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.

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.

Kings Of Pop

Brandon (left) and Adam (right) Chandler, co-owners of Pop Parlour

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (May 12, 2017) – The groundbreaking of the UCF Downtown campus on Thursday had a little extra pop of flavor thanks to local businessmen and brothers, Brandon ’10 and Adam Chandler.

The owners of Pop Parlour, a gourmet popsicle and coffee shop, crafted the Partnership Pop of a strawberry, mango and chocolate mashup to commemorate the special occasion. The three flavors symbolize the school colors of Valencia and UCF, which will share the new campus in Parramore that is expected to serve 7,700 students from both institutions when it opens in 2019.

The Chandler brothers were eager to be involved in the historic day and were excited about the blend of flavors.

“We wanted to make sure above anything it tasted the best it could. Black isn’t an easy color to do, but the chocolate is pretty close and it’s delicious. This year, the strawberries and mangos have been the best fruits I’ve ever gotten. It really came together nicely,” said Brandon, who graduated from UCF with an accounting degree. “Doing things like this is a really good way to be in the community, and it’s a city and a school I love.”

Pop Parlour will continue selling its stock of the Partnership Pop in both its downtown and UCF locations for at least the next several weeks. Although strawberry season is ending soon, Brandon said that they will incorporate the pop in their menu as much as possible.

The Partnership Pop is a blend of the school colors for Valencia (strawberry) and UCF (mango and chocolate).

It’s the latest inspiration in a string of unforeseen circumstances that have helped grow their brand.

“[The business has] taken a life that I’m really proud of, but I didn’t see coming four years ago,” Brandon said.

When Brandon graduated from UCF in 2010, he had several self-proclaimed terrible business ideas, from purchasing a bankrupt amusement park to buying a soccer team in England.

His mom, Babette, talked him out of it each time. When he mentioned popsicles, he got her approval and that was good enough for him to leave his full-time steady income job to pursue the venture.

Given their family history, it’s not a surprise.

The name of the Chandler brothers’ business, Pop Parlour, is an ode to their grandfather, Joseph, whom they called PopPop.

Joseph returned to the States after World War II and interviewed for a job at Rieck’s Dairy in Pittsburgh (later to become Sealtest). Apparently, he impressed the interviewer so much that he invited Joseph to come to his house for dinner to meet his daughter. That is how he met Brandon and Adam’s grandmother.

Joseph made ice cream at the dairy until it closed in the 1970s.

“There was never a day with PopPop that we didn’t go get ice cream,” Adam said. “It was always kind of there.”

They opened their store in 2013, months before their grandfather passed away. He was proud to see his grandsons’ dream realized, even if he was a little apprehensive about their potential for a profitable future.

“He told Brandon not to quit his day job. He thought we were a little nuts because back in his day popsicles were like 5 cents, and we told him we were going to charge $3.50. So he thought we were crazy, but he said, ‘If you can get it, good for you!’” Adam said with a laugh.

Now, they deliver their popsicles to companies all over the country. Their popular boozy pops are always in demand even though they were never in the original business plan. Cigar City Brewing came in their store on their second day of business and asked if it could be done.

Coffee was never in the plans either, but when the UCF storefront offered more space than they typically used, they decided to try it out. Now, they’re planning to expand their coffee services in their downtown location off Lake Eola by this summer.

Brandon has been grateful that the Orlando community makes an effort to shop local. As the two brothers handed out popsicle after popsicle at the groundbreaking, Brandon said hopes that they can one day serve the Parramore community, too.

“It’s an area we’re excited to get involved in if we can. We live right here,” he said. “I think it’s important to support these local businesses. It means a lot to us. My brother and I are in the stores working every day, and I don’t think we’d want to do anything else.”

Knights’ Love For Bacon And Bots

Courtesy of Exploding Bacon

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (May 10, 2017) – With a name like Exploding Bacon, it’s hard to believe that the moniker was the second choice for a local youth robotics team led by alumna Elise Cronin-Hurley ’90 ’94MPA.

Organized Chaos was voted as the winner – conceptualized by a random name generator – but when the mother of the lead mentor doodled a pig riding a rocket as a potential logo, the team knew it needed to reverse its decision.

Now, 12 years since that day, Exploding Bacon is coming off its largest win in team history as a Chairman’s Award finalist at the 2017 Houston FIRST World Championships.

