Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week – April 1, 2019

1. Knight Nation pulled together and did something really big last Thursday. On UCF Day of Giving, 3,057 donors — a group of students, alumni, parents, faculty and friends of UCF — contributed a total of $291,072 toward the university. They contributed toward the first-generation student whose success will change the trajectory of her family’s future, toward the innovative and life-saving research happening on campus through programs like UCF Restores, and toward the countless aspiring musicians, star athletes, and future world-leaders who are being built by UCF. Thanks for that. Oh and here’s a cool fact, the top four class years for number of donors were 2021, 2019, 2020 and 2022. We’ve got some pretty phenomenal soon-to-be-alumni coming our way. Thank you for believing in UCF and supporting what you love.

2. 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 of suspense after that last play of our basketball matchup with Duke, we completely understand and here’s the web version.

3. UCF Celebrates the Arts kicks off this weekend! If you haven’t had a chance to yet, check out the schedule of events and figure out which guaranteed-to-be-awe-inspiring-displays-of-creativity-and-talent you want to be a part of. Whether you’re an art enthusiast or not so much, this annual event is a great excuse to plan a weekend excursion away from your Netflix account, to get some culture in your system and to support your alma mater all at the same time.

4. On March 28, the Florida Board of Governors confirmed Thad Seymour Jr. as the university’s interim president. Over the past several weeks, Dr. Seymour has provided stability and leadership for the university. He says, “Everyone I talk with is committed to making this a better place. And that’s why I am so optimistic about UCF’s future. We have some hard work ahead of us. But I know we will do it together. If my years in business taught me anything, it’s to use each challenge as an opportunity to be better, stronger and more effective than you were before.” To read Dr. Seymour’s priorities for UCF, head here.

5. One of the really rad things about UCF Day of Giving, besides that thing where 3,057 donors gave to UCF, was seeing the support we have across the country. Knights are spread far and wide and even those of you at a great distance from 4000 Central Florida Blvd. stepped up and gave big. If you are looking for a chance to meet other UCF alumni in your area, be a part of our regional alumni chapters and clubs. These groups gather all over the country to sport their black-and-gold, support UCF and make connections with fellow Knights.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know About UCF Day of Giving

1. UCF  Day of Giving is this Thursday. That means it’s in just a few days. That means that in just a handful of sleeps, all of Knight Nation — all the students, faculty, alumni, friends, parents, fans, non-aggressive Twitter followers — will come together and spend a full 24 hours supporting what they love and showing that they believe in UCF!

2. If  you love already know you love UCF, start thinking through specific areas within the university that are most exciting to you that you’d like to support. If your heart beats fast when you think of the fact that in 1 in 5 UCF students are first-generation college students, that’s love and you should do something about it. If you get excited thinking about all of the incredible opportunities our distinct colleges provide for our community, yep, that’s love and you can be a part of it. If you don’t sleep before a big game day because you just can’t contain your enthusiasm for all things Knights Athletics — you guessed it —that’s love and  you can show it.

3. Last year was our first ever Day of Giving. We hoped for 1,000 donors to come forward over the course of one day. We set an ambitious goal and not only did Knights crush it, but we nearly doubled it! But that’s how it works around here at UCF, you know? Set a bar, blow right through it, set a higher one. This year’s goal is 3,000 donors. And, bonus! Giving a gift on this day unlocks thousands of dollars in extra support for UCF — culminating in $95,000 worth of challenge gifts. And because UCF Day of Giving  has a donor-focused goal, literally every gift, big or small, counts toward us reaching the goal. It builds momentum. It gets us all one step closer to what we’ve set out to do.

4. We have already had a handful of Knights step up to plate and say they’re in. They’re game to support what they love and think you ought to as well. From New York to Conference Tournaments and Broadway stars, they’re committed to this BIG day of impact.

5. Thursday  is going to be big. Our collective action on this one day will have a lasting ripple effect for years to come. Giving a gift on Thursday is laying the groundwork now for the next big breakthrough in research to happen at UCF, for the next star athlete to train in UCF facilities, for the next generation of trailblazers to say they were built by UCF. We’re going to change the world this Thursday. You in? If so, get a head start and give now.

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

1. If you’ve been sleeping on what’s been going on in the world of basketball, it’s time to wake up and get your head in the game — big things are happening at your university. On Sunday evening, as part of CBS’s Selection Show, the ninth-seeded Knights heard their name called to head to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 14 years. We’ll be facing No. 8 seed VCU in the East Region on Friday, March 22 in Columbia, South Carolina. That’s right, South Carolina is lovely this time of year. Feel free to plan a last-minute trip to support the team!

