Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—June 26

UCF student Cole Kolasa is kayaking 800 miles this summer

1. The Rosen College of Hospitality Management is getting a new food service lab thanks to a $1.5 million commitment from the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation. Construction is expected to be completed by 2019. By the way, Rosen is ranked among the top five hospitality management programs in the world, enrolling more than 3,700 students and offering five undergraduate and two graduate degrees, in addition to a doctorate in hospitality management.

2. UCF stands for opportunity, and that’s true of a recent study of head coaches nationally. UCF was the only school to earn an ‘A’ for racial and gender hiring practices for women’s teams’ head coaches in a new report released June 23 that examined 94 schools from eight different conferences. Charge On!

3. Two alumni walk into an Italian restaurant… no joke here. UCF Alumni Board member Dean Caravelis ’02 ’03MBA recently sat down for a Q&A with co-founder and CEO of RIP-IT Jason Polstein ’02 ‘03MS to discuss successful startups, career challenges and life as an entrepreneur. Here’s a snippet of the full interview:

“The people who really stand out during interviews are the people who show up and say, ‘Hey, this is my skill set. I can show you in the past how I move x to y, I can tell you how I did it, and by the way, this is my 90-day roadmap of how I can create value for your company once you hire me.’ That really shows that this person hasn’t only done something in the past that’s of value, but spent the time to try and understand our business and came to the interview prepared in pitching themselves in how they’re going to generate more value for our company.”
— Jason Polstein ’02 ’03MS, co-founder and CEO of RIP-IT

4. UCF has received a silver rating for its sustainability by a program within the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. UCF’s ranking is credited to numerous categories including its energy-efficient buildings, how campus is used as a living laboratory and its commitment to diversity.

5. Cole Kolasa, a UCF environmental engineering major, is making waves as he paddles nearly 800 miles down Florida’s Gulf Coast this summer. Why? He hopes to raise $10,000 to support artificial reefs in Hernando County. Follow along with his journey.

Nurses First, Scholarships Follow for Alumnus-led Startup

Alvin Cortez ’08 (left) and Richard Manual (right) of Nurses First Solutions

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (June 22, 2017) – When long-time friends Alvin Cortez ’08 and Richard Manuel connected with the UCF Business Incubation Program to foster growth for their travel nurse staffing agency, they were asked a simple question: Why would somebody choose you rather than the company next to you?

They had a simple answer. They were in the business of making business personal.

Travel nurses typically work 13 week periods in one area, and move around the country depending on where they are needed. Nurses First Solutions provides those nurses to facilities in need of professional workforce. Manuel is a nurse. So is his wife. So is Cortez’s wife, Jessiccalou ’08 ’14BSN.

They knew about the job demands first-hand – the long hours, the life-saving work and the comfort that nurses provide to their patients. They also knew there were gaps in the industry, specifically for traveling nurses when it came to retirement plans, health care insurance, paid time off and life insurance.

So they decided to do something about it.

“We treat them like family,” Manuel said. “They won’t be treated like a number. They can call the company president and speak to him directly. It’s more transparent in our company.”

Echoed Cortez: “We wanted to give back, so we started the company – hence the name Nurses First.”

After incorporating in 2014, Cortez and Manuel hooked up with their third partner Ronnie Elliott and the UCF Business Incubation Program, which Cortez learned about when he studied interpersonal communication at UCF.

For nearly 20 years, the Incubation Program has been helping early-stage companies develop into financially stable, high-impact enterprises by providing resources and services that facilitate smarter, faster growth.

The duo credit site manager Carol Ann Dykes as the instrumental force that has pushed their business forward since joining the incubator. After they started at the incubator in April 2016, their company expanded from three employees to a dozen and their revenue grew from $300,000 to $6 million.

“It takes grit on our part, but at the same time it’s good to have guidance along the way,” Cortez said. “They hold us accountable to having a structure. If you have questions, they’ll connect you to the right types of people.”

All the while, they have remained steadfast in their mission to put nurses first. They offer competitive benefits, paid time off, life insurance and retirement plans. They also follow through on personal touches like sending flowers when their contracted nurses’ family members are sick or welcome boxes for new hires.

“People ask, does that eat up your profit? For us, it just makes sense,” Cortez said. “We’d rather give it back to the nurses. It’s ingrained in us to want to give back and do a little bit better for the people around us.”

They recently took that philosophy one step further by establishing the Nurses First Solutions Endowed Scholarship in April to support the undergraduate members of the Student Nurses Association within the College of Nursing.

