BOD Spotlight: Peter Cranis


Peter Cranis, ’84 | Chair-Elect, UCF Alumni Board of Directors

By Angie Lewis, ’03

As vice president of global consumer marketing for Visit Orlando, Peter Cranis, ’84, is helping to make people’s dreams come true. And, as the next chair of the association’s board of directors, he’s hoping to make the dreams of the UCF Alumni Association come true too. For more than 20 years, Peter has remained connected to his alma mater, as an adjunct professor in both the Nicholson School of Communication and the Rosen College of Hospitality Management.

10 Questions with Peter

Q. Favorite thing about your job?
A. Not only am I promoting the greatest vacation destination in the world, but, through what we do, we have a huge, positive impact on Orlando!

Q. Describe a typical day at work…
A. There is no typical day. One day I can be talking about a digital advertising program we’re doing in Brazil, the next day it could be a partnership with the theme parks in the U.S.-Hispanic market. That’s the fun!

Q. Most memorable experience on the job?
A. One of my most memorable experiences was being part of the efforts to promote tourism following the great recession and, over the next few years, watching the number of people traveling again return to previous levels, and watching new businesses open and people getting back to work.

Q. What was your first paying job?
A. When I was a little kid, I worked at a little store in New York City, stocking shelves and the soda machine. When they would pay me on Fridays, I would turn around and spend it all on comic books.

Q. Favorite UCF memory?
A. I have so many! But, I was a member of the Student Escort and Patrol Service (SEPS), and loved patrolling at night and meeting all the great people on campus.

Q. How do you hope your leadership will affect the future of the alumni association and the university?
A. I just hope that in some small way, I can contribute to the efforts of the association and make sure that alumni have a voice in the university’s future. I feel like UCF gave me so much, I always want to find a way to give something back.

Q. Pet peeve?
A. When someone says it can’t be done

Q. Happiest/proudest moment of your life?
A. UCF winning the Fiesta Bowl and ending up in the Top 10 (of course!)

Q. Volunteer work/philanthropy?
A. Rescuing kitties/Grasty Scholarship

Q. What’s something most people don’t know about you?
A. I was once in the Top 25 tennis players in Florida in the 25 and older division.

BOD Spotlight: Dianne Owen


Dianne Owen, ’93 | Chair, UCF Alumni Board of Directors

By Angie Lewis, ’03

In addition to her role as executive vice president of marketing for FAIRWINDS Credit Union, Dianne Owen, ’93, also serves as the chair of the UCF Alumni Association Board of Directors. She’s stayed involved with her alma mater in many other ways too, including having taught as an adjunct professor for the College of Business, served on the Annual Fund committee, judged The Joust competition, mentored students and volunteered on industry panels for the alumni association.

10 Questions with Dianne

Q. Why do you do what you do?
A. My job is challenging and, at the same time, rewarding. I truly believe in credit unions — specifically, the mission of FAIRWINDS Credit Union.

Q. Favorite thing about your job?
A. Building awareness about what FAIRWINDS has to offer and then hearing “thank you” from members who we have helped to save money.

Q. Most memorable experience on the job?
A. It was the moment I found out that we were awarded the UCF Student Banking Services provider. I was so excited to get started helping students at UCF to get on the right financial path early.

Q. Favorite UCF memory?
A. When my art professor was grading my final exam, he told me I should stop taking art classes and stick to business. It makes me laugh to this day.

Q. Why do you serve on the alumni board?
A. UCF alumni are a powerhouse group of individuals. I want to leverage that group to build stronger students, a stronger university and a well-connected community. The board is a great conduit to try and make that happen. And, I just love my school and want to give back in as many ways as I can.

Q. What’s the most important piece of advice you would give to your fellow Knights to help advance our university and our alumni association?
A. ENGAGE with your university. It can be done in a multitude of ways and can be mutually beneficial.

Q. What/who makes you laugh out loud?
A. My dog. He puts the biggest smile on my face always.

Q. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
A. A chef or a winemaker. Both would be really cool.

Q. What do you do for fun?
A. I love to cook. I also like to play tennis and hang out at the beach. And, lately, I’ve developed a freakish obsession to Candy Crush.

Q. Last thing you Googled?
A. What do you call someone who makes wine?

Head Case

Alumnus’ love of a childhood novelty turns into an amusing (and valuable) collection


Nathan Arms, ’98 | PEZ Collector

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Whether you grew up in the 1950s or the 1990s, in the United States or another country, you know the name. Its three letters probably conjures up visions of your childhood. Perhaps you even begged your parents to buy you Mickey Mouse or Santa Claus (two of the top sellers). And, if they agreed, you may have even insisted on a couple of extra packs of candy to go with your beloved head on a stick. Maybe you still have a few packed away? Or, better yet, maybe you still buy one on occasion for your own children?

But, for one alumnus, PEZ is more than just a nostalgic memory.