2. OR let’s say you’re fully willing to support the team, but a South Carolina trip can’t quite fit into your schedule this week. Well, we’ve got good news for you, Knights. You can be a part of UCF Basketball’s unprecedented success by contributing to the team through a financial gift. How’s $9 sound as an homage to that #9 seed spot of ours? With your help, we can be March-Madness-bound this week, and other-future-greatness-bound up ahead.

3. Speaking of rankings, what about the 27 UCF graduate programs that were nationally ranked in the top 100 of their fields by U.S. News & World Report? We’ll tell you what — they exist and that really happened. This is a record number of programs ranked for the university, showing that, as predicted, we’re only getting better with age. Elizabeth A. Dooley, provost and vice president for academic affairs, puts it this way: “From our growing academic reputation to our successful athletic programs, the University of Central Florida has made impressive gains over the last decade. The new rankings reflect our focus on student success and faculty excellence and puts us one step closer to reaching our goal of becoming a 21st-century university committed to fueling the talent, ideas and innovation that will drive our community and state forward.”

4. This past Friday brought big news, lots of ear-to-ear grins and a swelling of pride for our medical students. Match Day, which  is one of the most important days for medical students, represents the beginning of their transition to resident physicians following their graduation from medical school. This year’s graduating class at the College of Medicine matched with residencies nationwide at a rate of 99 percent — higher than this year’s national average of 93.9 percent. If you want to just feel good to start off your week, read here about the students’ experience on Friday during Match Day festivities.

5. UCF Day of Giving is right around the corner! Day of Giving is about everyone with a tie to, an interest in and a passion for UCF. From our players pulling together to get the W to our researchers working together to create lasting solutions to today’s problems, at UCF we know that we’re strongest when we’re on the same team. That’s why Day of Giving is all about all of us — alumni, students, faculty, friends, parents — coming together to support what we love and show that we believe in UCF. Be a part of the big day next Thursday, March 28.

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

1. Imagine being a part of a university that is already well-respected, talked about often and at the top of the game in most games you suit up for. And then, imagine your two basketball teams being in the middle of the best seasons in program history and continuing to gain momentum toward competing for the American Athletic Conference Championship’s top prize. Now stop imagining ‘cause you’re a Knight and we’re talking about you and your school. The UCF Men’s and women’s basketball teams are crushing it these days. The women just spent the weekend running through their tournament with success and the men are getting set for their conference tournament later this week.

2. Last week, 30 of our young alumni got some very exciting news as we announced our 2019 class of 30 Under 30. Amongst the 30 recipients are mental health counselors, marketing and communications specialists, attorneys, psychologists, scientists, engineers, nurses, business owners, a Broadway performer, and other accomplished professionals. Congratulations to each of you; we can’t wait to celebrate you in April!

3. We’re also taking time in April to celebrate the arts with our fifth annual UCF Celebrates the Arts. This event showcases performers and artists from across the university and this year’s highlights include a Tony Award-Winning musical, ensemble and chamber concerts, opera, kid and family events, living art and much more. Be a part of it and get your tickets for what you wanna see soon.

4. In honor of the UCF College of Medicine Class of 2019, we encourage you to show your support of our soon-to-be Knight physicians by making a gift to the College of Medicine Alumni Fund, which benefits the College of Medicine and alumni initiatives. Between now and March 15 (which is in just a couple days, so don’t just think “yeah I want to do that” and then not, ‘cause, clock is a ticking and you already lost an hour of your life this weekend), please consider making a gift. Small gifts make a big impact, and ALL gifts make a difference. Match Day is Friday, March 15. Match Day is one of the most important days for medical students, representing the beginning of their transition to resident physicians following their graduation from medical school. Match results are kept secret nationwide until the third Friday in March at noon EDT, when all graduating M4s learn where they have matched.

5. You know how UCF is always doing that thing where we’re kind of a younger school, but we come out swinging and make a name for ourselves? We did it again. For the third consecutive year, UCF’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management is ranked among the top five best hospitality and hotel management schools in the world by CEOWorld Although the college opened just 15 years ago, it managed to be ranked among decades-old programs such as Switzerland’s Ecole hoteliere de Lausanne and the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University, which ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.

