Five Things Alumni Need to Know This Week – July 15, 2019

1. The most recent issue of Pegasus magazine is out now! Keep an eye on your mailbox for your copy or if you literally cannot handle another moment without your news of all things UCF, we completely understand and here’s the web version.

2. The College of Medicine is offering each of us a chance to support future doctors through white coat sponsorship for the class of 2023. Each sponsored coat will have a note in the pocket with the name of the donor that helped to make someone’s first moment as a medical student memorable. This is a great opportunity to provide a tangible gesture of support for UCF students who will go on to join the medical field. Get your details and commit to sponsorship right here.

3. Next time you’re in the Bounce House (how’s August 29th sound? For our first game of the season? Cool, we’ll see you there), be sure to check out the incredible murals UCF alumnus Aaron Evans ’16 has been working on!

4. If you need to stock up on your black and gold gear before football season begins, don’t forget there’s free shipping right here.

5. A new semester is on the horizon and a fresh batch of UCF students are gearing up for life as a college student. If you’ve ever considered being a mentor, now is a great time to get to it. For students at UCF, having a mentor who can show them the ropes and guide them along as they prepare for their future career is a big deal.  It’s both a learning and networking opportunity for the student and a philanthropic and resume-building opportunity for the alum. It’s Knights helping Knights and we hope you’ll be a part of it.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know This Week – July 8, 2019

1. We are still feeling very much if not all of the excitement and ecstatic-ness of that Women’s World Cup win yesterday! In case you missed it or in case you love it and want to watch it again, UCF alumna Katie McCain ’07 is behind the incredible Nike ad that kicked off the hype of the 2019 World Cup. Read her story here and probably watch the ad 1-38 more times because it’s very good.

2. “University of Central Florida Associate Professor Subith Vasu and a team of researchers have unlocked some of the secrets behind the destruction of chemical weapons. The results were published recently as a cover story in The Journal of Physical Chemistry. Through his work, Vasu discovered how long it takes for toxic chemical compounds to deteriorate in the intense fire of an explosion, as well as what chemical products are created after their destruction.” Read the entire UCF Today article here.

3. If you read our most recent issue of Pegasus, you already know some of the story of Marcie (Swilley) Washington ’83, the first African-American woman to graduate from UCF’s engineering program who went on to work for NASA, become an ordained minister, and survive her heart stopping for 22 minutes. Last week, NPR tweeted about her and we’re over here beaming with pride for such an outstanding Knight!

4. Speaking of Pegasus and alumni accomplishments, fill out this form to submit a class note about a career win, wedding, new addition to your family, or any other success you think your alma mater oughta know about.

5. Sometimes the accomplishments of our alumni bring them back to campus! That’s the case with Aaron Evans, who is using his artistic skills to paint murals in the Bounce House before this upcoming football season.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know This Week – July 1, 2019

1. The U.S. women’s national soccer team has been making big plays in this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, and UCF alum and faculty member Ashley Taylor ’12 has played a role in that success. Every time the camera pans to a group of the United States’ fans, Taylor sees them decked out in her artwork. Read more here.

2. Another UCF alumna who is making an impact on a global stage is 2019 30 Under 30 recipient, Shainna Ali ’10 ’12MA ’16 PhD. As a mental health clinician of Guyanese descent, Ali has been working tirelessly to address the mental health needs in the West Indian community. Ali recently talked with UCF today to provide insight on mental health in Guyana and other West Indian cultures. Read it here.

3. Last week, NASA awarded a $7.5 million grant to UCF’s Center for Lunar and Asteroid Surface Science, helping secure the next five years of the center’s bright future. Professor Dan Britt, the center’s director, a UCF physicist and extraterrestrial geologist toldUCF Today, This win goes a long way to ensure UCF leadership in space science for the Space Coast.”

4. Did you even know that UCF has an app? And it’s not even just for students (though we get it if you’re a little TO’ed if you didn’t have it available to you when you were lost on campus). There’s a whole section of relevant content designed with alumni like you in mind. Download the app and don’t ever miss a single rad thing that your alma mater is up to.