Nathan Arms’, ’98, PEZ dispenser collection started in the late ’70s, with Diabolic, from the Eerie Spectres series. Although he picked up more here and there over the next couple of decades, he didn’t become an avid collector until 1999.

“I’ve always been a collector of something, and I was looking to start collecting something different,” he explains. “Something that was relatively cheap and didn’t take up much space.”

Now, about 700 PEZ dispensers later, Arms shows off more than two-thirds of his collection in acrylic cases hung from a wall in his home office. He stores the overflow in boxes or sealed in plastic storage bags, all safely tucked away inside a closet.

His most valuable dispensers are his first and favorite, Diabolic, and the Indian Maiden. He says both are around $150-200 on the open market. In addition to monetary value, he also has some that are just plain fun — like a large dog PEZ that dispenses dog treats.

Unlike some collectors who collect every stem color variation of each dispenser, Arms says he only collects “from the neck up.”

So, how does he keep track of 700 small candy dispensers while looking for new ones?

“I don’t keep a database, but I really need to start,” he explains. “I kind of do it backwards. I keep a wish list of ones I want or ones I need to complete a set.”

PEZ isn’t the only thing this alumnus collects. As an avid movie lover, Arms also has a film collection of about 4,000 DVDs, BluRays and digital copies.

Beyond the PEZ Q&A

Q. What’s your current title?
A. Behavior specialist at Shenandoah Elementary School in Orange County

Q. Why do you do what you do?
A. I met a friend while taking a clinical psychology class at UCF, and he offered me a job at a group home working with adults with autism. I enjoyed it so much that I’m still working in the field almost 20 years later.

Q. Favorite thing about your job?
A. Working with children with autism and learning each of their individual characteristics

Q. How has your UCF degree helped you in your career?
A. Without my UCF degree, I would not be in the teaching field. UCF also allowed me to get a master’s degree in exceptional education (2001).

Q. Favorite UCF memory?
A. Learning to juggle in Dr. Brophy’s Psychology course

Q. Favorite childhood toy?
A. “Star Wars” X-Wing Fighter

Q. What did you want to be when you grew up?
A. Archaeologist (I loved “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”)

Q. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
A. Architect

Q. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
A. Fly a plane

PEZ Fun Facts

  • Eduard Haas III invented PEZ as a breath mint in Vienna, Austria, in 1927. The name PEZ comes from the German word for peppermint, “pfefferminz,” taking the P from the first letter, E from the middle and the Z from the last letter.
  • PEZ has made its way onto both the big and small screens:
    -In “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” Elliott (Henry Thomas) showed his new friend some of his prized possessions, which included a PEZ dispenser.
    -While sitting around a campfire in “Stand By Me,” Vern (Jerry O’Connell) told his friends, if he could only have one food for the rest life, he’d choose cherry-flavored PEZ.
    -An entire episode of “Seinfeld” was based around a Tweety Bird PEZ dispenser.
  • The first PEZ collector’s convention was held in Mentor, Ohio, on June 15, 1991.
  • Pierre Omidyar and his wife, a passionate PEZ collector, wanted to set up an online platform for the exchange of PEZ characters. After the website turned out to be a success, he founded eBay in September 1995.
  • PEZ turned 80 in 2007.
  • PEZ products are available in more than 80 countries, where approximately 65 million dispensers and 4.2 billion candies are produced.
  • PEZ collector’s sets include classics like “Star Wars,” “Star Trek” and “Lord of the Rings” to more unexpected sets like “The Wizard of Oz,” U.S. Presidents, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Destined for the Stage

Alumnus’ love of musical theater leads him to a “shady” role


Rob Stack, ’07 | Actor/Performer

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Thanks to having three sisters who liked watching musicals, Rob Stack, ’07, grew up watching them too. As a kid, he found himself drawn to “Grease 2.”

“I know. It’s a horrible movie with a campy, cliché depiction of high school,” he says. “But, I loved every minute of it. I sang all of the songs, and even tried to turn my bike into a motorcycle.”

After that, he was bitten by the musical theater bug, and, in sixth grade, he started acting and enrolled in his first drama class.

“When you perform a show, it becomes a living, breathing thing,” he says. “It’s always changing — the cast, the audience, content, state-of-mind, etc. It’s very exciting and kind of a high. I love challenges and roles that stretch me beyond what I know and am comfortable with.”

And, his latest role has definitely stretched him out of his comfort zone. In addition to the usual acting and singing, Stack also has to play guitar and perform a striptease for the audience as Hugh in “Spank! The Fifty Shades Parody,” which runs through March 23 at The Abbey in Orlando.

Much closer to his comfort zone is his day gig, playing a crab in the “Finding Nemo: The Musical” live show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Performing in two different shows each day has been challenging, but Stack has figured out how to balance his busy schedule.