UCF Alumni Announces 2019 30 Under 30 Awards

On March 7, UCF Alumni announced the winners of its fifth annual 30 Under 30 Awards. Amongst the 30 recipients are mental health counselors, marketing and communications specialists, attorneys, psychologists, scientists, engineers, nurses, business owners, a Broadway performer, and other accomplished professionals.

“Our 2019 30 Under 30 recipients are extraordinary examples of what it means to represent UCF with pride,” says Jazmine Rodriguez ’10 ’12 , chair of UCF’s Young Alumni Council. “The impact this group has made in the world — through both their professional and personal lives — is an inspiration for all Knights to continue to reach for success. To think that these 30 individuals are just getting started is truly exciting. On behalf of the Young Alumni Council, I extend my sincerest congratulations on this well-deserved accomplishment. We are truly grateful to share an alma mater with such incredible individuals.”

Open-nominations for the 2019 class were accepted on from Jan. 7 through Feb. 7. Nominations were reviewed and scored by UCF Alumni staff and previous 30 Under 30 recipients, and winners were selected by the UCF Young Alumni Council. The finalists were then confirmed by the UCF Alumni Board based on the following criteria:

  • Must be a graduate of the University of Central Florida (undergraduate or graduate degree).
  • Must be age 29 or under on April 13, 2019.
  • Nominees for 30 Under 30 must demonstrate a commitment to maintaining a lifelong relationship with Knights and strive to uphold UCF Young Alumni values.

The winners will be recognized in a formal ceremony on campus at the UCF Morgridge International Reading Center on April 13. Below is the complete slate of honorees, listed in alphabetical order by last name.

Shainna Ali ’10 ’12MA ’16PhD
College of Sciences
College of Community Innovation and Education
Burnett Honors College

Chelsea Ball ’12
College of Sciences

Andrea Bejarano ’12
College of Sciences

Kate Champnella ’14
College of Sciences

Victoria Claypoole ’15MS ’18PhD
College of Sciences

Tyler Egbert ’11
College of Community Innovation and Education

Kacie Escobar ’13
College of Sciences
Burnett Honors College

Chris Garcia ’12 ’13MBA
College of Business

Sarah Gates ’14 
Rosen College of Hospitality Management

Danielle Gelfand ’13
College of Undergraduate Studies

Jean-Pierre Gilbert ’11
College of Business

Fawn Goldstein ’14 ’17MA
College of Sciences
College of Community Innovation and Education

Meyonka Gray ’13
College of Engineering and Computer Science

Jamie Gregor ’13
College of Sciences
College of Business
Burnett Honors College

Abby Jaros ’14
College of Arts and Humanities

Ali Kurnaz ’13
College of Sciences

Darius Lana ’11
College of Sciences

Amanda Leyva ’18
College of Nursing
Burnett Honors College

Jonathon Little ’11
College of Sciences

Valerie Moses ’13 ’19MBA
College of Sciences
College of Business
Burnett Honors College

Selina Mullenax ’12
Rosen College of Hospitality Management

Jenny Nguyen ’ 16PhD
College of Sciences

Lee Perry ’18
College of Undergraduate Studies

Trevor Persaud ’14
College of Undergraduate Studies

Dominic Piscitello ’12
College of Sciences

Danielle Price ’14
College of Sciences

Ashley Rogan ’10
College of Sciences

Nicholas Simons ’14
College of Business
Burnett Honors College

Alyssa Tanaka ’12 ’13MS ’15PhD
College of Sciences
College of Engineering and Computer Science

Alvaro Velasquez ’14 ’16MS ’18PhD
College of Engineering and Computer Science
Burnett Honors College

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

  1. The UCF men’s basketball team (that really ecstatic crew seen above) is coming off a huge win at No. 6/8 Houston that strengthened its resume for a bid to the NCAA Tournament and secured us our first top 25 spot on the AP Poll since 2011. Now, we’re calling on all Knights fans to help to #SellOutCFE for another big game against No. 22 Cincinnati. It will be the last time that seniors BJ Taylor, Chad Brown, Tacko Fall and the rest of the senior class suit up in UCF uniforms at CFE Arena, so let’s make it a night they won’t forget.

2. All alumni are invited to the UCF Celebrates the Arts Alumni Social! The event, hosted by the UCF College of Arts and Humanities Alumni Chapter, provides the opportunity for graduates from all of our colleges to celebrate the arts with fellow alumni. UCF alumni and Florida House Representatives Anna Eskamani ’12 ’15MNM ’15MPA and Carlos Guillermo Smith ’03, who have both been a voice in advocating the importance of the arts in Florida, will be available for conversation, there will be a Creative City Project Immersive Projection Installation, pictures with Knightro, Titanic the Musical, and plenty of other incredible things for the art-aficionado and the not-so-art-aficionado-but-interested-in-becoming-one-maybe-someday. Get your tickets and your details here.

