Christopher Iaciofoli, ’03 | Director of Operations, Red Lobster Seafood Co.
The UCF Alumni Association and Rosen College of Hospitality Management presented their 2015 Professional Achievement Award to Chris Iaciofoli at the annual Black & Gold Gala on Oct. 22.
Since March 2014, Chris has been director of operations at the Red Lobster Seafood Company.
After working as a restaurant manager, general manager and operations director for the company, Red Lobster created a position in 2007 just for him — as director of operations excellence for all 689 restaurants.
Both he and his wife, Joanna Marra Iaciofoli, ’03, graduated from the Rosen College of Hospitality Management, and both were Harris Rosen Endowed Fund scholarship recipients.
In 2008, Chris received the college’s Rising Star Award.
Gonzalo S. La Cava, ’97, ’01, ’09, Ph.D. | Area Superintendent,
Central Learning Community, Fulton County Schools
The UCF Alumni Association and College of Education and Human Performance presented their 2015 Professional Achievement Award to Gonzalo La Cava at the annual Black & Gold Gala on Oct. 22.
Prior to his current role as area superintendent for Fulton County Schools’ Central Learning Community, which is made up of more than 18,000 students attending 23 schools, he served Fulton County Schools as assistant superintendent of student support services, and executive director of services for exceptional children.
In 2014, Gonzalo was honored at the White House as one of several “Champions of Change,” individuals doing extraordinary work to educate the next generation of Americans by devoting their time and energy to creating opportunities for young people to succeed, particularly in low-income communities.
He holds his doctoral and master’s degrees in educational leadership, as well as a bachelor’s degree in exceptional education, all from UCF.
Susan D. Rozelle, ’94, J.D. | Associate Dean for Faculty and Professor of Law,
Stetson University College of Law
The UCF Alumni Association and The Burnett Honors College presented their 2015 Professional Achievement Award to Susan Rozelle at the annual Black & Gold Gala on Oct. 22.
After teaching at Capital University, Seattle University, and the University of Oregon, Susan joined the faculty at Stetson University in 2009. Her primary research interests are in the areas of criminal responsibility and death qualification.
She’s presented at scholarly conferences across the country, from Georgetown University Law Center to the University of California at Berkeley. She’s also been a legal commentator in the popular press, appearing on ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX evening news, as well as on NPR and FOX News Radio.
Susan comes from a family of Knights, which includes her late father, Samuel Gross, ’89, and brother, Alan Gross, ’91. She graduated summa cum laude from UCF with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy.
Earth’s largest ocean does not intimidate UCF alumna Sonya Baumstein, ’09.
Baumstein, 30, will attempt to be the first woman to successfully row across the Pacific Ocean solo.
According to her website, she wants this to be a female endeavor to show that strength is not defined by gender.
There have only been two successful attempts at rowing across the Pacific, west to east: one by Gerard d’Aboville in 1991, and the other by Emmanuel Coindre in 2005, according to The Ocean Rowing Society.
The Pacific is known to have complex weather patterns, which could affect Baumstein’s mission. But, she is confident that she won’t have much to worry about. Her main focus right now is to keep an eye on the typhoons that are currently hitting the coast of Japan.
Once the coast is clear, and after three consecutive days of permitting weather, Baumstein will be able to start her departure from Choshi, Japan, to San Francisco — a total of 6,560 miles.
During her trip, she will row for three hours on and three hours off, multiple times each day. She has put together 900 packages of dehydrated food and 180 drink supplements. Electricity and fresh water usage will have to be rationed and protected from the elements.
The 23-foot-long, 5 7/10-foot-wide carbon boat was designed by Baumstein herself and a team at the America’s Cup. The boat, named Icha, means “once we meet, we’re brother and sister” in Japanese. It weighs less than 700 pounds and is equipped for science.
Every 10 seconds, samples of salinity, temperature, depth, wind speed and GPS location will be taken and sent back via satellite every hour throughout the entire journey.
The samples are taken as part of a partnership with NASA’s Aquarius Mission to help scientists compare and validate data that they’ve collected by the Aquarius satellite.
The project is a labor of love for Baumstein and her crew, having worked toward this for the last three years. She said everything from its conception, to building the boat, to now waiting on the coast to clear has been a culmination of blood, sweat and tears.