FIRST was founded nearly 30 years ago to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology. The Chairman’s Award is FIRST’s most prestigious award and is given to the teams that best represent a model for others to emulate.

“We are very proud because it’s definitely not just this year’s Exploding Bacon team who won that award. It’s built on a lot of people’s sweat and tears and a lot of effort and just a passion and a heart for it,” Cronin-Hurley said. “We’re very close knit group. Once you’re bacon, you’re always bacon.”

Cronin-Hurley had never heard of Exploding Bacon when she drove her son, Zachary, to the team’s headquarters for the first time in 2011. Unsure of what her teenager was signing up for, she wanted to learn more about the program, so she stuck around that first practice and has been there ever since.

Zachary, now a mechanical engineering major, is one of three current UCF students who volunteer with the team and said he has incorporated lessons and textbook materials from his coursework at UCF into his role as a mentor for Exploding Bacon.

Over the years, Cronin-Hurley’s role has also changed. She worked her way from serving as a volunteer parent to the lead of the FIRST Robotics Club program.

The political science, organizational communication and public administration alumna owns a freelance graphic and web design business. She said she never envisioned working with students or becoming a teacher. Yet, the relationships she has built over the years has kept her coming back.

“You really care about their individual progression and what they’re able to accomplish, and you want to help them,” she said. “I work all day on a computer for 8-10 hours and then I come here for 2-5 hours a night. This is what feeds me. Working with them feeds me.”

Dominic Canora, who attends Lake Highland Prep, is co-president of the 30-member team this year and will attend UCF in the fall as a freshman, choosing the university over Georgia Tech.

His fellow team members hail from 12 different schools or home school. They span five different counties, and some drive one hour each way to attend a four-hour practice session weekdays during competition season.

In a six-week span, the 30-member team builds and programs an industrial-size robot to play a difficult field game against more than 15,000 students from around the world.

Exploding Bacon’s robot, which was built in a six-week span, at the FIRST World Championships | Courtesy of Exploding Bacon

In addition to its annual competition, Exploding Bacon established the #FIRSTLikeAGirl video campaign to share the stories of the women and girls on the team to inspire and encourage girls everywhere to pursue their interests in STEM.

Alexis Bishop is a UCF student and a mentor on the team who has eagerly helped develop the program.

“I take pride in being a role model for girls on the team,” she said. “It’s been a really great thing to be a part of. It’s really important to me that they know if I can do this, they can definitely do this.”

Exploding Bacon also participates in an average of 30-40 demonstrations and outreach events each year, and in this year alone has totaled 1,130 volunteer hours.

The team holds STEM summer camps and has created an international outreach program that provides Spark science kits with reusable experiments and instructions for students with few resources to help them develop problem solving skills in their own communities.

“We’re trying to figure out how to make the world be a better place,” Cronin-Hurley said. “Everybody needs to pitch in, so if we can help spark those problem solving skills in kids in their own countries, then maybe we can help build everything from the ground up.”

There’s No Stopping These Girls on the Run

Alumna Jessica Richards ’02 started a Girls on the Run group this year at Dover Shores Elementary

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (May 2, 2017) – When hundreds of elementary school aged runners crossed the finish line at Saturday’s Run for the Trees Jeannette Genius McKean Memorial 5k presented by Track Shack and held in Winter Park, some of their biggest cheerleaders were their coaches – all UCF alumnae who are also educators from Orange or Seminole county public schools.

Over the last two and a half years, at least 26 alumnae have been involved in coaching Girls on the Run teams, according to the organization’s research. Eight of those coaches were involved in the spring 2017 season that culminated in Saturday’s race.

“Having UCF here in Orlando and UCF graduates as part of team of volunteers helps us honor one of our core values – finding strength in our connectedness,” said Karen Allen, executive director of Orlando’s Girls on the Run. “Our girls are making meaningful connections with UCF alumni who make positive contributions in the girls’ lives. We want girls to be familiar with our local university because it might be part of their pathway to fulfilling their limitless potential.”

Girls on the Run was established in 1996 in Charlotte, North Carolina. With the help of over 55,000 volunteers, the Girls on the Run program is now serving over 130,000 girls in more than 200 cities across North America each year, according to its website.

Meeting twice a week, teams of an average 15 members are taught life skills through dynamic, interactive lessons and running games. The lessons and physical activity are used to inspire and motivate girls, encourage lifelong health and fitness and build self-confidence.