5. UCF’s bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in emergency and crisis management, which opened just last fall, have already been nationally recognized as the 7th best graduate studies emergency management degree in the country. As Claire Knox, the emergency management and homeland security program director at UCF told the Orlando Sentinel, “We have some of the most professional and experienced people in the field. They’ve been involved in all kinds of organizations and natural disasters. People come from all over the world to shadow them.”

Five Things Alumni Need to Know This Week – June 24, 2019

1. Woody has got a friend in Buzz and UCF has an alumna in the credit sequence of Toy Story 4. Teresa Falcone ’14, a graduate of UCF’s School of Visual Arts and Design, talked with UCF Today about what it was like joining the Pixar team to bring the beloved characters from her childhood back to the big screen. Read her story here.

2. Sitting between Ivan Mustafa ’98, ’03MS and I is a device that is tracking all of the dispatched fire trucks in Osceola County.  As the shift commander at Osceola County Fire & Rescue, Mustafa has 106 men working for him at 15 different stations that handle anything emergency-wise for the entire county. On his “off days” he is also an advanced registered nurse practitioner at Advent Health, working 4-6 ten-hour shifts a month in the emergency department.

Mustafa also allegedly “retired” in 2015…

Read more.

3. According to a Campus Pride Index created by, UCF is the top college in Florida for LGBTQ+ students in Florida. The list takes into consideration an institution’s academics, affordability and LGBTQ+ services. Read more here.

4. For all you alumni who moved after graduation and are looking for opportunities to spend more time amongst Knights, there are more than 30 official UCF Alumni chapters and clubs across the nation. Get information, get involved and get excited here.

5. Even though NASA’s Cassini spacecraft’s mission to Saturn ended in 2017, scientists are still poring over the copious amounts of data it transmitted.

Now, in a new paper that appeared in Science on Friday and includes two University of Central Florida co-authors, researchers are offering glimpses into the nature and composition of the mighty planet’s legendary rings by using data from some of the closest observations ever made of the main rings…

Read more.

Parallel Careers: Nursing Alumnus Shares His Experiences From Firetrucks to Emergency Rooms

Sitting between Ivan Mustafa ’98, ’03MS and I is a device that is tracking all of the dispatched fire trucks in Osceola County.  As the shift commander at Osceola County Fire & Rescue, Mustafa has 106 men working for him at 15 different stations that handle anything emergency-wise for the entire county. On his “off days” he is also an advanced registered nurse practitioner at Advent Health, working 4-6 ten-hour shifts a month in the emergency department.

Mustafa also allegedly “retired” in 2015.

“I retired from the Seminole County Fire Department in 2015 after going through the ranks there since 1987,” Mustafa says. “So for a while I was just doing the nursing thing, but I had a lot of free time on my hands. I bought every tool I could fit in my workshop and then some. I did a lot of projects in my house, so taking it easy was not looking very promising. I got bored very quickly and came back.”

According to Mustafa, he wasn’t the kid who grew up wearing a fire hat, running around telling grownups his future aspiration of being a fireman. He was, however always interested in things medical-related and excelled in his chemistry classes.

After watching the show Emergency!, which focused on two young firefighter-paramedics Johnny and Roy, dreams of being a paramedic started forming in young Mustafa’s mind.

A firefighter’s schedule, especially in the early days of their career, often leaves space for a second job. For Mustafa, who was working one day and then off for two, he was looking for more to do. That’s how he came to be an alumnus of UCF College of Nursing.

“It was never my intent to leave the fire department,” Mustafa says. “I wanted to basically run parallel careers.”

So, he did.

The first time Mustafa applied to nursing school at Valencia College, he was accepted. But when he, still working for the fire department, started looking at everything that would have to align for him to stay working and commit to school, he turned down his offer. He talked himself out of it, and then quickly regretted doing so.

He applied for the next semester, but, unfortunately, in between his initial acceptance and second application, a handful of new requirements had been instated. He was turned down.

