Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week – Feb. 18, 2019

1. Shannon Small ’03, ’09 was the girl who did her homework upstairs in the Visual Arts Building because it was quiet and the vending machine had Surge soda. David Small ’02 was (one of) the guy(s) who spent a good bit of time in the computer lab, just playing games. It was UCF in the late 90s — if you wanted to sit on the seal in the Student Union and hear the echo, you could; if you wanted to go to a football game, you were headed to the Citrus Bowl; and if you wanted to hear a love story that would put any “in sickness and in health” cliché to the test, one was just about to begin.

In honor of Valentine’s Day last week, we shared many a #UCFLoveStory. Read all of Shannon and David’s right here.

2. Attention all alumni who live in North Carolina and/or all alumni looking for a rad excuse to travel to North Carolina: President Whittaker is coming to town. We will be hosting two reception events (Monday, March 4 and Tuesday, March 5) for alumni and friends of UCF to get together, get some face-time with President Whittaker and network with Knights in the area. Let us know you’ll be there by RSVP-ing.

3. Last Friday we celebrated the grand opening of a new Cyber Innovation Lab on campus. The lab, which is a result of our partnership with Lockheed Martin, will help meet the growing local and national need for cybersecurity talent. This is a big deal because cybersecurity isn’t just making captchas harder so websites know you’re not a robot trying to order new blinds for your kitchen. It’s considerably more complex than that and, according to Stephanie C. Hill, the deputy executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Rotary and Mission Systems, “The future battlespace will be heavily reliant on cyber… even more so than we’re seeing today. By working with institutions like UCF, through labs like this one, we’ll all better understand and accelerate our shared capabilities and potential to adapt and innovate in the fifth domain.”

4. You know that incredible feeling when you’re on campus and you’re rooting for the Knights on our turf and we’re just out there crushing the game, whatever the game may be? Well dig this: our basketball team is doing big things right now. We are currently ranked number three in the American Athletic Conference, our games are electric and there are never too many ways to beat USF. We’ve still got a couple more home games, so we’ll see you there.

5. It’s a theatre love-story old as time. The set-designer boy and the stage-manager girl, sneaking glances at each other backstage, finagling opportunities to work the same shifts in the shop, and spending early dating-days listening to musicals together. But for Nikki Blue ’10 and Ryan Emens ’10, it was just the beginning of a lifetime spent discovering new reasons to love theatre and each other every day. Read their #UCFLoveStory today ‘cause honestly it’s not like Valentine’s Day is the only day of the year we should be reading about love, ya know?

The Very Model of a Modern Theatre-Romance: A UCF Love Story

It’s a theatre love-story old as time. The set-designer boy and the stage-manager girl, sneaking glances at each other backstage, finagling opportunities to work the same shifts in the shop, and spending early dating-days listening to musicals together. But for Nikki Blue ’10 and Ryan Emens ’10, it was just the beginning of a lifetime spent discovering new reasons to love theatre and each other every day.

Born and raised in Winter Springs, Ryan was the kid playing LEGOs and building toy-models. He attended Winter Springs High School and started developing his interest in theatre fast. He was the go-to person for technical needs in the high school’s theatre program, figuring out lights and scenery for shows, managing the auditorium when events were held there, and when it was time for the school to put on “Les Mis” Ryan figured out the scenery for the show and executed its production. When a group from the UCF theatre department came to WSHS to show what the theatre program was about, Ryan was convinced. This was the direction he was headed.

Nikki grew up in Jacksonville, fluttering from one interest to the other. She wanted to do everything – be a vet, a counselor, just be a part of as many things as possible – until she got involved with her church’s theatre group and quickly took charge, pointing out ways to make things more efficient. When she got to high school and needed to fill an elective, she picked theatre and was cast in a one-act as a character with four lines.

“Because I wasn’t onstage all the time, I was backstage and noticed people kept forgetting their props,” Nikki says. “I was like, ‘what if – groundbreaking idea – we label where the props go on the table? And maybe, while I’m back here, I can remind people to grab their prop before they go onstage?’ I actually missed a cue because I was having so much fun organizing backstage!”

A stage manager was born. Nikki spent her next two years of high school stage-managing as much as she could. She learned that UCF had the best stage management program and so that’s where she was headed. Nikki, with her high school tales of showing up at midnight after a show at Village Inn with her theatre friends covered in glitter, and Ryan, who, same but at Denny’s, both ended up in the UCF theatre program. The first time they saw each other was Nikki’s orientation day.