Katie Heriot ’16 and Heidi Bedrossian ’06 ’09MEd, who are both language arts teachers at Oviedo’s Stenstrom Elementary, said they weren’t really sure what to expect before starting the program and thought that mustering motivation to run would be their biggest hurdle with their team. Their experience has been quite the opposite.

Stenstrom Elementary, led by Katie Heriot ’16 and Heidi Bedrossian ’06 ’09MEd

“I think they turned it into something really cool. They’ve taken it and made it fun,” Heriot said. “It’s really hard to be confident as a girl, and at this age, it’s awkward and a lot of them are going through it by themselves. It’s been really cool to see how they’ve developed as a person and found their voice.”

Topics include dealing with self-image and the media, resisting peer-pressure, making healthy decisions and contributing to the community.

Fifth-grader Alexandria Geremiah, 11, enjoyed running with her dad prior to joining the Dover Shores Elementary team with her friends. She said being part of the program has fostered her passion for running, and she tries to live by what she has learned from her weekly practices.

“Gossiping doesn’t help anybody. Being a bully is just letting off your steam on other people. Commercials are not always about making you pretty or the real thing. They can be fake,” she said.

Dover Shores Rock ‘Em Socks

Geremiah’s coach, Jessica Richards, graduated from UCF in 2002 and knew she wanted to start a Girls on the Run program at her school when she saw the organization’s booth as a runner in a local race.

She is already looking forward to the fall 2017 season’s 5K because it will be held at her alma mater on Dec. 9.

Richards said that she loves the strong sense of community she feels by working and living in the city where she graduated from college and tries to instill the importance of education not only with her Girls on the Run team, but also in her classroom.

“I have UCF stuff all over my classroom, and I’m always promoting the idea that college starts at kindergarten. Everything you do, even in elementary school, is leading you to college and to more choices in your life,” she said. “I work at a Title I school, so we have a lot of kids whose parents haven’t gone to college, and I try to stress to them that education is the key to turning their passions into careers and possibilities for the future. That can happen with Girls on the Run, too, getting that confidence and seeing the importance of making your way toward college.”

Jen Steinhoff ’16, who leads Eagle Creek Elementary
Brookshire Elementary, led by Jess Rios ’09
Dr. Phillips Elementary School, led by Shereen Baghi ’14
Andover Elementary, led by Tara Banks ’04

To Have And To Hold, Forever Black And Gold

Alumni Brent and Bryanna Beumel were married in November by one of their favorite UCF professors, Jeff Biddle

ORLANDO, Fla. (Feb. 14, 2017) – Brent Beumel ’14 and his fianceé Bryanna La Londe ’13 were driving back to Florida in November 2015 from a weekend trip in Savannah, where Brent had just popped the question in a historical bed and breakfast.

Giddy off the high of their engagement, they started imagining what their wedding day would look like. Who would officiate the ceremony?

Without a moment’s hesitation, long-time UCF sports and exercise science instructor Jeff Biddle emerged at the top of their list.

“He’s what every professor should be to a student. He doesn’t want you to just come in and get your degree and walk out. You could go into his office anytime he was in there and talk with him. He loved to get to know people and what you wanted to do with your life,” Bryanna said. “He was the first person we thought of.”

The now-Beumels met in 2012 in a biomechanics class at UCF’s South Lake campus in Clermont.

They started out as friends. Bryanna had plans to move to Portland, Oregon, at summer’s end. After a month, their relationship progressed to more than friends.

“And then I didn’t go! And it worked out well,” Bryanna said with a smile.

The two finished their sports and exercise science degrees, frequently driving the hefty commute out to Clermont – Bryanna drove 70 miles one way from her mother’s home in Merritt Island — because they loved the program and professors, especially Biddle, so much.

“Every class that he taught in our major, I tried to sign up with him. He made the drive out to Clermont worth it,” said Brent, who lived less than eight miles from UCF’s main campus at the time. “It was an hour to get out there, but you knew when you’d have him at 8 o’clock in the morning it was going to be fun. It wasn’t just staring at a PowerPoint for an hour and a half. You were interacting with him and all the other students. He made it enjoyable. He’s not one we’ll forget.”

Bryanna, a first-generation student, graduated in 2013 and is now working in the rehabilitation department at Arnold Palmer Hospital. Brent graduated a year later as a second-generation UCF alumnus.