Freshly determined to make it work, Mustafa knocked out the requirements and applied for a third time and got into the associate nursing program. This time, he said yes. This time, he’d do whatever it took to make whatever craziness got thrown his way as a fulltime student and a fulltime fire department employee work.

“I call it the hoop theory,” Mustafa says. “Every week is a hoop and you gotta jump through it. So I don’t worry about next week. This week is a hoop, so I’ll get through it and then worry about the next hoop. That’s how I figured out my schedule at that time and making sure I was able to get everything needed done — ‘cause nursing school is a fulltime program. I just worried one week at a time and before I knew it I was done. Go through one hoop, then another, and then it’s just like ‘wow, I got a diploma now.’”

Upon his graduation from Valencia with his associate degree, Mustafa applied to UCF for his bachelor’s degree and was immediately accepted. For Mustafa, being at UCF laid a crucial foundation for his dual careers. He is grateful to his professors and advisors for not only ensuring that he was prepared for the basics and for quality patient care, but for treating him like a person rather than a number.

“At UCF, you have every opportunity to succeed. It’s only on you if you fail,” Mustafa says. “It’s hard, but there’s a method to the madness and they’ll give you the map to success if you’re willing to follow it.”

Mustafa sees the value in having dual professions in how they intersect and one can educate the other. Doing both allowed him to meet and network with folks on both sides of the aisle and to bridge some gaps in the different industries.

By running parallel careers, Mustafa was able to take what he knew about the nursing world and apply it while he was in the fire truck, setting the stage for the other paramedics as to what would happen when they arrived at the hospital. And alternatively, when he was at the hospital, he could talk from experience about how the paramedics side worked.

“People sometimes ask me which I like better, but there is no better because they’re completely different,” Mustafa says. “With paramedics, it’s get somebody where they need to go and move on to the next one. Whereas with nursing, we think about this whole scope of care all the way through recovery and rehab. When I’m doing one, I’m having a great time and when I’m doing the other, I’m still having a great time.”

In both of Mustafa’s roles, he gets to do what he loves most, care for others. He describes himself as a people-person who would be too nice and just give money away if he ever tried to run a business. He definitely feels he picked the right career path(s).

“I get to help people on their worst day,” he says. “It may be another day for me, but I’m either showing up to someone’s house on their worst day or they’re coming to me on their worst day. Either way, it’s my job to make that day a little better and there’s no better job.”

Five Things Alumni Need to Know This Week – June 17, 2019

1. Last month, UCF art grad Forrest Lawson’18 bested more than 400 artists for top honors and a $50,000 award at a regional competition for his piece 6/12/2016, a sculpture he created to memorialize the Pulse tragedy, honor its victims and communicate the emotions and responses the shooting awakened across communities.

Read more about Forrest and his art here.

2. Limbitless Solutions, a UCF-alumni-led nonprofit you may have heard of when Iron Man himself got in the game, has been at work on Project Xavier. The team has designed a wheelchair that uses electromyography sensors, placed on the patient’s temporalis muscles, to control a power wheelchair or vehicle. When the user clenches his or her jaw in various ways, the wheelchair will respond by moving forward, backward, left or right.

3. Nike’s inspiring Dream Further commercial that captured hearts worldwide ahead of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup starts with a simple phrase: “Hey, you ready?”An advertising/public relations and radio/television double major and former women’s soccer player, Katie McCain ’07 has been ready for this particular moment in her career — as lead producer behind the ad — since she was a child. Read more here.

4. The best kind of good times are good times with fellow Knights. From Summer Kickoffs to baseball games and every Habitat for Humanity event in between, our alumni know how to have a good time. Keep up with our events page to make sure you don’t miss out on the fun and also sorry if you’re prone to FOMO and we just really kicked it into high gear.

5. We know UCF grads are prone to success and accomplishments, so tell us about yours. Submit a Class Note for consideration in an upcoming issue of Pegasus right here. We want to celebrate your career win, your wedding, your birth, your published book, your retirement…all of it! Knights are about cheering on Knights. Also, hey, even if you got a new address recently, let us know. We won’t put it in print for everyone to see, but we will make sure all your future mail (from us; that’s all we have control over) gets to the right place.