“It was that Florida thing where there was not a cloud in the sky when I decided to bike from my dorm to the theatre building, but I got lost on the way and of course it started raining,” Nikki says. “I looked like a drowned rat.”

Ryan fervently shakes his head. “I just remember seeing her and thinking ‘OK, yeah, she’s really cute.’”

Not long after, leading up to a production of”The Rocky Horror Picture Show”, Ryan found out Nikki was working on a crew for the show. Sure, sure there was no credit he needed to fulfill, but hey he could help out, why not? It’s Rocky Horror! The moment Ryan had a feeling Nikki had a thing for him too was when he helped her out with the curtain she was working on for the show and later that night got a Myspace message that read:

“Thank you for helping me with the Rocky curtain. Rawr .”

Ryan was correct, that “rawr” was a longtime coming for Nikki; it had been weeks earlier when she had realized her crush on Ryan may be worth exploring. She was working in the shop, attempting to build a miniature flat, covered in sweat and sawdust.

“I must have split like six pieces of wood,” Nikki says. “I’m spitting mad, cursing, and I look up and I see those baby blues. He goes, ‘Hey, can I help with that?’ And it wasn’t in that let-me-show-you-how-it’s-done-little-lady way. He was so genuine and such a good and patient teacher.”

Not that she heard a word he said, as her mind was simply gushing over the fact that he was touching her hand as he assisted her with the drill, but the flat got built and the show, just like Nikki and Ryan’s budding relationship, went on. There were first dates, hand-holds at cast parties and once Ryan even put a bottle of Crush soda and Hershey’s Kisses in Nikki’s locker. The couple continued to work on shows together throughout college. Their last UCF show together was “Pirates of Penzance” — Ryan was the set designer, Nikki was the stage manager. Not only was this show the only time that’s happened, but Ryan also seized the opportunity to propose.

“Immediately after one of the shows, I ran backstage where I had a coat-tails suit ready with a microphone,” Ryan explains. “Meanwhile, we had said this made-up reason for a meeting to discuss the safety of the set. We had some friends make sure she was sitting in the right spot on stage and then the music starts playing ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ and I came out on the pirate ship, gave her a rose, and proposed to her with a spotlight on us.”

“It was absolutely perfect,” Nikki says, beaming. (And you can even watch it yourself, if you’re so inclined!)

The couple credits UCF with not only bringing them together, but for laying the groundwork for their successful theatre careers. Three months after Nikki and Ryan got married (August 2011), they moved to Chicago to try their hand at full-time, paying, theatre life. It was touch-and-go for a little there, with both needing to have a pay-the-bills job and doing theatre on the side, but eventually momentum started building. Ryan was able to use the connections he’d made to get freelance set-design gigs. Nikki got an internship with Goodman Theatre, a prominent pillar in the Chicago theatre scene.

Now Ryan has his MFA from Yale School of Drama in set design, hopeful to get a job teaching the craft soon, and Nikki is in her sixth consecutive season as an equity stage manager at the Goodman, hiring her own interns (one is even a fellow UCF alumna). The couple does a once-a-year Skype call-in to one of their old UCF classes, Theatre Careers in Production with Kristina Tollefson. The class was fundamental for Nikki and Ryan in developing the necessary skills to stand out from other theatre applicants. They’re also appreciative of the opportunities afforded to them for actual, hands-on experience.

“What is so strong about the UCF theatre department is the focus on actual production work,” Nikki says. “We actually got to be the ones to try things in this safe, academic bubble. We had the guidance of these gifted teachers, but we were able to make mistakes and learn from them.”

It’s clear talking to Nikki and Ryan, who after 13 years together still grin ear-to-ear when they talk about their coming together, that they have a deep-rooted team-mentality and a willingness to root for the other through rejections and celebrate each other in victories.

“He’s so talented,” Nikki says. “I remember when we were dating, when he did his first fully-realized set design, and I walked in and I just cried. Just seeing how talented he his and his commitment to always be better and better.”

As Nikki goes on to explain in great detail the pride that swells in her when she experiences Ryan’s work, he just smiles and stares at her as if she’s proving some point he already had crafted in his head.

“She loves so fiercely,” Ryan says. “The people that she loves are so cared for by her because she always wants to help and support people. She’s driven too, I noticed really early that she was going to pursue her dreams and I knew that we could pursue our dreams together.”