As fate would have it, Brent’s parents met while they were students at UCF at a house party on Alafaya. His mother Linda graduated in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry.

They didn’t expect that decades later, their son would mirror their love story and find his future wife while at school.

“UCF helped make me who I am. The experiences I had through sport and exercise molded me into the trainer and coach that I am now,” said Brent, who works at CrossFit Firebase in Orlando. “I view it as a starting off point. That’s where we met. It’s where my parents met, as well. It holds a special value in that to me.”

Brent and Bryanna got married on Thanksgiving weekend in 2016 at Club Lake Plantation in Apopka with a black-and-gold-bow-tie-clad Biddle as their officiant.

Their grandparents gifted the couple their wedding rings and served as ring bearers in their ceremony.

The gold band of Brent’s ring belonged to his grandfather. It had to be pieced back together after it was cut off his grandfather’s finger following a motorcycle accident.

When the jeweler melded it together, he chose a black zirconium to sandwich it, making it the perfect color combination for Brent’s UCF roots.

As the couple anticipated, Biddle was a hit among the family in attendance. He was as comical and engaging in the ceremony as he is in the classroom.

In order to perform the ceremony, the professor needed to obtain a notary license. He told the couple to leave the logistics to him and insisted on paying the associated fee.

Biddle, who makes it a point to attend as many of his students’ commencement ceremonies as he can, said that Brent and Bryanna’s request to serve as their officiant was an honor and a privilege.

That realization hit him even harder when he recently watched their wedding video.

“Their kids and their kids’ kids are going to be watching that video. I’m permanently a part of their lives and their family’s lives from now on. And that’s pretty cool,” Biddle said. “I am thrilled that they asked me, thrilled that they wanted me to do it. It is certainly one of the bigger moments to happen in my life.”

What he may not realize is that he already secured a special place in their lives a long time ago.

“Being a first generation degree seeker – professors are who I looked up to for guidance and direction throughout the whole process. Dr. Biddle was a role model for me,” Bryanna said. “Finding what you love to do may change over the years and that’s OK. That is something I learned from him. I don’t even know if I’ve ever told him this, but it’s how I feel about him and what he’s done for me.”

Alumnus Holds Key To Big Data

Big Data Symposium’s keynote speaker Lee Odess ’99 alongside his family

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (Jan. 23, 2017) – In the past, the biggest threat from a data breach was to the individual. But now with the onset of Big Data, there are much bigger threats and even bigger opportunities.

Few people, however, understand what Big Data is or how it can be used, said Lee Odess ’99, vice president of UniKey and the keynote speaker for UCF’s Big Data Symposium on Jan. 26 at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center.

“The goal of my presentation is, more or less, to give real life examples of what Big Data is and the impact it can have,” Odess said. “Typically you are either super smart on Big Data and have a hard time communicating it, or you are a person who has heard of it but isn’t too sure how to get started. My goal is to bridge the two.”

Practical examples of Big Data are everywhere and can be implemented by both big and small companies. For instance, a company can analyze marketing impacts via its social media reach; predictive analytics can narrow in on customers’ shopping preferences; or it can help analyze where a business should open up its next retail location.

Big Data’s role in our society is one of the reasons UCF’s Colleges of Science, Business and Engineering and Computer Science came together to host the symposium. UCF business professors Robert Porter ’81 ’10PhD and Amit Joshi, PhD; statistics professor Shunpu Zhang, PhD; and Ivan Garibay ’00MS ’04PhD, director of UCF Research Information Systems and chief information officer at the UCF Office of Research and Commercialization, are among the speakers who will talk about practical ways companies, nonprofits and individuals can tap into Big Data to benefit their communities and society.

Odess was a natural choice for the talk because of his familiarity with the use of Big Data within his own profession.

“For UniKey we didn’t wake up one day and say, ‘Hey, we need Big Data.’ We did however say, ‘Hey, we need to start understanding exactly how, when, where our customers are using the locks and mobile applications powered by UniKey,” he said. “So we put the systems and tools in place to be able to collect every bit of data we could. Then once we had it, we spent the time to come up with the algorithms and dashboards to easily digest the information. Now, with a touch of a button we are no longer guessing how, when and where customers are using the product. We are 100 percent clear on it.“

In 2012, Odess was the director of sales operations for security company Brivo Systems when he was watching “Shark Tank” on television one night and saw fellow UCF alumnus Phil Dumas ’05 pitching his smart lock. It was the first time in Shark Tank history that all five investors wanted to buy into an idea.