3. He’s their person. Michael Metzner ’16MD serves as a medical advisor for Grey’s Anatomy. Metzner’s role is to ensure that what happens on the television drama is medically accurate — that diagnoses, surgical procedures, symptoms and dialogue are based on real science. He’s helped write scripts and has even appeared as an extra. Linda Klein, the show’s co-executive producer, calls Metzner “the best thing that has happened to Grey’s Anatomy in a long time.” And its lead actress, Ellen Pompeo, praises the young physician’s collaborative spirit, work ethic and his “intense passion to heal.” Read more here.

4. The Knights Helping Knights Pantry, a class project that started in a closet, has evolved into one of campus’ best resources for students. Celebrating its tenth year at UCF, the grass-roots initiative was started by a group of LEAD Scholars students during the Great Recession in 2009 simply seeking the goal of ensuring that students never had to choose between paying for food or paying for an education. Ten years later, the pantry still serves as an example to how students at UCF find their family in each other.

5. If you’ve been a little out of the loop about our partnership with Nemours, check the original story and video and take a minute to learn more about the PedsAcademy. Last week, others took notice as the New York Times and The Hechinger Report both shared stories about the UCF-led effort to help continue education for chronically-ill children that are often in the hospital for weeks, months or even years, missing their schooling. Through the use of virtual reality, robotics and other digital learning tools, students can keep up with their studies right at their beside if needed. Another example of our students and faculty making a tremendous impact in our community!

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week – Feb. 25, 2019

1. On Feb. 21, UCF’s Board of Trustees voted to accept the resignation of President Dale Whittaker. While we are disheartened over the decision, we are confident in the tenacity of this university and our ability to unite together in the face of hardship. Knight Nation is the sum of all of us — all of our students’ ambitions, the accomplishments of our alumni, and our faculty and staff members’ successes. We appreciate the profound impact Dr. Whittaker has had on our university in his time here and are forever grateful that he and Mary are forever Knights. Moving forward, we trust that we are even more fully equipped to pull together and charge on.

2. Let’s be honest, last week was tough. We can think of no better way to start healing than some time doing yoga with goats and benefiting Limbitless Solutions. Yes, Goat Yoga is a thing. Wrap your head around it now, join us for it March 9. Pack your yoga mat and prepare your mind to trade out worries and stress for thoughts of serenity and friendly baby goats.

3. Are you looking for an excuse to use the word “thrice” today? We’ve got you covered. Feel free tell anyone who will listen that in the last three months UCF projects have exited Earth’s atmosphere not once, not twice, but thrice. In December, an experiment flew aboard Virgin Galactic’s maiden voyage into space. In January, a similar experiment flew aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft. And last Friday we did it again. It’s casual. UCF is doing literally out-of-this-world things.

4. The Orlando Sentinel is hosting a career fair on March 21 and there is no better pool of talent in Central Florida than our alumni. This is a multi-industry event with both full-time and part-time positions. Dust off that résumé and get the details you need here.

5. UCF graduate student Eric Camarillo ’16 had planned to start an organization after graduation to help the homeless in Central Florida with food, clothing and other necessities, but decided he couldn’t stand by and wait — so he started early to fill those immediate needs. Camarillo, who earned a degree in social work and is currently pursuing his master’s degree in nonprofit management at UCF, started Service and Love Together Outreach, Inc. to provide consistent support and stability to the homeless community. “I thought I would do all of these things when I graduated in order to have an impact on people,” he says, “but why not do something now?” Read more of Eric’s story.

UCF Alumni Will Charge On

As you’ve likely heard, on Feb. 21, UCF’s Board of Trustees voted to accept the resignation of President Dale Whittaker. While we are disheartened over the decision, we are confident in the tenacity of this university and our ability to unite together in the face of hardship. Knight Nation is the sum of all of us — all of our students’ ambitions, the accomplishments of our alumni, and our faculty and staff members’ successes. We appreciate the profound impact Dr. Whittaker has had on our university in his time here and are forever grateful that he and Mary are forever Knights. Moving forward, we trust that we are even more fully equipped to pull together and charge on.

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.”