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week – Feb. 11, 2019

1. Celebrate and commemorate our incredible football team by decorating with our limited-edition football poster! Inspired by the most recent issue of Pegasus Magazine, all funds used to purchase the poster go toward supporting UCF football and our student-athletes. It’s really a win-win situation ‘cause you get a rad poster and our Knights get to feel the love and appreciation of their fans. And win-win situations are kind of what we’re all about around here.

2. Speaking of winning, let’s get back to it, shall we? The 2019 football schedule was released last week and we’re already bracing ourselves for a lot of bounce at the Bounce House. Check out the schedule, get your season tickets and practice your UCF cheers. It’s never too early to get ready for college football season.

3. We’ve been asking for UCF Love Stories and you all have delivered! Keep an eye on our social media this week to read some of our favorite stories of love found at 4000 Central Florida Blvd, like Albert and Katie’s.


4. Last week the U.S. Department of Education designated UCF as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, which allows us to compete for federal grants that would expand opportunities for Hispanic and low-income students. Which is very, VERY good news. How’d we get here? To qualify, we needed to have a minimum Hispanic enrollment of 25 percent. Check! Our Hispanic enrollment among undergraduates is 27.5 percent (more than 16,000 students). President Whittaker put it this way: “This designation is a recognition of who we are. To UCF, being Hispanic-serving is about more than enrollment – it’s about outcomes. We are proud of our growing diversity and even more proud of the impact it has on our university and Central Florida community.”

5. Dan Samuels ’08 would have told you himself when he started to get his business degree at UCF that he didn’t have a clue what he was going to do with it. But it was in that business major at UCF that Dan found step one toward a 12-years-and-counting career in nonprofit fundraising and a recent position as the new Director of Philanthropy at Second Harvest Food Bankof Central Florida. How did Dan go from a fair-weather business major to a passionate non-profit professional?

Cornerstone: Alumnus Ties Nonprofit Impact Back to Foundational UCF Experience

Dan Samuels ’08 would have told you himself when he started to get his business degree at UCF that he didn’t have a clue what he was going to do with it.

But it was in that business major at UCF that Dan found step one toward a 12-years-and-counting career in nonprofit fundraising and a recent position as the new Director of Philanthropy at Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida.

How did Dan go from a fair-weather business major to a passionate non-profit professional?

During Dan’s junior year, he took a class within the College of Business called Cornerstone. Essentially this program connected students with a nonprofit to help them raise funds or complete a project and then the students gave presentations and wrote papers based on the work they were doing with that nonprofit. It was a learning opportunity unlike anything else Dan had encountered thus far in his schooling.

“That Cornerstone class was a pivotal moment for me,” Dan starts. “It was my first hands-on experience at a nonprofit and it made me realize that that’s what I wanted to be doing. I remember walking out of the Student Union one day, calling my dad, and saying ‘I know what I want to do for a living – I want to go raise money for a nonprofit.’ And his response, which gets me every time, was ‘it’s about damn time you figured that out. I’ve known it for years.’”

Dan began to connect the dots between everything he had done in high school and college and realized it was all philanthropic. He was the high schooler throwing walkathons and carnivals to raise money for his temple. He was the college student who ran Knight-Thon for two years. He was the 4EVER KNIGHT that quickly became a 4EVER Knight Ambassador. And during that Cornerstone class, Dan worked alongside Boys Town, a residential-based program for children facing turmoil such as abuse or neglect, and helped the organization facilitate the building of an onsite basketball court. After that experience, and that eye-opening conversation with his father, Dan stuck with a general business major but added a nonprofit certificate (which is all that existed at the time).

“That Cornerstone project led to an internship at Boys Town for two years,” Dan says. “It provided a paid internship, hands-on experience and work in an actual nonprofit. I absolutely credit that work to getting my first career-job. If you take it all the way back, a class at UCF helped me define my career path and led me to an internship that gave me the hands-on experience that got me my first job. I can tie every step since back to UCF.”

Dan went from Boys Town to Devereux, a similar nonprofit that serves at-risk children. He was there for seven years, starting at the bottom of the totem pole and working his way up to the Director of Development. From there, he got a call from a friend who was the Executive Director of an on-campus nonprofit called Central Florida Hillel. His friend mentioned he was looking for somebody to handle fundraising and wanted to see if Dan knew of anyone. The phone call lasted about 30 minutes and ended with Dan’s friend saying, “Let me know who you think of, even if that person is staring you back in the mirror.”

