the coach told Seilkop that he could try out if he traveled to their upcoming tournament in Atlanta. Seilkop did, jumping into the hitting line during warmups.

“I didn’t know until afterwards, when I talked to the setter, that he didn’t even know I was disabled because I had sweatpants on,” he recalled.

Seilkop traveled with the team’s B squad to Richmond, Virginia, for its next tournament. When the B team beat the A team, Seilkop found himself starting at middle blocker at the next tournament, which happened to be the U.S. Open.

“I couldn’t even really tell you how to rotate on the court or where the zones were to serve,” he said. “There I was starting at the U.S. Open and I remember thinking, ‘What am I doing here?’”

A year later he started for Team USA at the 1996 Paralympic Games in Atlanta. The team came in fourth place, his closest shot so far at medaling.

Time and time again, what he enjoys most about the international competition is his interaction with the other athletes. His most memorable experience occurred with the Cambodian men’s sitting volleyball team at the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney, Australia.

The Cambodians, many of them land mine victims, still sported wooden legs similar to what Seilkop wore in the 1980s. He said the athletes were fascinated by Team USA’s graphite, space-age artificial limbs and asked to hold the legs to get a closer look while in the Olympic village.

When they matched up during pool play, an undefeated and heavily favored Team USA easily advanced to the next round. There was a mix-up with post-match transportation, and the two teams ended up on the same bus. When Team USA boarded, the Cambodians started singing to them in their native language.

The Americans, not quite sure what to do, decided to reciprocate the gesture and sang the only song they could think of at the time: 99 Bottles of Beer. They stopped at number 95, and the Cambodians cheered.

“These guys were just so happy to be part of the games,” he said. “That’s something I’ll always carry with me – just that spirit.”

Seilkop, who now lives in Texas, would love to bring back a gold medal to his local YMCA, where he serves as CEO. He began his career with the organization at the Winter Park location in 1989, working in the fitness room and after school care program. When he graduated, he accepted a job as the fitness director in DeLand and eventually worked his way up over the next two decades landing in Victoria, Texas.

“I enjoyed the kids and the mission of the Y, what they do in the community and how they change lives and help people. All that seemed to fall into place for me. It wasn’t a job to me, it was something I enjoyed doing,” he said. “There are no normal days at the YMCA, and that’s what I love about it.”

He also does his fair share of representing the Black and Gold in a state that features two of UCF’s conference foes (Houston and SMU). He is just as happy to represent his country and Knight Nation once again at the Paralympics.

“I’m not at the same level of Phil Dalhausser. Trust me, don’t confuse me with him. He’s a lot better than I am,” said Seilkop, referring to fellow alumnus, three-time Olympian and the 2008 gold medalist beach volleyballer. “But I’m very, very proud to be a Knight.”

The Opening Ceremony is scheduled for Sept. 7 and the first day of competition for sitting volleyball is Sept. 9. The medal matches will be held Sept. 18.