A self-proclaimed “citizen scientist,” Baumstein said she is proud to be a part of a contingency of what she considers modern-day explorers who are helping out different areas of science. She considers it the driving factor in her journey.
Before attending UCF — where she got her master’s degree in non-profit management — Baumstein got her bachelor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin, where she had an active collegiate rowing career.
She encourages students to not get deterred if their original plans fall through.
“This is a job, but it’s a job that I love,” she said. “There may be other routes to get to what you want to do, and, if it’s not exactly as you thought, don’t give up and ride it out. I never thought I would be doing this the way that I am, and it’s not always perfect.”
She credits her current position and status to the network of people around her, including her family, friends and the community.
Samantha Berry, Baumstein’s director of communications, calls her the most determined person she has ever met.
“You really don’t question, when you know her, whether she can do something or not,” Berry said.
In 2011, Baumstein rowed the Atlantic Ocean, from the Canary Islands to Barbados. In March 2012, she tour biked from the Mexican border to Seattle, and in June 2012, she kayaked the inside passage from Seattle to Alaska. In August 2013, she became the first person to stand-up paddle the Bering Strait from Big Diomede to the Alaskan mainland.
“She reminds me that if there is something that you want, you can get it,” Berry said. “It may be exhausting in the process, but determination and hard work does pay off.”
This article appeared in the Central Florida Future online. It has been slightly edited for style. See original story.
Six Rosen College grads working at Florida’s most luxurious resorts share what it really takes to make dream vacations come true
By Kathy Dorf
Rosen College Public Relations
Ever wondered what it takes to keep the world’s most luxurious resorts running smoothly? The answer is a lot of hard work, dedication and very special people. Because they work where everyone wants to vacation, these individuals are charged with a unique yet challenging mission: to make vacation dreams come true.
Six Rosen College graduates working at the Four Seasons Resort Orlando and The Breakers, two world-renowned luxury brands, offer an inside perspective on how the hospitality industry’s finest resorts create unforgettable and unparalleled guest experiences every day.
Kristina Rosar, ’08, Ravello restaurant and lounge assistant manager
Kathryn Shook, ’09, reservations manager
Hetul Patel, ’10, guest services manager
What attracted you to joining Four Seasons Resort Orlando/The Breakers and becoming part of their team?
Rivera-Florez: What really attracted me the most was the fact that I get to be a part of history in Orlando with the first Four Seasons in the area. In the future, I want to be able to open hotels and be a part of new teams and experiences and this job has given me that opportunity. Strout: I always wanted to be a part of Four Seasons and an opening team, and it was a bonus that this hotel was in Orlando – an area that was not only familiar to me, but also in the hospitality mecca. Orlando is such an amazing city because you are surrounded by the most amazing talent and have the opportunity to experience guests from all around the world. I knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity! Staub: I wanted to be a part of the best hotel and team in Orlando, and I wanted to learn from the best! Rosar: Whether things are positive or negative, an organization finds its destiny with the attitude and drive of its leadership. In this case, the passion and love for the industry from the leadership, along with their positive attitudes keep associates happy and motivated! Shook: From the age of 16, I recognized what The Breakers had was truly special. The team’s passion for what they do and the family culture they’ve created exudes from each employee. Patel: Our General Manager Tricia Taylor came to speak at Rosen College in the fall of 2010. During her presentation, she really stressed the family culture at The Breakers. Company culture was always the most important thing for me when I was looking for a job. It was The Breakers’ culture, history and brand reputation that influenced my decision to choose the team.
How do you think the luxury travel segment is different from others from the perspective of a hospitality professional? Does it require different skills or strengths?