That undercover recruitment-call led to three years for Dan as the Director of Development for Hillel, an organization that helps to create community for Jewish students on UCF’s campus.

“It’s a phenomenal organization,” Dan says. “It’s definitely something that I still support and something that I really believe in, but I saw an incredible opportunity here and I couldn’t turn it down. I jumped on it.”

“Here” is Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, where Dan currently serves as the Director of Philanthropy. For Dan, deciding to join the team at Second Harvest was two-fold: what the organization means for the community and what the organization could mean for his career.

“On a bigger picture, I couldn’t imagine being hungry,” Dan says. “I’ve never had to want for food. And since being here, that’s really hit home for me. You realize how many of us are just one car accident or major medical incident away from needing help. And then, on a personal note, the decision had a lot to do with what I wanted to accomplish in my career. Over the years, I’ve built a skill set and here I can really focus my skill set on something I want to be a part of.”

Dan is now a part of the collection, storage and distribution of donated food to over 550 feeding partners throughout Central Florida. The food Second Harvest provides goes to food pantries, soup kitchens, women’s shelters, senior centers, day care centers and Kid Cafes. It goes to partner programs throughout our community who know their population and can make an impact through the food Second Harvest provides. This type of partnership is one of the things that appealed to Dan about the organization.

“Part of what we do is feed the masses and part of what we do is change the system,” Dan says. “But that’s only possible when the community works together. Nonprofits build better communities. They make the community a stronger place by helping to solve problems the community can’t solve on its own.”

It doesn’t take long to pick up on the enthusiasm Dan feels about not only each nonprofit he’s worked for in his career, but nonprofits in general. That enthusiasm wasn’t only born at UCF, it was fostered there. Dan had the opportunities, through things like Knight-Thon and Cornerstone, to develop his passions and skills into a career that impacts the entire Central Florida community.

“My experiences at UCF built my resume,” Dan says. “But UCF also made me a more well-rounded person. I really feel like myself there. I became more comfortable with who I was. The experiences were great for my career, but also college at UCF was just great for me as a person.”

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week – Feb. 4, 2019

1. You only have a handful of days left to nominate your favorite 20-something for the 30 Under 30 Awards program! This event recognizes outstanding young alumni who are dreaming, innovating and accomplishing big things in their professional and personal lives since graduation. Young alumni currently make up one third of the UCF alumni population, and we want to celebrate all that they are doing to make our community a better place. If you know a young alum who is making an impact, submit a nomination on their behalf before 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 7.

2. In terms of things that are BIG, attention-getting, conversation-starting, and phenomenon-building, the musical Hamilton is like the UCF of the theatre world. So we were curious what it’s like for UCF Alumna Abby Jaros ’14 to be a part of both. As a cast member in the hit musical that’s currently showing at the Dr. Phillips Center until Feb. 10, Abby says, “What I love about Hamilton is it’s creating conversation everywhere. [When I look back on this] I will remember the honor that it has been to be a part of something that will live on for a very long time. I get to be an original cast member of that. Who knows if I’ll ever get to experience that again? I will remember all the hard work it still took to maintain the dream.” Read more about Abby’s experience here.

3. We are still accepting submissions for UCF Love Story. If you and your partner found your roots at UCF and spent your early days holding hands on Memory Mall, we want to hear about it! Submit your story soon and you may be featured leading up to Valentine’s Day.

4. Megan Shub ’09 worked hard to climb the ladder of success for a major airline, got right up near the top, looked around, and leapt right off that ladder to the bottom of the production-industry barrel. From account manager to 27-year-old intern. From salary, health benefits and structure to who-knows-what-happens-next. It was risky and it was courageous and it was such a good decision that she is now a segment producer for “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” Read more of her story right here.

5. If you’re looking for a fresh go-to excuse to bring up your pride in your alma mater, we’ve got you covered. The UCF Business Incubation Program is celebrating its 20th year of improving the chance of survival for small businesses in the area. Since its inception, the Incubator has assisted over 500 companies in their early stages. Companies like Grubhub, Orange Blossom Pilsner, OptiGrate, AVT Simulation and NanoSpective have all grown in part because the Incubator was available to help with essential guidance. Yep. Your university did that.