UCF Alumnus Memorializes Pulse Tragedy Through Art

Last month, UCF art grad Forrest Lawson ’18 bested more than 400 artists for top honors and a $50,000 award at a regional competition for his piece 6/12/2016, a sculpture he created to memorialize the Pulse tragedy, honor its victims and communicate the emotions and responses the shooting awakened across communities.

Born and raised in a small town in between Naples and Sarasota, Punta Gorda (“we call it the In Between because there really is nothing going on there”), Lawson somewhat explored his creativity growing up, but hadn’t really thought of it as a future career path.

“I was always drawing very macabre things, because I was a gay teen in the closet,” Lawson says. “But I never really explored it until I got to college because back then it was like I had to become a dentist or a doctor.”

Lawson, who met his now-husband during their sophomore year of high school, was bullied growing up for being gay long before he even came out. Because of this, he and his husband dated secretly for a few years until officially making their relationship public following graduation.

“It was more of a survival thing; I was just denying it because I didn’t want to have to confront other people or myself,” Lawson says.

After high school graduation, Lawson attended Florida Gulf Coast University, before transferring to Valencia College to major in architecture. But once he realized he was having more fun building actual models, he took advantage of the DirectConnect to UCF program and switched to majoring in art by the time he arrived at UCF in 2014.

“Coming to UCF was a great experience for my work and growth,” Lawson says. “I just never really felt the sense of community that I feel in Orlando anywhere else. For me, UCF was the right choice.”

The decision Lawson made to switch from architecture to art was in large part due to the joy he found in the creation of tangible objects.

“I think I have control issues, even still, because so much of my life and coming out felt out of control,” Lawson says. “So I think for me, having that control over tangible clay and making sculptures, it makes me feel a little more stable.”

During his years at UCF, Lawson was able to implement a community aspect to his work by doing more outreach-driven projects, taking his initial vision and allowing others to participate in its execution.

Shortly after the Pulse tragedy  in Orlando on June 12, 2016, Lawson and several of his friends came across an article that said a long-standing FDA ban had been lifted. The ban in question specifies, “Men who have had sex with other men (MSM), at any time since 1977 (the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the United States) are currently deferred as blood donors.” When Lawson showed up to donate, however, it became clear that the article was false — the ban was still very much in place.

“We had literally just been gunned down in what we kind of equated to a church for us,” Lawson says. “We had been told at that point we were worthless because somebody wanted us dead. And so, we wanted to help. We wanted to donate blood and help our brothers and sisters. But we couldn’t. It was a slap in the face, just, ‘no, you’re still worthless, don’t bring that here.’ It was a kick when we were down.”

“Thirty people participated after being asked to donate blood and answer questions required by the FDA during the initial screening process. The project began first as an attempt to spread feelings of alienation and rejection felt among gay males towards their straight counterparts, but the process only ended up highlighting the discrimination and educating the participants of their inherent privilege.”

Most of Lawson’s work is a response to his own anger. And being turned away from donating blood and doing all he could to help the victims of Pulse made him angry. So he got to work creating the sculpture Better Blood (seen right).

“Artists have a task, in society, to paint the revolution in a way that people can connect with,” Lawson says. “I want to use the platform that I have in whatever capacity that I have to communicate that ignorance and hatred are not acceptable.”

While creating Better Blood was a helpful experience for Lawson to express his frustration, he was still eager to create something that would memorialize the Pulse tragedy and honor the victims.

This motivation would eventually become 6/12/2016, which involves 49 cubes with the names of the victims hand-stamped and their dates of birth. The cubes also contain the two commonalities between each of the 49 victims – their death date and the wristband they were wearing the night of the shooting. Lawson posted a nationwide call for people to submit their response to the tragedy and each of the narratives selected are juxtaposed to a name and wristband.Putting together 6/12/2016 took Lawson about five months. He describes it as a long and emotionally exhausting process.