Their office is located next to the College of Nursing, and after sponsoring some events, they became interested in setting up a scholarship. That interest turned into action after they attended a scholarship luncheon and heard directly from nursing students about how scholarships impacted their lives.

“We wanted to plant the seed for these students – there are resources, there are opportunities out there. They have a wide array of opportunity ahead of them if they are truly passionate about nursing,” Manuel said. “The scholarship puts more back into the community and students that want to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—June 19

Deborah Beidel, RESTORES clinic director

1. UCF’s RESTORES Clinic, which treats those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, had a big win last week. It will receive $3 million in federal funds, and coupled with $2.5 million from the state’s budget, the program should have enough funding for the next two years, said Deborah Beidel, the clinic’s director. Want to help keep it going longer? Click here.

2. GAMEDAY ALERT! The American Athletic Conference, CBS Sports Network and UCF Athletics have announced that the Knights’ season-opening football game versus FIU will be played Thursday, Aug. 31, at 6 p.m.

3. Check out the most recent alumni spotlight featuring Vince Cotroneo ’83, who is celebrating his 25th year in Major League Baseball as a radio broadcaster as he watches his son follow in his footsteps. Got a story tip of your own? Share it with us.

4. On Saturday, Limbitless Solutions will be at the Pop Parlour UCF from 2-6 p.m. and is looking for some friends to hang out with for a live simulcast the sold out TEDx Orlando. Those who RSVP for the free event will enjoy a complimentary popsicle and will also see an arm demo from some of the Limbitless team before the simulcast, which features three-time alumnus Albert Manero!

5. Congratulations to three-time alumnus Christopher Blackwell ’00BSN ’01MS ’05PhD, who was awarded the 2017 Outstanding Nurse Practitioner Award by the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties!

Father’s Day Tip of the Cap to UCF Alumnus, Longtime MLB Radio Broadcaster

UCF alumnus Vince Cotroneo ‘83, who has been a radio broadcaster for Major League Baseball for 25 years, is now watching his son Dominic follow in his footsteps (photo courtesy of Vince Cotroneo)

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (June 15, 2017) – UCF alumnus Vince Cotroneo ’83 has experienced some memorable moments during the past 25 years of his career as a radio broadcaster for Major League Baseball.

His first opening day in 1991 with the Houston Astros. His first postseason game in 1997. His first inside-the-park home run call during the 2006 playoffs.

Yet, it was a series of three spring training games for the Oakland A’s this year that rank at the top of the list for him. He was on air alongside his 22-year-old son, Dominic, and that’s why it holds a special place in his heart.

“Let me tell you, that was rewarding. It was strange. It was very poignant. I tried not to cry,” Vince said. “He loves what he’s doing. He works very hard at it, and he’s basically done it on his own terms. It’s a proud moment watching your son going down the path of realizing his dreams.”

Dominic’s journey into sportscasting nearly duplicates that of his father’s. Both men are living their dreams through hard work and perseverance, and they have their family tree to thank for their love of the game.

The son of Joe Cotroneo, Vince was the youngest of four brothers. The Cotroneo family lived in Altamonte Springs, where Joe was a Little League baseball coach for years and taught his sons to love the game.

On a family trip to Brooklyn for a funeral when Vince was 14, his cousins were watching the New York Knicks on television. He still recalls his family turning down the sound on the TV and turning up the radio instead.

“They were listening to Marv Albert do the game on the radio while watching on television, and I thought that was really cool,” he recalled. “That’s what ultimately hooked me into what I wanted to do.”

While attending UCF, he joined the radio station as a first-year student and later became the sports director. He also served as the sports editor for the university’s student newspaper, the Central Florida Future.

“There were so many open doors for students. I was lucky enough to jump in with both feet and take advantage of it,” Vince said. “They gave me so many different opportunities in so many areas to prepare me for what I wanted to do in real life. To learn my craft, make my mistakes, get better, to enjoy the atmosphere. To enjoy the camaraderie of people.”

Following graduation in 1983, he made his way to Lynchburg, Virginia, to cover the New York Mets’ minor league club.

After nine years in the minor leagues, he was called up by Houston for an open position it needed to fill. On the Astros’ opening day in 1991 against the reigning World Series champion Cincinnati Reds, Cotroneo was in the broadcast booth at 30 years old.

“It’s something I’ll never forget — being involved in that environment, wide-eyed, watching it all unfold,” he said. “I was extremely fortunate to get that opportunity and it’s been a great run ever since.”