Come Fly With Me: Alumna Trades Airlines for TV Production

Megan Shub ’09 worked hard to climb the ladder of success for a major airline, got right up near the top, looked around, and leapt right off that ladder to the bottom of the production-industry barrel. From account manager to 27-year-old intern. From salary, health benefits and structure to who-knows-what-happens-next.

It was risky and it was courageous and it was such a good decision that she is now a segment producer for “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.”

Megan, who grew up in Central Florida and transferred to UCF after completing her associate degree at Seminole State Community College, majored in humanities. Driven by a curiosity about the world, some of Megan’s fondest childhood memories were stocking up on piles of books on her weekly visits to the library with her mom. She always loved the opportunity to be transported into someone else’s story, and eventually, as a high schooler on the newspaper team, learned to love being a storyteller herself.

She had every intent of majoring in English, but on the day of her UCF orientation, a bold impulse kicked in and she stood up to go with a different group of students. A prolonged study of culture, traditions and beliefs across the world had begun and Megan spent the next two years immersed in the study of multicultural humanities.

“I think one of the most important things about UCF is the diversity of the student body,” Megan says. “Especially when studying humanities, it’s an environment where you have to be respectful of people’s opinions. It gave me a greater understanding of how the world works and what people can do together.”

Unfortunately, Megan’s transition out of college and into the workforce was during the 2009 recession. She was able to get a handful of freelance writing jobs, but it wasn’t enough to help her with rent. She knew she needed a consistent job, even if it meant moving away from what she imagined her career would be.

She ended up at British Airways as a customer service agent. The job sounded interesting enough, plus she’d get to travel some and that would probably be exciting. And, most importantly for Megan, she’d get to meet interesting people every day.

Eventually that customer service agent role led Megan to the management track of British Airways and she landed a job as the airport duty manager stationed out of the Newark airport. She had, in one fell swoop, moved out of her home state and made a huge career move with a major airline.

“It was a lot of responsibility for a 23-year-old,” Megan says. “And coming up without any friends or family, being in my early twenties and working at the airport, it was just very isolating for me.”

Megan began to look into getting a job in the corporate offices for British Airways, which would allow for her to move into New York City and continue her upward momentum within the company. She transitioned to a job on the sales team supporting account managers with marketing materials.

“There were a lot of good things about that job,” Megan says. “But I knew pretty early on that I wasn’t a good fit for it. That’s when I started really thinking, ‘OK, maybe I should make a serious change.’”

It was four years and three job titles with British Airways later and Megan felt that she had mostly given up on some of her original ambitions. What she wanted next was something creative. She wanted to tell people’s stories.

Megan’s wheels began turning — what would it look like for her to enter the entertainment industry and actually get paid to work in television. She found an ad on Craigslist for a Brooklyn production company that was willing to hire people with no prior television experience. At 27 years old, Megan became an intern on a TV series called “Finding Your Roots.”

“I knew that my role, which was mostly research, would help me learn about how to make a TV show,” Megan says. “And it drew on a lot of my interests. I didn’t know where it would lead, but, at the time, it felt like a good change and a step in the right direction.”

“Finding Your Roots” is a show specifically designed for that cousin you have who is really into sharing his ancestry.com results. In each episode, celebrities view their ancestral histories and learn more about their bloodlines and family’s experiences. Megan joined the team in season three, starting out as an intern and eventually becoming an archival researcher. She would help with historical information, fact-checking and finding specific footage. Let’s say an episode required a shot of Maya Rudolph on the red carpet, pictures of her great-relatives and some footage of soldiers from World War II in a particular location – Megan is the one to track it all down and get it ready for an editor to piece together.

Megan started out on “Finding Your Roots” as an intern in January of 2015, was hired as a researcher in March of that year and by December was an associate producer. In September of 2016, Megan took time off from work to have a baby, and when she returned to work, she started on a true-crime show as an associate producer. The research skills Megan had learned from “Finding Your Roots” transferred over as she had to be relentless in seeking information. Her customer-service experience from British Airways transferred over as well, as she was navigating difficult conversations with either families of murder victims or families of perpetrators. Megan also credits her background in humanities.

“There’s this perception that studying the humanities is some sort of kumbaya, useless, or maybe even indulgent thing,” she says. “But I learned a lot of hard skills in those classes. Research skills, analysis skills, people skills. I use those every day in my job.”