Rivera-Florez: Guests in this segment of travel really expect a level of service that has to be perfectly executed and that is definitely a skill by itself. Employees have to be extremely knowledgeable about their job and property. Patel: The luxury segment is all about creating lasting memories for our guests through personalized, proactive service and focusing on the small details. The segment is always leading the way, introducing new and innovative ideas to serve guests. In order to succeed, you need a team that is familiar with all industry segments and can demonstrate high attention to detail, exhibit creativity and adapt to constant change. Strout: Any hotel can make a bed properly or have clean dishes, a nice pool and more, but what sets apart the luxury segment from the rest of the industry are the driven, passionate, empathetic individuals that make up the team and work tirelessly every day to create unforgettable experiences for our guests. Our guests not only expect to have a clean room, a delicious meal and a flawless experience from check-in to check-out, but also expect to feel an emotional connection with the hotel, which comes from experiencing warm, genuine and anticipatory service from our employees. Rosar: I believe that those who work for luxury hotels have a “sense of pride” to ensure their guests stay is the best one they’ve ever had. The passion and compassion these associates have for making someone’s day better is incomparable. To get up and go to work every day, knowing you can and will make a difference in someone’s life by allowing them to fully relax is worth the hours that we put in.
What’s your favorite thing you’ve been able to do in your job?
Strout: I was lucky enough to be one of the first employees on property, back when the hotel was still under construction and I had to wear a hard hat and construction boots to work every day. The best part of being one of the first team members is that there really aren’t procedures in place. I had the opportunity to create policies and procedures, train new employees, design collateral and play a big part in how the Sales Team operates every day. Shook: Being a member of our Community Relations team has been something that has been especially meaningful to me. We have been encouraging our 2,000 team members to volunteer in our community and give back in many ways. Last fiscal year, we recorded 13,058 hours! Rivera-Florez: Taking charge and ownership of the new golf store and retail business in the hotel. It has definitely shown me the business [aspect] of retail [as it relates] to the guest experience. We work closely with buyers and make sure that all the product that we have is the right product to deliver the best service that we can.
What are the key lessons you’ve learned so far from working in the luxury travel segment?
Shook: I’ve learned that every detail in making a guest’s experience special goes a long way, from a simple “Happy Birthday,” to arranging an extravagant excursion. Strout: It’s sometimes better ask a guest if you can take the time to investigate an issue and get all of the answers for them so you can come up with the best solution than to hastily give them an answer or compensation that doesn’t solve the problem. The key is to fully understand the problem so you can do everything possible to make sure it doesn’t happen in the future! Rivera-Florez:Smile. It is the most important lesson and advice you can learn and give. You can’t teach anyone to smile, but if they do it naturally, it’s the most rewarding thing you can give as part of the guest experience. Rosar: Always have multiple alternatives for the guest if you cannot complete their initial request. When people have choices, they feel as if they are in control.
How did your experience at Rosen College prepare you for working in the luxury travel segment and your current role?
Rivera-Florez: The best lesson that Rosen College gave us is that most of our professors are still working in the industry and keeping up with all the changes that hospitality is going through. It is a [constantly] changing industry and employees, as well as the company, need to keep everything updated as the market evolves. Professors really speak from real experience and not a book lesson. Shook: Rosen College prepared me for my career at The Breakers by giving me the opportunity to have hands-on, real-life experiences. The tools that I learned in each of my classes have carried through into every aspect of my job. I am better educated in several revenue management practices and am able to pick up new responsibilities quickly as a result of my time at Rosen College. Staub: My experience at Rosen prepared me for my role because of the opportunities that were available. From the career fairs to internships and planning real events…Rosen really put things into perspective.
What was your favorite part about attending Rosen College?
Patel: My favorite part about attending Rosen College was the ability to speak with professors for advice and guidance. Smaller class sizes and a separate campus made professors accessible and easy to meet with. Rivera-Florez: Being able to have such a big family in the industry. When you start working in hospitality, you notice how many people you know in all the hotels around the area and around the world. In the future, you are going to be able to network easier and be a part of a new generation of the hospitality industry.
What advice would you give to current and potential Rosen College students interesting in entering the luxury travel segment?
Rosar: I would ensure they understand that hospitality is not only a career, but a lifestyle. It is fun, exciting and ever-changing. There are many opportunities that will allow you to travel around the world, grow within organizations very quickly and meet incredible people that could potentially turn into lifelong friends. I would also encourage all students to delve deep into the things they find interesting while they have time before they enter their career role, i.e. if you are interested in working in restaurants, work on enhancing your knowledge of wine and food. Staub: I would advise them to intern at a luxury property or to look into a Management Training program. Don’t burn bridges! The person sitting next to you could help you get the job or be your future employer. Patel: Gain as much experience as possible prior to graduation. The luxury segment requires you to have knowledge of all areas of hospitality and having experience in a variety of positions will give you the competitive advantage. Shook: My advice would be to not be afraid to work your way up through the business and to step outside of your comfort zone. By limiting yourself to only accepting management roles right out of college, there are key components to your growth and development that are missed. You never know what is going to end up being your niche until you open yourself up to all opportunities. Strout: A colleague of mine sent out this great quote that I think sums it up: Your smile is your logo. Your personality is your business card. How you leave others feeling after having an experience with you becomes yourtrademark.