Odess reached out to Dumas after the show and said that given their UCF roots and similar industries, they should get to know each other. Dumas agreed.

They kept in touch over the years, and when Brivo Systems was sold in 2015, Odess wanted to join with a startup that had growth opportunity. He saw UniKey as that opportunity.

His day-to-day responsibilities as vice president include business development, human resources, participation in the overall strategy for the company and its existing customer base.

Dumas and Odess aren’t the only Knights with UniKey. Odess said 80 percent of the company’s 50 employees are alumni.

“Initially people think we’re from Silicon Valley. When we tell them we’re from Orlando, we explain to them we have some hidden gems here, one of them being the university,” he said. “We look for people that want to be in this area. We think the school does a really good job preparing the students for work. It just makes sense. There isn’t a need for us to look outside what’s in front of our face.”

Odess speaks from experience.

Born in Cleveland, he grew up in South Florida before he moved to Pittsburgh, where he graduated from high school. He considered nearly two dozen universities and picked UCF because he said it just felt right.

“There seemed to be a lot of history to be written,” he said. “I liked that.”

The day after he graduated with his bachelor’s in business, he packed up his car and started driving toward Pennsylvania, where a job with Lutron Electronics awaited him.

After eight years with Lutron, he moved to Washington D.C. and worked for a variety of companies, including several startups of his own, Fresh Confections and energy + light + control llc.

In order to become more acclimated to a new city, he rekindled his relationship with UCF by joining the D.C. alumni chapter.

Now that he’s back in Orlando, he is happy to have an opportunity to further his relationship with his alma mater by lending his time to the symposium.

“I’m proud of the fact that I have an opportunity to make a difference,” Odess said. “There’s a true partnership with the university – it has aspirations and goals, and I feel like it realizes that the people that have come out of it are going to help carry it in that direction.”

The Symposium will be held Jan. 26 from 6-8 p.m. at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center. The event is free, but RSVP online is required. To learn more about the event, click here.

Alumni Band Rocks On To Big Win

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (Dec. 23, 2016) — A self-taught musician, Jonnie Morgan ’10 won a national songwriter contest last week that will send his band – the aptly named Jonnie Morgan Band – to Los Angeles for a recording session in legendary Village Studios.

“We really want to put Orlando on the map as a music city. It’s very important to me to try to build that culture, and that’s why this contest is almost as important to me as anything else,” he said. “I feel like there’s a responsibility to represent where you’re from.”

Morgan grew up on the west coast of Florida and ended up at UCF based off a recommendation from his 10th-grade high school Spanish teacher.

He studied economics and minored in marketing – not exactly the DNA of rock stars. But as a junior, the he started to write his own music.

His inspiration for one of his earliest songs was what else, but a relationship. He called the love song Saranade, named after the girl he wrote it for.

“To this day, it’s still some people’s favorite song of mine,” he said. “Once I wrote that song, the floodgates opened. Everyone was like where are these songs coming from?”

Soon after he formed a band with bass guitarist Jeremy Adams ’12. The two serendipitously met at a pizza place on campus.

They drafted other bandmates along the way, including Brandon Sollins ’11 ’15MS, at open mic nights and local gigs. He thanks former SGA presidential duo Logan Berkowitz ’08 and Brandon Delanois ’10 for always pushing him to perform by booking him for tailgates or happy hours at the Dungeon.

“I love this university. I love everything that it stands for. The experiences. The friends that I’ve made. The people that have helped me and still help me to this day,” he said. “This is the place where I found out I wanted to do music for the rest of my life, and I think that’s something special.”

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The band has experienced some pretty cool moments, like opening up for Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Cheap Trick at the 2013 SunFest. Even though some of the players have changed in the lineup, the Jonnie Morgan Band has become family.

That family includes Morgan’s wife, Amie, who has been there rooting for him every step of the way, even as she battled breast cancer twice before the age of 29.

Morgan was in the room with her both times she learned she had cancer. He was there for her treatments, the scans, the tests and cared for her through six surgeries. Their first four months of marriage earlier this year included the bulk of her chemotherapy treatment.