“It definitely made me confront a lot of feelings that I hadn’t yet,” Lawson says. “I had feelings of alienation and separation anxiety after the shooting. Pulse was actually the first club that I’d ever gone to. So it was strange, especially going there and seeing the pictures. I don’t think there’s ever going to be a time where I’ll fully process it, but doing this at least did make me confront it.”

This past May, 6/12/12016 and Lawson headed to Lake City, South Carolina to compete in the ArtFields competition. ArtFields began in 2013 with a simple goal to honor the artists of the southeast with a week’s worth of celebration and competition. This year’s event involved 400 artists showing pieces over the course of eight days, culminating in 12 awards presented. Lawson recalls feeling relieved after the smaller-in-dollar-amount prizes had been awarded because he was nervous about having to get up onstage and give a speech. He hadn’t begun to fathom he’d be the recipient of the grand prize of $50,000.

“I whimpered and I cried in front of 400 people,” Lawson says while describing the surreal moment of his win.

For the most part Lawson has very responsible plans for his $50,000 reward – pay off student loans, help out with his upcoming move to the University of Georgia where he’ll soon be starting the MFA program– but he did cook a big meal for his friends and go out for his first filet mignon in six years.

Lawson knows that his success is due in large part to his willingness to push past doubters or those who may root against him by turning that negativity into something beautiful. His advice to up-and-coming artists is to do the same, even when that negativity may be on the inside.

“Research, read a lot, learn about galleries you should be in touch with. And stick with it,” he says. “It’s so cliche, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Don’t let your inner saboteur talk you out of being creative if that’s what you’re meant for.”

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week – June 10, 2019

1. Happy Birthday, UCF! It’s been an incredible 56 years of growing, learning, winning and charging on. Thanks to all alumni for being a part of where we’ve been and get yourself ready now ‘cause where we’re going is gonna be even bigger, bolder and brighter.

2. We’re saying that with confidence because UCF continues to add new rankings to our list of accomplishments. We now rank among the top 100 universities in the world when it comes to issuing patents and 31st among public universities in the nation, according to new rankings released last week by the National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association. Learn more about the ranking and some of the inventions that led to patents in 2018 right here.

3. “When musical theatre alumna Jerusha Cavazos ’14 stopped by the UCF Performing Arts Center ahead of her Broadway debut last October, she felt a wide array of emotions: Gratitude. Excitement. Nervousness. Joy. Shock. She knew she was about to embark on something special as part of the original Broadway cast of The Prom, a new musical comedy about acceptance and love.” Read more about Cavazos and her role in Tony Award-Nominated Musical here.

4. The UCF Young Alumni Council is recruiting new members! If you’ve got a passion for your alma mater and want to help us engage the future largest alumni-base in the country, this is the role for you. Apply today and play a role in UCF’s tomorrows.

5. In case you missed it, we have four Knights who are currently playing on soccer’s biggest stage. Check this FIFA Women’s Schedule for US, Jamaica, Brazil and Scotland games and the dates you can be cheering!

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week – June 3, 2019


1. As if being a Knight and a Disney employee wasn’t already a pretty great gig, the deal got sweetened when Disney and UCF announced that they will be offering free tuition for cast members. The interim president for UCF, Thad Seymour Jr., says, “Many of our students already are Disney employees who will immediately benefit, and this program has the potential to change lives in our community for generations.” Read the whole story here.

2. Despite her two-decade career with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Holly Bryan ’99 ’05MS initially never wanted to serve as a police officer. “I wanted to be a nurse or a vet, something medical,” says the nursing alumna as I sit across from her in her full police garb. “But I needed a job while I was waiting to get into nursing school, so I went to the police academy and here I am.”

There’s a little more to it than that, though.

3. The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup will host a record number of past and present UCF student-athletes representing their countries. These four Knights are helping to mark a major milestone for UCF and the women’s soccer program. Read more here.

4. This  past Saturday was the official start of Hurricane Season and we want to help you help yourself in all the preparation needed. UCF Today asked Associate Professor Christopher Emrich, an expert in hazard science, social vulnerability, disaster recovery and community resiliency, some of the do’s and don’t’s to get ready for the 2019 Hurricane Season.