Guest Service and Attractions Executive, Cinecittà World
Current location: Rome, Italy
By Kathy Dorf
Rosen College Public Relations
For Nicole Cutrufo, ’13, it all started with a childhood dream. After journeying from Europe to the United States to prepare for a career in theme parks, her passions led her home.
Can you describe your career journey since graduating from UCF’s Rosen College? I graduated with my Master of Science in Hospitality Management in May 2013. It was a great accomplishment for me coming directly from Europe to study and work in the capital of hospitality in Orlando. After working at Disney as a guest service manager, I gained some great operations management experience. I then had the opportunity to continue my leadership journey at Universal Orlando as an attractions supervisor. After I graduated, I was selected to be part of the leadership group for Halloween Horror Nights.
Eventually, I decided to move back to Europe to continue my career and bring home the great lessons I learned in the states. I was offered some interesting industry roles in Europe and decided to accept a position for the opening of a brand new park, Cinecittà World. Today, I’m a guest service and attractions executive, opening a new park, inspiring, recruiting and training new staff members and creating a theme park culture. I’m involved in writing the attractions’ procedures for the very first time, designing tools, evacuation routes, standards of service, etc. It’s a great challenge, but also a great honor.
How did your experience at Rosen College prepare you for the industry and your current role? I have always been a great theme park enthusiast ever since I can remember. I studied at the best business school in Italy, but there weren’t any classes to develop leadership skills in the theme park industry. The first time I came to Orlando was as a Disney International College Program participant working at Animal Kingdom. I then moved back to Europe to continue my career at Disneyland Paris and obtained the Hospitality Management Certificate from Rosen College while studying at Disney University. I was later accepted into Rosen College’s Master of Science in Hospitality Management degree program. I also served as a guest service manager in Future World Epcot operations thanks to an internship program at Rosen College.
I was blessed to have great professors from the industry supporting my development, believing in me as an international participant and giving me the knowledge, strength and hope to pursue my goals while realizing my childhood dream. As an international student and woman, my experiences at UCF and in the United States exposed me to a culture of women in business. It may be typical for an American student; however, it’s not where I come from. I will always remember the women I met in leadership positions in our industry and I will try to inspire other young women here in Italy to ask for more, to study, to be their selves in a world where there are not as many women in leadership positions.
What’s your favorite thing you’ve been able to do so far in your career? Opening a brand new park! I had assisted the operations team in opening the Test Track area in Epcot and the new expansion of Krusty Land at Universal Orlando, but I never had the opportunity to open a brand new theme park like Cinecittà World. We recently opened the park and it was so emotional seeing the staff members welcoming and loading our guests. I felt honored to be part of that moment, going to work and remembering where it all started: my Rosen College education and my American dream.
What was your favorite part about attending Rosen College? My favorite part about attending Rosen College was to be in the global tourism center learning from professors from all around the world and studying with students from many interesting industry backgrounds. Career Services was also an incredible tool. Without the help of Rosen College’s professional advisors, I wouldn’t be the leader I am today; I wouldn’t have found my path or have been able to identify and work on my weaknesses. They helped me focus on being a positive example in the industry and working with passion and dedication. My professors taught me what professionalism is and today, they are my mentors and examples in my everyday life. During my morning briefings to my team members, I often mention my days at Rosen College and I hope that many international participants will have the same chance to study at UCF.
Do you think your degree gives you a competitive advantage compared to your peers? How so? My degree prepared me with an in-depth knowledge of our industry. It also gave me the capacity to think strategically and analyze figures rather than think about new ideas without structure. I enjoyed the practical classes like Hotel Management and Food & Beverage Management, as well as Finance in the Hospitality Industry and Research Methods. Without this structure, I would not be competitive in a world of decisions. Decisions must always be supported by numbers and quantified. This is the best knowledge I brought home with me, in addition to the importance of teamwork.