“I am so thankful that I have had Jonnie next to me through this, I am not sure how I would have handled it without him,” she said. “I am a very practical person, and I never expected to be a musician’s wife. It’s a bit of a different lifestyle. But I see this guy, and he is just so talented. As an added bonus, he has surrounded himself with such an amazing group of guys in the band. We have really created such a great JMB family, and I am so thankful for each one of them.”

Now that Amie has been deemed cancer free, the band went back to recording music and booked tours in different regions of the United States in the New Year.

When a booking agent called about the EON One Take contest, Morgan figured why not? The contest was judged by legend Quincy Jones and Andrew McMahon (known for hit song Cecilia and the Satellite).

JMB made it to an initial cut of 20 semifinalist, to a top 10, to finally the last band standing with a trip to Village Studios.

“This is what we’re supposed to do and this is the time to do it,” he said.

Village Studios has hosted legends like Fleetwood Mac, The Rolling Stones, B. B. King and Bob Dylan to current artists like Lady Gaga, Coldplay, Taylor Swift and John Mayer. Even soundtracks like “The Bodyguard” and “The Shawshank Redemption” were recorded there.

He said winning the contest has helped give him the confidence to continue pursuing what he feels is his purpose in life – helping people. He believes music is the tool to achieve it.

“If you look at some of the greats – Bob Marley, Bob Dylan – they have shaped people’s lives. They help you when you’re down. They help you think about things differently,” he said. “I feel like that’s one of my purposes.”

From First Generation To Family Tradition

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By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (Dec. 8, 2016) – As a UCF Alumni board member, season ticket holder, Oviedo resident and occasional guest lecturer, Ryan Vescio ’02 visits UCF’s campus more than most. And when the assistant state attorney returns, his three children are frequently in tow.

Ella, 10, Sophia, 9, and Owen, 5, are big fans of tailgating. They debate the merits of their favorite basketball players. They recently got their wish granted to eat at Knightro’s with their dad. They periodically exchange hellos with President John C. Hitt and his wife, Martha, who know them by name thanks to Owen’s habit of running into their CFE Arena suite when he was 2.

To Ella, Sophia and Owen, the idea of college is nothing out of the ordinary – almost an expected path they will one day follow. The same cannot be said for Vescio, a first-generation college student.

“We never talked about college in my house. For my parents, it wasn’t a reality. You pick a job and you go and do your thing,” he said. “It’s incredible to watch that transition of how much one generation can really change the future of a family.”

The son of a hairdresser and auto mechanic, Vescio grew up in Melbourne in a double wide trailer on the grounds of an elementary school. His father was diagnosed with renal disease when Vescio was 10. The oldest of his siblings, he learned to grow up quickly.

He aspired to be a journalist, and thanks to a persistent teacher, he was granted access to cover his first NASA space shuttle launch at the age of 14 for a middle and high school newswire service he helped start. The news story he wrote landed on the front page of Florida Today’s Sunday edition, above the fold.

With the help of Florida Bright Futures Scholarship and Pell Grants, he made his dream of attending college a reality.

After a brief stint studying journalism at the University of South Carolina, he transferred to UCF to be closer to his ailing father. He also switched gears and took an interest in political science and law.

“I think about if I wasn’t as persistent as I was, if I didn’t want better, if I didn’t have the help of other people, I would have never had the experiences that I’ve been able to have,” he said. “Our university is a little different than the others around us, and I think that that’s nothing but positive. It’s exciting to watch traditions being built, but it’s equally as exciting to not have traditions hold us back. We can do anything, we can be anywhere, we can influence anything.”

He threw himself into college life, and his influence is still part of daily activity at UCF today. He was involved in the plans that led to the Recreation and Wellness Center being built. He also was there the day they came up with the idea to rope off the Pegasus on the floor of the Student Union.

“We never thought it would last,” he said with a laugh. “I get a kick around graduation when I see on social media the big deal about taking a graduation picture with the Pegasus. It really blows my mind.”

Vescio graduated with his bachelor’s in political science one year before his father passed away and says one of his proudest life moments is knowing that his father witnessed his son’s graduation day. He went on to law school at Nova Southeastern and is now director of modernization and assistant state attorney, Office of the State Attorney, 9th Judicial Circuit.

Vescio believes in his public service role and is fueled by fighting for the truth. Most of his work entails homicide and major crime cases. He believes it is an honor to serve as a voice for people who have suffered.