Megan was with the true-crime show for a few months before heading back to “Finding Your Roots” as a coproducer, and then in January 2018 (three years after her initial jump into the entertainment industry, for those keeping track) she transitioned to her current job as a segment producer on “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”. In general, TV producers create and execute individual stories for the air. There’s brainstorming and delegating ideas, researching topics, booking guests, writing scripts, interviewing sources — a whole myriad of things that come together to set up the segment, coordinate it, and execute it on camera.

“I feel like storytelling is a basic human need, right? There were cave paintings. People want to be entertained; they connect emotionally with stories. I think in some ways, stories tell themselves, it’s just my job to pull out a narrative.”

In a lot of ways, Megan’s story tells itself. Wasn’t the girl who loved going to the library always going to end up a storyteller? Wasn’t the freshman at UCF who impulsively switched her desired major always going to be the kind of adult who was brave enough to switch careers? Wasn’t the college graduate who picked airlines so she could meet interesting people always going to be the producer who gets to experience an array of stories?

“Any time you step into the unknown, it can be scary,” Megan says. “But I think that one of my better qualities is that I like change and I’m open to it. It was scary stepping out of a situation where I had accumulated respect and had to start all over again somewhere else. But I was prepared for a challenge and it was worth it.”

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week – Jan. 28, 2019

1. There is just a little bit more time left to nominate that really excellent 20-something alum you know for the 30 Under 30 Awards program! This event allows us the opportunity to celebrate the incredible success of our UCF graduates who are doing big things and representing their alma mater well. You can’t nominate yourself, but if you’re an alum, you’re going to be younger than 30 years old once April 13, 2019 rolls around and you’re out there making an impact — drop a subtle hint to a family, friend or coworker to submit a nomination on your behalf before 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 7.

2. The fifth-annual UCF Celebrates the Arts is April 5-14 at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts and it’s going to be a great one. Over the course of 10 days, this festival will include more than 30 events and exhibitions. Collaboration abounds as the School of Visual Arts and Design and the School of Performing Arts come together with other university and community partners (Orlando Repertory Theatre, Orlando Shakes, the Creative City Project, the Nicholson School of Communication and Media and more) to put an event together that will underscore the resilience of humans and the healing power of art. If you are a graduate of the College of Arts and Humanities, an arts-enthusiast or just looking to immerse yourself in something really cool happening in our community, be there.

3. Shaquem Griffin ’16 is continuing to make Knight Nation proud. Last Wednesday, Jan. 23 Shaquem accepted the 2019 Inspiration Award at the NCAA Honors Celebration. This award is reserved for people who used perseverance, dedication and determination to overcome a life-altering situation, and most importantly, are role models giving hope and inspiration to others. Pretty much sounds like the definition of Shaquem Griffin, right?

4. Unlike those little conversation heart candies, the tradition of UCF Love Story is returning this year! We are gathering tales of love that had their starting line at UCF and have no finish line to speak of. So if you and your partner have hearts that only beat for each other and all things UCF, let us know and you could be featured leading up to Valentine’s Day.

5. Maybe you’ve never been to space before (but if you have, you should definitely tell everyone that story), but if you want to tell people your university has, you can. Because we have. The research of UCF planetary scientists, Joshua Colwell and Adrienne Dove, was launched into space Jan. 23 from a facility in west Texas. Research like this, which leads to samples from asteroids, is what can help get us to new discoveries about the origins of life and the solar system. As a UCF Alum, we give you full permission to take partial credit for being a very small part of this.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week – Jan. 14, 2019

1. Alumna Abby Jaros ‘14, is young, scrappy, hungry and currently in the touring company of “Hamilton” that opens in Orlando Jan. 22! Jaros majored in musical-theater during her UCF years and is described by former professor, Mark Brotherton, as always being able to rise above a challenge. “She works so hard,” Brotherton told the Orlando Sentinel. “In every class she got better and better and better.” As a member of the “Hamilton” touring company, Jaros has performed the story of Alexander Hamilton more than 400 times since February of 2018. She is looking forward to adding to that number in her college town!

2. Any chance you know a 20-something alum who just so happens to be excelling personally and professionally? Now’s your chance to celebrate them and their success and nominate them for the 30 Under 30 Awards program! This event recognizes and honors young alumni who are making an impact. You must be an alum to be nominated, but any family, friend or coworker can submit a nomination on your behalf any time before 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 7.