What advice would you give to current and potential Rosen College students? Serve as much as you can. During your university experience, apply for as many frontline jobs as you can and then use your hospitality experience in your research and studies at Rosen College. Many professors can help you link your everyday work experience to your studies. These teachings are the best competitive advantage you will have. Our industry needs prepared professionals and professionalism starts with service. Take advantage of being in the heart of the hospitality industry and find as many occasions to experience small things like open a ride early in the morning, complete a checklist, explain a map to a guest or smile as you say goodbye to every single guest at the end of the day. These things, together with your degree from Rosen College, will make you a leader.
What’s your favorite quote? “Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” —Mother Teresa
Alumnus sets out on a cross-country voyage to bring awareness to sustainability
Stephen Szucs, ’05 | Founder, Sustainable Joes
By Angie Lewis, ’03
From June 2013 to June 2014, Stephen Szucs, ’05, generated only one bag of garbage. After graduating from UCF with a bachelor’s degree in finance, Szucs taught English in Barcelona, led adventure tours across North America, traveled, owned a solar company and bartended. Then, he discovered his real passion. Dedicating himself to living a sustainable life and teaching others to reduce, reuse, recycle and #RETHINK everything, he founded Sustainable Joes in January 2013.
“Sustainability is about more than trees and whales,” he says. “It’s about survival. I want Joes to teach others how to take sustainable action — how to link passion, purpose and profit…good for the Earth, others and yourself. Sustainability is possible, but we must see our diversity as a point of unification instead of division.”
On June 14, 2014, Szucs left Simcoe, Ontario, Canada, in a pedal- and solar-powered ELF tricycle, nicknamed Rita, for the first leg of his #RETHINK tour. He traveled at an average speed of 14.5 mph, making stops in countless cities and towns to talk to people about living sustainably, before arriving in Key West, Fla., on Dec. 20. His six-month and nearly 5,000-mile mission was originally routed from Canada to California, but he says that route would have been heading into the prevailing winds, which makes the ELF difficult to maneuver.
While on the road, he listened to a lot of NPR and music playlists to pass the time, and to help muffle the road and noise and Rita’s rattling.
Along the way, his ELF broke down in Canadian Amish Country, where he met Bev, Dougie and Murph. While making repairs in Burlington, Vt., over a holiday weekend, he learned how to tango with Dave and Carmen. After a 120-mile day, he says he’ll never forget how amazing Scotty’s cornbread tasted and smelled in Lebanon, N.H. Then, there was the People’s Climate March in New York City, which he’ll always remember. And, in Delray Beach, Fla., he was treated to a police escort.
“From big cities to small towns, people who carry guns to the EPA… so many interesting people,” he says.
Szucs never imagined the first leg of the tour would last more than six months, but he says the dream is to fuel sustainable conversation and action around the world, so he’ll stay on the road as long as it takes. He’s currently in the process of planning leg two of the tour.
Going the Distance Q&A
Q. Favorite UCF memory?
A. Over Thanksgiving, two of my best friends and I visited campus and went for a stroll down memory lane. Campus was empty as we sat beside the Reflecting Pond, reminiscing. It was a special moment.
Q. Any special/hidden talents?
A. I can knit, drive a tractor and give really good massages.
Q. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
A. Speak every language, dance every dance and learn to swim
Q. Most embarrassing moment?
A. Oh, wow… I’ve had so many of these, I started calling them “growth opportunities.” For example, while learning Spanish in Barcelona, I once ordered a sandwich that made our waiter do a double take. By accident, I had ordered something that included genitals.
Q. Happiest/proudest moment of your life so far?
A. Hugging my best friend at the end of leg one [of the #RETHINK tour] in Key West was pretty special.
Q. What or who inspires you?
A. Elon Musk and every child who hugged me on tour
Q. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
A. Learn to speak my truth
Q. What do you fear?
A. “Desperate people do desperate things.” I fear the certain global unrest which will occur if collectively we do nothing to combat climate change.
Q. Something you learned in the past week?
A. Recycling five aluminum cans saves enough energy to power a laptop for 24 hours. And, America throws away 30 billion cans annually.
Q. What’s something most people don’t know about you?
A. I’m actually an extroverted introvert.