Perhaps it’s because his family has been with him for the ride.

He met his wife, Veronica, at a baseball field. Their first date was to see the 1989 film “Major League.” Their honeymoon was at Chicago’s Wrigley Field.

Before he met Veronica, Vince planned to name his first-born son Dominic as a nod to the DiMaggio brothers — Hall of Famer Joe, Vince and Dominic. His father’s favorite player was Joe DiMaggio, so it seemed only fitting.

She went along with it and got naming rights to their two daughters, Olivia and Sophia, who came along later.

Dominic is now a student at Arizona State and is mirroring nearly every step his father took.

At 15, he knew he wanted to pursue a career in sports radio. He got his foot in the door by starting away-game broadcasts for his high school baseball team.

He saved up money from his part-time job to buy the necessary equipment – a laptop, scorebook, table and a chair that he carted on the bus every road trip – and asked the coach if the team could handle his $50-per-month streaming subscription fee.

Thanks to his experience in high school, he arrived at Arizona State with a resume strong enough to secure the baseball gig for the college radio broadcast program.

Now, he’s taking advantage of Arizona State’s online classes while living in Kinston, North Carolina, to cover the Down East Wood Ducks, the High ‘A’ minor league franchise of the Texas Rangers.

His father listens in when he can and is always there to offer advice, colleague to colleague, when Dominic needs it. More importantly, with 140 games in 165 days on Dominic’s schedule, Vince knows the grind of the season better than most and checks in on his son every day.

“That’s a father’s love,” Dominic said. “It’s amazing to know I’ve got him in my corner.”

This Father’s Day, they will be almost 3,000 miles apart in their respective broadcast booths, and yet still connected through the airwaves doing what they love to do.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—June 13

1. A mural was painted in the heart of campus as a tribute to two Knights who died at Pulse Nightclub in honor of the one-year anniversary of the tragedy. It was designed by artists Michael Pilato and Yuriy Karabash and features UCF student Juan Ramon Guerrero and two-time alumnus Christopher Andrew “Drew” Leinonen.

2. Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook and author of the bestseller “Lean In,” will be on campus June 27 at 7:30 p.m. to take part in a conversation with alumnus George A. Kalogridis, president of the Walt Disney World Resort. Tickets for the event are available through Eventbrite.com, and in addition to a guaranteed seat, all ticket holders will also receive an autographed version of Sandberg’s new book, “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy.”

3. You may have heard that tickets to TEDx Orlando – featuring two Knights – are SOLD OUT, but we’ve got you covered. If you didn’t claim a ticket to this coveted event, join us for a LIVE simulcast of TEDx Orlando at the Pop Parlour UCF location on June 24 at 2 p.m. RSVP here.

4. It was a record-setting year in fund-raising for UCF Athletics as the Knights have received more than $10 million in cash gift revenues from fund-raising in the 2016-17 fiscal year and strive to reach $10.5 million by the end of June. Learn more.

5. Here’s a heartwarming story just in time for Father’s Day. Yina Wu ’14 and her husband, fellow UCF doctoral student Qing Cai, thanked UCF engineer professor Mohamed Abdel-Aty for his role in the start of their relationship by naming their son after him. Abdel-Aty said he was surprised and honored that the 3-month-old was named after him, and a picture of the baby and himself sits on his desk alongside one of Cai and Wu’s wedding.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—June 5

1. In case you missed it, kickoff times have been announced for three of UCF’s first four home football games of the 2017 season. Some good news that will beat the heat – they’re all night games. Full details can be found on UCFKnights.com.

2. As part of “UCF Remembers” on June 8 for the Pulse anniversary, a fleet of Big Red Blood Buses will be at UCF’s Veteran’s Commemorative Site from 2 to 8 p.m. and are currently accepting appointments. Free parking will be available in garages H and I. Register to donate blood by visiting: https://admfin.ucf.edu/blooddrives/special-event/

3. UCF now has a one-stop-shop for internships, interviews, careers, events and resources. Career Services and Experiential Learning recently introduced Handshake, which is available to all UCF students and alumni.

4. UCF Theatre’s summer production of “The Lion in Winter” opens June 8 at 7:30 p.m. Performances are scheduled through June 18. Purchase tickets at theatre.cah.ucf.edu.