3. It’s the season of new beginnings and we think now is as good a time as any to resolve to get more involved with your alma mater as a mentor! 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.

4. Remember when you were a kid and you’d jump from one couch in the living room to another? Well this is kind of like that, only considerably more complicated and cool. Thanks to a collaboration between a private space company and UCF, it is now possible for spacecrafts to use steam to propel from asteroid to asteroid. This development in spacecraft travel can have a profound impact on future exploration because, currently, once a spacecraft runs out of propellant, its interplanetary mission is halted. The new spacecraft (nicknamed “WINE” for World Is Not Enough) is designed to never run out of propellant and thus saves time and money.

5. Mark your calendar now — UCF Day of Giving is March 28, 2019 and we’ve got big things planned this year! UCF Day of Giving is a chance for all Knights to come together and support what they love about UCF. We can’t wait to see the ways you all will make an impact for the future of our university!

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week – Jan. 7, 2019

1. A 25-game streak of perfection was certainly something unpredictable, but in the end it was so right and Knight Nation had the time of its life. The PlayStation Fiesta Bowl game against LSU may have brought our winning streak to an end, but the impact, momentum and heart of our football team these past two seasons isn’t going anywhere. Thank you to every one of you who came out to Arizona to cheer on our team, to those of you who purchased tickets so over 1,200 military members and their families from Luke Air Force were able to attend and to all of you Knights who proudly started the new year in your black-and-gold. We loved getting to host so many of you at our ChargeOn Tailgate before the big game! It’s always a big deal to support your team, but it’s another thing entirely to travel from any distance and show up at a 7 a.m. tailgate fully energized to chant “UCF!” as many times as Zombie Nation plays. Check out pictures from the tailgate here. OK. Now. Who’s ready for next season?

2. While we were out in Arizona, Knights made it a priority to give back to the community that was kind enough to host us! Over 70 people from the UCF community came together on Dec. 31 to come alongside an incredible organization, Arizona Helping Hands, which is the largest provider of essential needs for children in foster care and their families in the state. Not only did the group compile 173 first-aid kits, 85 birthday bags and sort all the toys and diapers that came in over the holidays, but our Phoenix UCF Alumni Club has committed to continue serving with Arizona Helpings Hands!

3. Nominations for the 30 Under 30 Awards program are officially open! This event recognizes and celebrates the young alumni who are making an impact through their professional and personal successes. You have to be alum to be nominated, but any family, friend or coworker can submit a nomination on your behalf anytime before 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 7. If you know a worthy knight, we want to know!

4. We’re only a few days into 2019 and UCF is already out here doing big things. Last week it was announced that the Nicholson School of Communication and Media will be offering a doctorate in strategic communication starting next fall AND THEN the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering announced the launch of its Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering. Both of these new programs are just the beginning of an exciting 20Knighteen for the university!

5. Imagine being able to come back to your alma mater and spend a few nights on campus without having to return to your old dorm. In 2020 UCF will open its first on-campus hotel, Pegasus Hotel and Conference Center. Near the campus’ main entrance, the hotel will be five stories and will cater to an upscale clientele as part of the Marriot brand at the northeast corner of University Boulevard and Alafaya Trail. Keep an eye out at the end of 2019 to book a reservation!

Tips from A to Z for your #UCFiesta Trip to AZ!

Out of 292,117 UCF alumni, 148, 572 do not live in Central Florida. Imagine shopping in Target and seeing someone else’s hometown team represented instead of yours. Upsetting, right? This is the life over half of our alumni population must lead. But thanks to our UCF Alumni chapters and clubs, a common bond is found, Watch Parties are hosted and UCF pride is reaching far beyond the 32816 area code.

One of the spots it has spread to is Phoenix, AZ. (Hey! That’s where the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl is!)

Chris Fleming ’06, who moved out to Arizona for work in February of 2016, is the current chair of the Phoenix UCF Alumni Club.

“Getting involved with the alumni group out here is actually one of the first things I did when I found out I was moving,” Chris explains. “I wanted to figure out if there was a group because if there wasn’t I was going to start one.”

Chris is really passionate about the importance of alumni chapters and clubs. He’s also really helpful as a guide for us longtime Floridians that don’t really know what to expect when planning a trip to Arizona. So we asked him about both!