His life has come full circle now as a donor, supporting UCF Athletics, UCF Alumni and first-generation students.

“Being a Knight has given me the opportunity to go out and make a positive impact on our community,” he said. “The only limitation for Knights is our own self reservation.

Why I Give Back, by Ryan Vescio:

We owe it to future students to pay it forward and help them. To me, that’s everything from being involved on the alumni board, to showing up to events, to buying football tickets, to donating money that I have. Although I can’t write a $1 million check today, I know that my donation helps to fund a scholarship. To fund a program to go out and find students. It’s so important to be involved and engaged because there are so many high school students out there right now who think of college as this thing, but they can’t conceptualize it because it’s not a reality in their family or in their neighborhood or environment. That to me is the student that comes here and works even harder because it means so much to them. That’s the student who leaves here and becomes the research scientist, the filmmaker, the lawyer.

One in four students at UCF are the first in their family to attend college. To support first-generation students like Ryan Vescio, click here.

UCF Alumna Bright As Broadway

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By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (Nov. 16, 2016) – Three weeks after earning her degree a semester early in December 2014, Abby Jaros sat on her bed alongside her parents in a packed up apartment.

All at once, Jaros realized the leap she was about to take in moving to New York City to pursue a career in theater. She questioned herself: Is this really what I should do?

“My dad said, ‘You know what Abby? If not you, who?’” Jaros recalled. “And that is a confidence that I have to take with me everywhere that I go.”

Since then, Jaros has appeared in several regional theater productions and is fresh off her first national tour for Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat. The tour spanned nine months and included a trip to Japan.

Recently, she returned to UCF’s School of Performing Arts to conduct an informational workshop with current students. As someone who has navigated the ins and outs of making it in the city on her own, Jaros wanted to provide some guidance to the school that became like a family to her.

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Abby Jaros’ workshop at UCF School of Performing Arts

“From the second I stepped foot on this campus, it felt like home. The people here were so welcoming,” she said. “In life, you really have to thank the people who put themselves out there for you. And this was the only school that did. I am forever thankful to people who go out on a limb for me. I’m thankful to represent UCF.”

Jaros grew up as a dancer. She always viewed it as a hobby until she started musical theater in high school as a creative outlet.

She intended to study marine biology in college. Her parents were supportive of her passion for theater, but also erred on the side of practicality when it came to her future career path.

That all changed when Jaros attended Broadway Theater Project, a three-week intensive learning experience under the direction of Broadway directors, choreographers, casting directors and producers.

Before her final showcase of the Project, with her parents sitting in the audience, Jaros was given the Gregory Hines Scholarship, presented to students who show artistic merit. The scholarship offers training and performance opportunities and encourages pre-professional level students to continue with their studies with on-stage performing experience.

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AbbyJaros.com/Dancers Of New York

She’ll never forget the date, Aug. 1, 2010, when her parents encouraged her to follow her dreams.

“They said they were 100 percent behind me because of getting the scholarship that day,” she said. “They said, ‘We will accompany you to any audition you want to go to. Whatever you want, we will do whatever it takes.’”

Since moving to New York City, the musical theater alumna is constantly on the move. She has been seen for commercial work, television and film roles and of course, theater work.

She is helping a fellow UCF alumnus work on his script for a feature film. She has been featured on the Dancers of New York blog and had a personal project video go viral on YouTube.

When her friends invited her on a weekend getaway to Disney this fall, she booked her trip with some extra days set aside to visit UCF.

“I wanted to come and see my alma mater and really give back because they gave me so much. I think that’s the most important thing – remembering your roots and where you came from,” she said. “A lot of alums from here help me up in New York. It’s such a great community.”

Jaros covered the basics – who photographs good headshots, social media tricks to finding an affordable place to live and where to attend worthwhile classes.

She also offered up words of encouragement, motivating the students to put themselves out there and connect with people.

When she recounted her story of the insecurity she felt before making the leap to New York, senior Amanda Hornberger wiped away tears from her seat in the crowd. Hornberger said it was comforting and helpful to learn from someone who understands the journey that she herself is trying to pursue.

“What I loved that she kept saying was: ‘Find your people. We are a community.’ That’s why I do theater and performing to begin with because I found a community of people here,” Hornberger said. “There is something special about people in the arts. They understand how to be there for each other.”