5. A UCF trio that included alumnus Josh Linge ’14 ’16MS rose to the top at a national computer programming competition. In addition to the team’s national title, the group finished 13th in the world out of more than 12,000 entries. Linge’s next stop: Facebook’s Seattle office.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—May 30

1. Today we’re talking NCAA postseason for UCF Athletics – and there’s a lot to cover.

For the first time since 2012, the No. 22 UCF baseball team will be heading to an NCAA Regional tournament. The Knights will be the No. 2 seed in the Tallahassee Regional and will match up against No. 3 seed Auburn at noon on June 2.

For the ninth straight season, the UCF track and field program will be represented at the NCAA Championships after the 4×100 relay team was among the top 12 at the NCAA East Preliminary Round to advance to Eugene, Oregon. The NCAA Outdoor Championship takes place from June 7-10 at historic Hayward Field.

Two other teams wrapped up their seasons among the top 25 in the country over the weekend. The three-time American Athletic Conference champion rowing team posted its highest finish in program history, closing out the NCAA Championship in 18th place. Meanwhile, the men’s golf team finished in a tie for 14th at the NCAA Championship, marking the Knights’ best finish since 2009.

2. In case you missed it, big news from everyone’s favorite big man, Tacko Fall, who chose to forego this year’s NBA Draft and return to UCF for his junior season in 2017-18. Read his heartfelt letter to fans about his decision.

3. As the Orlando community prepares for the one-year mark of the Pulse tragedy, UCF has several events scheduled to honor and remember the 49 lives taken on June 12, 2016. The public is encouraged to come together at blood drive, remembrance ceremony and art exhibit all scheduled to take place on campus June 8.

4. After graduating May 6 with her bachelor’s degree in political science, Burnett Honors College alumna Rebecca Fate almost aced the LSAT and is headed to Harvard. And how sweet is this – she credits an elementary school teacher for her success. Good luck Rebecca, and we expect to see you sporting black and gold around Harvard Yard!

5. UCF’s rise to national prominence under the direction of President John C. Hitt is featured in the latest edition of Florida Trend magazine, which hit stands over the weekend. “Strength in Numbers” is the cover story in the June edition that focuses on higher education in the state.

Adventure is Out There

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (May 26, 2017) – Years ago, when anyone asked biology alumna Anai Colyer ’14 what she wanted to be when she grew up, she dreamed of a life as a wildlife documentarist.

She didn’t view it as a practical choice – rather, a choice of the heart. A self-taught photographer, Colyer’s hobby has led to an Instagram portfolio filled of magical moments underwater in the springs outside of Gainesville; endangered Key deer in Key West; Wyoming moose and hugging monkeys.

Now, she’s about to get the summer adventure of a lifetime after winning a National Geographic short film contest with the first film she ever produced.

“What I’ve learned from this experience is never underestimate yourself,” she said. “If you have a passion for something and really want to do something, do it. Don’t hold back. Just go for it.”

Colyer’s love of wildlife and the world began when she was 8 years old. Her father took her underwater for the first time, sharing his tank with her, when they two spotted a pack of dolphins.

Colyer still remembers trying to reach out to the pack as they clicked sounds to communicate. From that moment, she was hooked.

A few years later, she became fascinated with photography after picking up a camera spontaneously to photograph dolphins jumping in the wake of her aunt’s boat.

“I got addicted to capturing that moment,” she said. “I wanted to share that experience and what I was seeing and maybe get people to get outside themselves and witness it.”

Photography by Anai Colyer ’14

After graduating in 2014, she struggled to find the first open door to a full-time job and a career. So she started working part time at a local dive shop and kept snapping photos.

This past February, a friend called her to suggest she enter herself in National Geographic’s WILD TO INSPIRE filmmaking contest. The grand prize was a trip to Africa to document wildlife for “Nat Geo WILD” viewers.

Disheartened about her struggle to find a job, she did not feel confident about entering the contest.

“I was reluctant. I told him, ‘You’re out of your mind. I’ve never done a film in my life. I don’t know what I’m doing. There’s only two weeks left to submit,’” she recalled. “He was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, you’re right. You don’t need to go to Africa. Just forget about it.’”

In those two weeks, a sleep-deprived Colyer filmed everything she could while she also learned how to edit audio and video and create a script for her short film.

As she considered storyline options, she connected with one friend’s piece of advice: “The only story you’re going to be able to tell well is the story that you know.”

“That really hit home,” she said. “I thought, well, the story I know is I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve never done this before.”

When she learned she was one of three finalists in the contest, her immediate reaction ranged from tears to pure joy to wondering if the message she received was a mistake.