What was it like for you when you first got involved with the Phoenix UCF Alumni Club?

My wife and I moved here after the 0-12 season, so our Alumni group had kind of been getting kicked around. We had some bad luck before I got here, it seemed like every restaurant we went to got closed down the next year. But my goal was and is to make this the best alumni group in the country. For last year’s season, we had our first kickoff for a game at 4 o’clock on a Thursday. We had found a bar called Cold Beers and Cheeseburgers — which is a great name for a place and the food is amazing — we asked if we could start coming as an alumni group. That first game was just my wife and I, and Adam, who was the chair before me. Now we’re somewhere between 20-30 people on a Saturday. But according to LinkedIn there are 500 alumni in Phoenix! My goal is the group keeps growing.

Why do you think it matters that alumni far and wide be a part of community together?

We already have a common bond and that’s the hardest thing about a community. In so many neighborhoods across the country, people close their garage doors, go inside and don’t ever talk to each other. So when we were building this community, we knew we already had something in common. Honestly, at a lot of our Watch Parties there’s a lot of not-watching going on. It’s more of catching up with each other.

Let’s talk Fiesta. What was your response when you found out that was the bowl game UCF was heading to?

It’s good to have it close to the west coast. I know it’s a lot harder for people to travel from the east coast, but there are a lot of hungry fans who couldn’t make it last year to the Peach Bowl from places like San Francisco, Vegas, Seattle…and now they can come and see their team play. Plus, Phoenix is probably one of the most friendly cities I’ve ever been to. It’s a really cool town.

What’s the food situation?

First off, right next to the airport there’s a place called Speedy Street Tacos. Whenever someone comes to town, that’s where I take them. It’s a little shipping container that they cut out a restaurant in and they cook all the steak and chicken outside on a charcoal grill. And Cold Beers and Cheeseburgers is a great spot to get together and they definitely deserve some of our business for being as great to the Alumni group as they are. There’s really good food across the board. There’s a big influence from Chicago and the Midwest, so there’s a lot of really good deep dish pizza.

Besides the game, what should people do when they’re in town?

As far as things to do in the valley, golfing is a big one. I think we have more golf courses than McDonald’s. There’s a cool little course in north Phoenix called Rancho Manana that I always take people to when they come to town. It’s up and down the side of a mountain. It’s a real outdoor city, so Camelback Mountain is great. There’s a lot of ability to hike this time of year because it’s 70 degrees and gorgeous outside.

Let’s pretend I’m a lifelong Floridian who doesn’t understand enough about geography to know how to pack for a trip to Arizona. What advice would you give me?

Well, there’s no humidity. So bring chap-stick and lotion. It does get down in the low 50s, high 40s this time of year, so at night you are going to need a jacket. It’s the opposite of Florida, with the mountains and the ability to be outside and hike — it’s a different atmosphere.

 


We know a lot of you are heading out to the Phoenix area for the first time ever and are clamoring for more tips for how to spend your time. We’ve gotten some great feedback through friends on social media that we thought we’d pass along!

COFFEE

Cartel Coffee and Jasmine Jo – Jay Veniard

You have to go to Dutch Bros. Super popular, several locations and there’s a secret online menu! Also, Snooze for breakfast and coffee. The pancakes are amazing -Jessica Combest

WHAT TO DO WHEN I’M NOT WATCHING FOOTBALL

Watch basketball! There are a couple Phoenix Suns games happening right around the day of the Fiesta Bowl, so catch one.

Taste it Tours. It’s a food tour with a 5-star rating on Trip Advisor and exposes guests to 5-6 of the not-tourist trap restaurants in Scottsdale, Phoenix and Gilbert. – Jay Veniard

Must check out Old Town Scottsdale. Great shopping off Main Street, Old Town also has free trolleys you can jump on and off. A lot of people like the Musical Instrument Museum. I recommend going to Sedona, it’s breathtaking. -Jessica Combest

FOR THE OUTDOORSY FOLKS

FOOD: WHERE TO GO, WHAT TO ORDER

Barrio Queen. Order the green chili pork appetizer, the pollo and chorizo taco and the cochinita pibil taco, along with a house margarita. And Cornish Pasty. Everything on their menu is amazing and made from scratch. I like their salmon pasty and Pilgrim pasty. You also have to try the tomato soup! – Jay Venierd

JUST SOME TIPS FROM A FAN WHO WAS THERE IN 2014: