UCF Alumnus Memorializes Pulse Tragedy Through Art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Story All About How: UCF Alumna Illustrates Book Inspired by The Fresh Prince

Gladys Jose ’12 knows the exact length it is from Will Smith’s name to her own on the cover of the new children’s book, Fresh Princess. She also knows that her name being on the cover of anything involving Will Smith is a pretty phenomenal thing.

“Whenever I’m asked how this Fresh Princess thing happened, it’s just, the stars aligned in such a way,” Gladys says. “It’s an anomaly. I know this isn’t normal!”

Growing up an only child with a single mom, Gladys learned two things early on in her life: how to be very independent and how to fill her time doing something she loved — drawing.

Though, yes, this story ends with her being the illustrator for a hit book backed by a Man In Black, she didn’t necessarily think of her childhood spent drawing as a career possibility. When she started college (first at Valencia, and then Direct Connect to UCF), she selected psychology as a major. It wasn’t until her then-boyfriend-now-husband suggested a design class as a fun elective option that she started considering it.

“He ended up dropping out of the class the first week and I’m sitting there like ‘OK, well, thanks dude,’” Gladys says. “But that is what kind of started all this. I sat in the classroom and realized that design one class was a lot more fun than anything else I was taking.”

As Gladys started preparing for graduation from UCF in 2012, she was hoping to land a full-time job at a design firm. She had a game plan of 20 different design firms she was going to apply to. A month prior to graduation, at a portfolio critique with local design-industry professionals, Gladys was confident that she’d show her portfolio off and get a job offer. She had a feeling it was her moment.

She had four sit-downs with design firms lined up and decided to throw author/illustrator Ethan Long into her extra spot near the end of the day.

“At that point I only had two illustrations in my portfolio,” Gladys says. “I just went for the feedback. He illustrates picture books and I was going to be a designer. He looks at my portfolio and he’s just kind of like ‘Meh’ at it, until he got to the last illustrations and was like, ‘This! This is what you need to be doing! Why don’t you have more of this in here?’”

Gladys explains that she had never considered freelance, illustration or freelance illustration. Yet when she got home that day she typed “how to be an illustrator” into the Google search-bar and a new game plan was set in motion. She would do freelance graphic design and in her spare time work on developing herself as an illustrator.

In her research, Gladys came across the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. The international organization offers, in addition to several other benefits, conferences and portfolio critiques for aspiring illustrators, which Gladys now fit into the category of. At an event in February 2015, Gladys met with Chris Tugeau of The CAT Agency and was told that her portfolio was ready and that it was clear she understood who she was as an artist.

This was as much good news as Gladys needed to confidently reach out to Chris a few days later with a thanks-for-the-feedback-also-will-you-represent-me email. In February of 2015, the answer was not now.

A little over a year later, a new burst of confidence set in and Gladys submitted her portfolio to the daughter of The CAT Agency duo, Christy T. Ewers. In August of 2016, the answer was, still, not now.

“I didn’t draw for like three months after that,” Gladys says. “It was too sad. It felt like a big wall. I kept getting the feedback that my work was amazing, and they loved it, but they weren’t taking new people.”

The following January 2018, Gladys caught news that Christy was taking over the agency, and she decided 2018 was going to be her year. She sent a long email to Christy explaining that she had been working on her portfolio and was sending a manuscript of a book she’d illustrated. Gladys signed the email with one more “I’m still holding on to hope that someday there will be a spot for me.”

In January 2018, the answer was an offer of representation and a contract to sign.

Christy sent out an email with Gladys’ work to editors and art directors she had relationships with, letting them know about the new talent she was representing. That same day an editor from HarperCollins Children’s Books reached out to ask if Christy’s new artist had any samples of little girls with flair.

All Gladys had to work with at the time was the word flair. And so she went to Google again to try narrow down the word to something tangible she could represent through illustration. After she sent in 10 different girls with 10 completely different looks, there was silence for months. Gladys felt that sinking feeling again — maybe the timing just wasn’t right.

In a sculpting class Gladys took early on in her college career, she received an assignment to sculpt the bust of someone she admired and, as fate would have it, she sculpted Will Smith.

Then in June of 2018, word came back that she got the project, she’d have to sign a non-disclosure agreement, and oh also Will Smith is tied to the project and she’d be illustrating characters inspired by The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

“It was like I didn’t have knees anymore, because I just fell to the floor,” Gladys says. “It’s like that Will Smith clip that’s a gif. It’s not that stuff like this doesn’t happen to people like me, but I never thought that something like this could happen to me specifically.”

The story centers around Destiny, a girl with — you guessed it — flair. Her life gets flipped-turned upside down when her family moves to West Philadelphia.

For Gladys, it’s not just the obvious excitement of being hired to do such a big project with such a big celebrity, but that Fresh Princess offers something she had been looking for when she was a child.

“This isn’t just life-changing for me,” Gladys says. “We need more diverse books and books with kids of color that aren’t just telling the story of African American history, but stories that are about just normal kids today. I would look for books with girls who looked like me, but I couldn’t. So being a part of a project that has a little brown girl, and knowing my daughter gets to grow up with this…Will Smith is just kind of the cherry on the cake.”

Dating Around: Alumnus Shares Experience of Starring on Reality Show

UCF alumnus Luke Hawksworth ’13 isn’t sure if the folks smiling at him in the Orlando international Airport were just exemplifying southern hospitality or if they recognized his face as one of the leads of Netflix’s popular reality show, “Dating Around.” The show, which premiered Valentine’s Day of this year, stands out from other dating shows in its commitment to put the gimmicks aside in favor of a simple per-episode formula: one single New Yorker, five blind first-dates.

Hawksworth, who grew up in a town so small that you could hold your breath driving through downtown, was the lead in the first episode of the series.

We sat down with Luke a couple weeks after the show premiered to hear about his UCF story, his path to getting on the series and the reality behind the reality show.

Before we get into talking about the show, can you just tell me a little about yourself?
Sure! I’m 28 years old and graduated from UCF in 2013. I’m from a small town in North Carolina called Hillsborough, and now live in New York City.

Did you dream of big city life as a kid or were you perfectly content being in a small town?
Being in a small town made me anxious. I didn’t know what to do with myself. When I go back and visit at night, it’s super quiet. You can hear crickets and I’m like, I need to get outa here. I need a siren or a cab honking or something going on. I always wanted to be in the city because I felt like that was where my energy matched.

But first a stop in Orlando for UCF.
Yes. In high school I dreamed of being a pilot and eventually an astronaut. So, since it was close to Kennedy Space Center and had an amazing engineering school, I started looking at UCF. I initially came here to study aero-space engineering and my plan was to be a pilot and eventually go to space. But during my freshman year, I joined the ATO fraternity and was one of the first members of the Young Investors Club. These influences changed my interests and I started to become passionate about business and the financial markets. So, I eventually switched my major to finance.

What came after graduation?
I got a full-time job in financial operations during my senior year, so I kept at it for another year or so after graduation. Eventually I became unhappy with what I was doing and started to think about how I had always wanted to move to New York City. I had done different sorts of acting growing up, mostly theater and commercial work, so I took a leap of faith, quit my job, moved to the city with three bags and called myself an actor. To support myself, I started working in a restaurant, but eventually transitioned to become a real estate broker, because of the flexible schedule. That led to a more professional career and is still what I do for work today. I was still taking voice lessons and trying to work on developing my craft in acting, but I had really fallen in love with real estate right away; it encompasses every part of business that I enjoy.

Were you going to auditions at all?
I didn’t go on many auditions because I was still working on learning. I did really dive hard into real estate and I started to spend more and more time working. In the back of my mind I did still have a desire to be on camera and do some sort of acting or entertainment.  Being on “Dating Around” was very random. I was doing some soul searching after a relationship ended last year, so I went on a solo trip to Europe. During that trip I started thinking more about how I still have such a desire to be an actor, and it was all I could think about on that trip. God must have heard me because the second day back in the US a friend of mine reached out about this spot on “Dating Around.” They needed to find a lead for one of the episodes quickly, so I did a few interviews and before I knew it I was filming the show.

What do you think it is about you that makes a friend of yours see an ad for a dating show and think of you?
I think it was the combination of her knowing that I was interested in acting and that I’m just such a ladies’ man. Kidding! The ad for the show said, “We are looking for a handsome man in his twenties to go on dates with five different women. You’ll be payed this amount and everything is taken care of —dinner, wardrobe, etcetera.” I was like, wait you want to pay me to go on dates? Sign me up! But I didn’t take it seriously at first until my friend Briana Cohen, who is also a UCF graduate, said that she thought I’d be good for the part and the other casting agent thought so too. So I did a few Skype interviews within a few days and before I knew it they told me the network loved me and wanted to me to meet with the producers the next day, and then said, “By the way, it’s a Netflix Original.” At that point I was like “Oh wow, I’m actually going to have to do this”.  So I met with the producers the next day and everything went well and they gave me the green light and we filmed two weeks later.

I’ve watched your episode, so I know a version of what you experienced filming, but what was it actually like?
It was pretty structured, which I think helped me feel more comfortable. At the beginning of each date we would get drinks at the bar and get to know each other while asking most of the same questions back-and-forth. And these were truly blind dates. I didn’t get to meet any of the girls beforehand or talk in between scenes and each date was filmed on a different night. I never forgot about the cameras. I always wanted to keep in mind that I was being filmed so to not do anything too ridiculous. But I think after the first night, I kind of got most of my nerves out and it was really just trying to have as real and genuine of dates as possible.

So the scene where you met each of them was for real?
Yeah. They didn’t let us meet before. It was truly blind. Every conversation we had was filmed, like when we were switching scenes from the bar to the table, we didn’t speak. They separated us so that we could keep the conversation as real as possible.

Does that mean you weren’t able to kind of address the reality of the situation or say to each other things like ‘whoa, this is kind of weird’?
We were but they just cut those parts out. Also we filmed for almost 12 hours each night. We started at six or seven and would film ‘til five or six in the morning. So they were really long nights and very exhausting, especially after the first couple nights.

You’ve been on five twelve-hour dates?
Yeah. And all in one week. So I didn’t know what they were going to use, which is why at all times I wanted to try to be interesting, but that was such a challenge. It’s really tiring, especially if you don’t have chemistry with one of the dates and you’re trying to keep conversation going.

Were there any you felt you didn’t have chemistry with?
Ashley is a very nice girl, but I think right away we both recognized we had nothing in common. But what they didn’t show is that most of the time we were talking about stories from dating and our friends and if we had people that we could match each other up with. But that date was important to show because not everyone is meant for each other. Sometimes you’re just not that into somebody.

You picked Victoria for the second date. Do you still keep in touch with her?
We went out a couple more times after the show, but it never led to anything. It felt like an experience and once the show was over the spark was gone. But picking someone wasn’t really the point of the show. It was so people could see what it’s like to date in New York City and the different people that you come across. It’s to show how a lot of times you have very awkward and cringey moments and, well, I think my episode did a great job of showing that.

Like Tiffany and the smacking-lips thing?
That’s the real stuff! That really happens. Every date you go on is not a good date, at least in my experience.

Has it been weird for you, knowing so many people can watch you experience something as personal as first dates and first kisses?
Before the show came out, I knew they were going to have those two scenes in there [kissing scenes with Tiffany and Betty]. My producer told me, ‘Make sure that you call your mom, tell her you love her and remind her it’s just a show.’ It is interesting that it’s out there for everyone to see, but I think it’s made me more comfortable with being vulnerable.

Do you have any parting dating advice?
You hear it all the time, but be your genuine self. It’s always important to be authentic, but especially when you’re dating. If you try to be someone that you’re not just to please someone else, you’ll end up wasting a lot of time. It’s really about first finding out who you are and being confident in that yourself, then finding a person in that same place that you can be genuine with.

Alumna’s “First Miss” Takes Center Stage at UCF Celebrates the Arts

Photo by Michael Tyler Ham (HAM Photography)

When alumna Sarah Schreck ’18 talks about theatre, she can somehow, within seconds, bounce from talking about its power to create social change to emphatically saying “I will watch ‘Xanadu’ every month until the day I die.” She’s seen the ways theatre can be simply enjoyed, she’s seen the ways it can grow people, and this weekend at UCF Celebrates the Arts, she’ll get to see her own play, “First Miss”, come to life.

Sarah, who is currently attending Carnegie Mellon University for her graduate degree in arts management, was born and raised in Orlando. When she was 10 her family relocated to Jacksonville, but when it was time to pick the location of her undergraduate career, she had a feeling she should return to the place where she felt most at home. That was Orlando, and it became UCF.

“I don’t even think it’s nostalgia goggles,” Sarah says. “UCF is where I became who I am. I honestly did not expect to have such a formidable college experience, but the best times of my life were the relationships that I formed in the performing arts center — auditions with friends where we’d leave laughing and those emotional days where we’d be moved to tears because of one another’s dedication and hard work. That place feels like home.”

One of the most impactful experiences Sarah had during her time at UCF was a class that ultimately led to her involvement in this year’s Celebrate the Arts. She describes the class, theatre for social change, as providing her with more confidence, courage and artistic ability to communicate.

In the class, which is taught by Sybil St. Claire, students learn new techniques of storytelling and how these nontraditional forms of theatre can be influential for audience members and performers alike. Of the many techniques, playback theatre is the one Sarah most took to and is what sparked an idea that became “First Miss”. In this form of theatre, there is a group of performers, an emcee and an audience. Led by the emcee, the audience shares feelings and stories from their own lives while the performers play them back to them.

“The stories can be anything,” Sarah says. “From a lighthearted story about a day at Disney gone awry to discovering one’s faith and addressing it with your parents while they’re on their deathbed. Either way, at the core of it all is that there is medicine in our stories. Seeing things from your life played back to you, it’s kind of like drama therapy, which I am a big advocate for.”

One day in class Sarah wanted to share one of her favorite stories to tell as a playback exercise, the story of her junior prom. Like most humans who went to prom, Sarah’s prom story is more likely to elicit a quick cringe and an “oof, that’s rough” than it is a John-Williams-scored-movie-moment. It’s the story of two teenagers, not sure if they like each other, little bit of miscommunication, touch of butterflies, and a slow song on the dancefloor.

“We leaned in and — I don’t know — I guess we closed our eyes too soon because we did not make it to each other’s lips,” Sarah says. “It wasn’t his first kiss, but it would’ve been mine. Except it wasn’t my first kiss, it was my first miss.”

When Sarah got involved with Project Spotlight, a student-run organization that gives UCF students a chance to take part in productions and develop new works, she knew she needed a good story she could turn into a one-act. She remembered that not only was her junior-prom story relatable for her, but fellow classmates were able to identify with much of the underlying themes.

Nic Stelter and Zoe Blackledge performing in the original production of “First Miss”

As she started developing the story into an actual written play, she noticed it started changing and taking on new shape. Through her writing, the story deepened and started to take on more serious issues about adolescence. In the fall of 2017, “First Miss” had its first production and was so much of a hit that the team of folks who put together UCF Celebrates the Arts thought of it as a potential event in the 2019 lineup. Sarah was sitting on her couch in Pittsburgh one day when the previous artistic director for Project Spotlight, Liz Calvert, called to ask her if she’d be interested in being a part of UCF Celebrates the Arts. One caveat, she’d need to expand the script from one-act to full-length play.

“My first thought was ‘I only lived so much, I don’t know what else to put in!’ Sarah says. “But, that wasn’t true, there were already fictionalized elements, even if it started as a personal story. So if I was going to get to add another act, I wanted to really dive into more issues in a way that gives artists — especially student artists — permission to embrace not only the quirky humor in a piece, but to also tackle difficult subjects in decidedly unusual ways.”

During her next round of writing “First Miss”, Sarah took seriously her chance to get input from different people with different backgrounds and walks of life. She asked people for their stories of adolescence, miscommunication, gender and relationships. She sought out her opportunity to tell a story that would, using elements of other’s real stories, address a wider audience.

“I think a lot of theatre deserves to be a living, breathing document,” Sarah says. “I think that’s how it may retain a kind of community-based magic. Theatre from any era can be healing to watch, you can recognize lessons and recognize characters. But to recognize yourself is all the more valuable. That’s something I hope that all of my work can do. I would hate to have something so boxed in that it only serves one group of people.”

For Sarah, being a playwright is a chance to figuratively be several different people. It’s evident in her work that she appreciates and places great value in being able to embrace disagreement and accept a level of pluralism that acknowledges nuanced and ever-evolving thought and feelings. With playwriting, she can explore her own internal conflicts by giving voice to multiple sides of arguments or stories.

She also, as someone who grew up letting her imagination run rampant, enjoys the chance to see her imaginary friends — more appropriately called characters in the theatre world — become real.

“I just hope that I gave the actors and the crew enough to have fun with,” Schreck says. “Because every play belongs to its cast, crew and audience. It doesn’t even belong to me anymore. None of it does. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Purchase your tickets for Saturday’s performance of “First Miss” and learn more about UCF Celebrates the Arts.

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.”

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.”

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.”

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:

 

Fiesta Bowl: Alumnus Shares 2014 Experience and Why He’ll Be Back

From left to right: Robert Muramatsu, Todd VanHoozier ’94, Matt Assenmacher ’93 and Jeff Downing in Arizona for the 2014 Fiesta Bowl

For those of you new to the exciting world of UCF Football, this year is actually the second time we’ve been invited to head out to Arizona for the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl (only back then we called it the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl). We sat down with alumnus and UCF Alumni Board member, Matt Assenmacher ’93, to ask him a little about his experience for the 2014 game, what he’s looking forward to this year and what he’d tell people on the fence about attending.

What led you to the Fiesta Bowl in 2014?

It was the last year of the BCS era and we had joined the Big East, which was restructured to the American Athletic Conference. So this was the last year that our conference had an automatic tie-in to a BCS (now New Year’s Six) bowl. When it got to the point that at the end of the season, we realized UCF was going to go, I talked to some of my friends and we just said — we’re not going to miss this opportunity because we didn’t know if it would happen again. Obviously not knowing at the time that three years later the Peach Bowl would happen and then we’d be going back to Arizona again, but at the time we thought this opportunity may not present itself again.

And what was it like?

We had a great time. We didn’t get there that much earlier than the game, so we didn’t get to do a lot of sight-seeing. We just really focused on the game and went to the alumni tailgate, which we had a blast at. The game was amazing. UCF never trailed in the game. Everyone was saying we were going to lose and we were going to get destroyed, and it was just a great feeling afterwards because — at that point, it was the biggest win we’d ever had. It’s funny too because some of the Baylor fans, when we were walking into the stadium with them, they were real nice to us because they figured we didn’t have a chance. And they were really quiet on the way out.

Did you think twice about making the trip? Because of the Arizona of it all?

No not at all. And not this time either. I’m taking my son and we’re spending a little extra time there. We’re going to see the Grand Canyon, Sedona, if we get time we’re going to go down to Tombstone and just see some of the sights around Arizona.

What were some of your favorite experiences in 2014?

Besides the game, definitely the alumni tailgate. We actually spent a good chunk of that day at the alumni tailgate and just had a great time.

What has been most exciting to you the past few years as a UCF Knight?

It’s amazing just to see them go undefeated in one season. That doesn’t happen very often. And to do it back-to-back seasons is amazing, especially with the coaching changes. It’s been really exciting to see the student support growing and the fan support from the community. I had season tickets both times when we were win-less, and through good and bad, it’s important to support the team. It’s great to see the success they’ve had. And I think a lot of it too has to do with the things that Danny White has put in place to try to make all of our athletic programs successful. It all brings a lot of really good exposure to the university.

What are you looking forward to the most?

Well, the game. Number one. Getting a chance to get back out there again and seeing some sights and taking advantage of the location.

What advice would you give people considering to head out to this year’s game?

Figure out a way to make it happen. At that 2014 game, that was kind of a first-time thing, so we never knew if it was going to happen again. Last year we had the Peach Bowl and we can get kind of spoiled with success too, where people may be thinking “well I’ll just wait until it comes back to the Peach Bowl or somewhere close.” But there are no guarantees. You never know what’s going to happen. I hope UCF continues to have great success and we continue to have these great opportunities, but don’t take it for granted. Take advantage of the opportunity and find a way to make it happen. I’ve seen some postings online where students are planning to drive. I understand that it’s not cheap to get out there, but you can find ways to make it work. The work that the coaches and the players have put into the season and how much support they’ve had at home all year, let’s help continue that support for the last game of the season at the Fiesta Bowl.

You heard Matt. Make it happen!