Two weeks later at the 2017 Sun Valley Film Fest in Idaho, she heard her name called as the first female winner in the 4-year-old competition.

“My whole world opened up,” she said.

She won’t know where she is headed in Africa until two to four weeks ahead of her trip. She does know for sure she wants to extend her time there and take in as much as possible.

“I probably won’t come back,” Colyer somewhat joked of her first trip overseas.

Until then she is continuing to practice her film-making skills and still always dreaming of what lies ahead.

“I don’t want to go through my life, look back and say, ‘What if?’ At this stage of life, I just want to travel. I want to experience things,” she said. “It’s the beauty and the awe of nature that keeps me going.”

Anai’s pro tips for your own photography:
1. If you’re new to photography, you can only learn so much from the internet. The best way to learn is to get out there and practice, practice, practice.

2. With wildlife photography, my No. 1 tip is to study the subject and learn to predict its behavior so you’re ready to capture the “wow moment” when it happens.

3. With underwater photography, my No. 1 rule is to get close to your subject. Rule No. 2: get closer. Rule No. 3: when you think you’re close enough, you’re not! Get closer! Water reduces color, contrast and sharpness. So to achieve a better photo reduce the space between you and your subject as much as possible.

4. Every photographer, no matter how good they are, still encounters missed shots and gear malfunctions. The key is to never give up.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—May 22

1. Congrats to the UCF baseball team and first-year head coach Greg Lovelady who hit it out of the park over the weekend with their series win over nationally ranked USF for the Knights’ first conference championship since 2004. UCF clinched the No. 1 seed in the American Athletic Conference Tournament in Clearwater and will face East Carolina on Tuesday at 7 p.m. on CBS Sports Network. For complete championship information, including how to buy tickets — we’re looking at you Tampa Knights – please visit theamerican.org.

2. If you know a young alumnus or young alumna doing great work, we want to hear about it! Nominations for UCF Alumni’s 30 Under 30 are now open until May 28. FYI, those nominated must be age 30 or under on June 30, 2017, and self-nominations are not considered.

3. Just when you thought graduation was over… we bring you the graduating class of the College of Medicine! Congrats to the 113 M.D. students who received their degrees over the weekend, including this former Broadway actor.

4. UCF Alumni is hosting several Freshman Welcome events around the state in June and alumni are welcome to attend to support our newest Knights! These free events with light hors d’ouvres and beverages are a great opportunity to share your black and gold bond with the next generation. Check for events in your area:
*Southwest Florida – June 3, 2-4 p.m.
*Jacksonville – June 4, 1-3 p.m.
*Southeast Florida – June 8, 6-8 p.m.
*Tampa — June 28, 6-8 p.m.

5. UCF police chief and alumnus Richard Beary was inducted into the Florida Law Enforcement Officers’ Hall of Fame on Saturday. Beary, who earned his master’s in criminal justice in 2004, has led UCF’s police force since 2007.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—May 15


1. The ChargeOn Tour begins Tuesday and will feature UCF head coaches Scott Frost (football) and Johnny Dawkins (men’s basketball), Director of Athletics Danny White and other Knights coaches over five stops from May 16-18. Here are the full details – including RSVP links – for the events.

2. In case you missed it, the Central Florida community came together last week to break ground on the new downtown campus that is expected to serve 7,700 students from UCF and Valencia College when it opens in 2019.

Adding some extra flavor to the event were local businessmen and brothers, Brandon ’10 and Adam Chandler of Pop Parlour. They honored the special occasion with a cool new frozen pop, which is still available in stores this week.

3. Shout out to the UCF rowing team for earning its third-straight American Athletic Conference trophy over the weekend! With the win, these Knights join the UCF women’s golf and indoor track and field teams as league champions this year.

Speaking of conference championships — the baseball team has a chance to clinch its first crown since 2004. And they are about to go head-to-head against USF for all the marbles this Thursday-Saturday at home in the final series of the regular season. You won’t want to miss this. Buy tickets

4. The U.S. Army Cyber Center of Excellence will look to UCF for training and research support as a result of a new memorandum of understanding. UCF is qualified to provide the training because of its status as a designated National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education by both the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.

5. A group of UCF students who make up the Lunar Knights Mining Club will compete this month in NASA’s national Robotic Mining Competition that was developed to help in the exploration of Mars. The competition is designed so NASA can be presented with outside ideas of how to mine on Mars, a goal of future space exploration.