5. In better upcoming-season news, college football season is up ahead and the kickoff times and television plans for the 2019 season were announced late last week. Mark these days on your calendars now and get ready for an incredible season of UCF football!

Life of Service: Nursing Alumna Finds Fulfillment As Orange County Deputy

Despite her two-decade career with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Holly Bryan ’99 ’05MS initially never wanted to serve as a police officer.

“I wanted to be a nurse or a vet, something medical,” says the nursing alumna as I sit across from her in her full police garb. “But I needed a job while I was waiting to get into nursing school, so I went to the police academy and here I am.”

There’s a little more to it than that, though.

Bryan’s career-path was, in some ways, seemingly set to involve acts of service. The oldest of five, when her parents divorced, she stepped up and helped provide care for her siblings, taking turns with the others to cook, clean and be a support system.

Bryan’s first job as a teenager was as a nurse’s aide. When she graduated from high school, she joined the military as a combat medic and when she was released, she became an EMT. She had enjoyed her career up to that point, but still envisioned being a nurse.

As she was completing her pre-requisites to start nursing school, she had a few friends who were looking to start in the police academy, which piqued Bryan’s interest enough as something she could do on the side while she sought her nursing degree.

In 1996, she had two big first days — one as a cop at OCSO and one as a nursing student at UCF. Every week she would work four 10-hour shifts, from 6 p.m. to 4 a.m., and then she’d head to UCF for a full day of classes. This was about as overwhelming as it sounds, but, for Bryan, her educational experience has proven to be extremely beneficial in her career.

“That time has helped me throughout my entire law enforcement career,” she says. “All that medical training? I’ve rolled up on several traffic crashes, cardiac arrests, infants needing respiratory help. All that stuff I learned plays a role in law enforcement, so I figure I just have one step up.”

Over her years at OCSO, Bryan has done night watch as a lieutenant on I-drive, road patrol for three years and experienced critical incidents alongside colleagues and the community. She says one of her favorite things about being a deputy in Orange County is the opportunity to protect both the residents and the visitors who come here.

“I think anything between nursing, law enforcement, my military years…it has all made me a better person all around,” she says. “I think I’ve learned to appreciate life, to appreciate people, to appreciate diversity. Those three career choices have given me that.”

Ultimately Bryan ended up sticking with OCSO (even after she received her nursing degree) out of a sense of loyalty and dedication to her job and coworkers. She is currently a lieutenant working in community relations. She oversees about 22 employees that execute things like crime prevention (hosting meetings in neighborhoods about burglar-proofing homes) and civilian police academies (providing overviews of what the sheriff’s office does).

“The sheriff’s office is quite a team,” she says. “There’s no way I would be successful without my team. I succeed when they do and when I fail them, I fail myself as well.”

She explains that when she first started in the military, she would walk with her head down, but experiences in her life have proven that she’s built to lead.

She recounts one story from her nursing days that helped shape her. There was a female patient in the ER whom Bryan had already stuck three times to draw blood, which is the maximum amount of attempts for a student. The on-call nurse came in to take the reins from Bryan, but the patient knew Holly was a student who needed to learn. She insisted that she didn’t want the nurse to do the procedure; she wanted Bryan to try again.

“I told her ‘I can’t anymore’ and she said, ‘You can if I authorize it.’ The nurse basically said I could do it one more time and if I didn’t get it, that was it. And I got it. So even though that woman knew nothing about me, just that I was student nurse, she knew I could handle the challenge. She gave me an opportunity to step up one more time so I could be successful and she pushed me to another level of confidence. Those are the kind of people we need around.”

Bryan knows that in her role as a cop, the most important things she can bring to the table, are respect, understanding and empathy.

“When people call, they’re in a time of need, they’re not having a good day,” she says. “So even if it might be my 200th break-in, it’s probably their first one. It’s cliché, but it really is rewarding to help make someone’s bad day a little bit better by how I respond. Whether it’s a medical call or a crisis, if I can help you get to the other side of whatever you’re going through, it’s a big deal.”