“I only do five things on my work days: ‘Nemo’ in the morning, gym in the afternoon, ‘Spank’ in the evening, family in the evening and then sleep!” he explains. “On my days off, I’m spending time with my family and keeping up on ‘The Walking Dead.’ Love that show.”

Stack says he chose to attend UCF for many reasons — a big one being that it offered a B.F.A. in musical theater.

“The UCF musical theater program was such an amazing experience for me,” he explains. “First of all, I met my wife there. But, I also met a crucial network of very talented friends and colleagues who I still keep in touch with today. I enjoyed it so much because it’s such a well-put-together program. They have excellent professors, a great curriculum, and they mount fantastic productions every semester.”

As a student, Stack performed in many of those productions, including “Pippin,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “The Visit,” and “The Boyfriend.”

In addition, he and his wife, Andrea (Dunn), ’07, performed together as love interests Brad and Janet in the UCF’s production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

“It was the most fun I have ever had on stage,” he says. “It was such a wonderful team of people, from the production team to the cast. We all felt like rock stars! I’m sure you heard about it… It was legendary.”

Behind the Curtain Q&A

Q. What’s your current job title?
A. Performer/carpenter/husband/dad/badass

Q. Why do you do what you do?
A. I’ve been performing in productions since sixth grade. This is the life I know. This is what I love. This is what I feel I’m good at. Performing has been the logical choice for me since I began. While others dreamed of careers in medicine or business, I knew that this was what I wanted to be doing.

Q. How did you find/get the role for “Spank?”
A. Actually, a couple of my friends read the role breakdowns that were posted and sent it to me. The role required me to play guitar, look good in a suit and possess great comic timing. Me, me and me! I knew what the books were about, so I could only imagine how much fun it would be to parody the story. So, I auditioned and got the role.

Q. Have you read the “Fifty Shades” books?
A. I’m still trying to read the first one. Ugh.

Q. What’s it like performing the show every night? Does it ever get boring?
A. Never. The content is so crazy and outrageous, I don’t think I could ever get bored with it. The show is also so non-stop, that I don’t have a free second once I walk on stage. My time backstage is consumed with costume changes, getting props and making sure my hair looks good. The audience plays a huge factor in this show. They are the fourth character. They laugh at something different every night. Therefore, it’s always changing the energy, pace and feel of the whole show.

Q. What’s been the best part of playing Hugh so far?
A. The free bar tab. Just kidding! I love performing the show. We have a fantastic team of people behind us who make it a wonderful experience. The cast is fantastic. So good, in fact, I have a hard time not breaking character and laughing on stage. Sometimes I just have to, though. Andrea (Canny) [above, left] and Alice (Rix) [above, right] are so funny, and the circumstances we’re in are just so absurd! I love it. And the audiences have been very appreciative. VERY.

Q. What’s been your most embarrassing moment on stage?
A. I have a lot. Falling during a tap solo in “The Boyfriend,” and dancing in a dance recital when I was 18 while the rest of the class was 5-year-olds. The most embarrassing, I think, was when I fell out of the crab at “Finding Nemo” during a live show. The crab is a huge shell on wheels where the performer sits inside while wearing a red crab costume complete with claws and a facemask. Well, I fell out of it one day and couldn’t stand up because my hands were in giant claws. So, I literally had to roll off the stage while guiding the shell back into the wing. So embarrassing.

Q. What’s your favorite musical to watch?
A. No one in particular. I’m a sucker for Sondheim. His stuff is always very moving and poignant to life. His music is so beautiful, I can’t take it sometimes.

Q. What’s your dream job/role?
A. My wife and I would love to own a theatre company one day in a thriving town somewhere in the New England area. We daydream a lot. Owning a furniture business would be great too! (We like to build furniture as a hobby.) Or, building custom acoustic guitars. (I do that too. I actually started doing that at UCF as an independent study.)

Q. Anything else we should know?
A. I have $42 in overdue library charges at UCF. I still get emails from them.

Rob Stack, ’07, took the stage with his wife, Andrea (Dunn), ’07, in UCF’s production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
PHOTO: Tony Firriolo

Family Tradition

For one alumna and nine of her family members, black and gold runs in their blood.


Alisha Kissee, ’09 | Black & Gold Family

Front row (left to right): Connie Kissee, Alisha Kissee, Julie (Kissee) Sneed; back row (left to right): Madelyn Shafar, Donnie Shafar, Jennifer Kissee, George Sneed, Ashley (Sneed) Monnier, Courtney Sneed, Alyson Shafar

By Angie Lewis, ’03

After going to many homecomings as a child and watching four of her family members attend, Alisha Kissee, ’09, knew UCF was the school for her — so much so, that it was the only one to which she applied.

“Tradition is a big part of our family, and it’s an honor to be a part of our legacy,” she says.

The family of Knights includes Alisha’s uncle George Sneed, ’83; aunt Jennifer Kissee, ’96; aunt Julie (Kissee) Sneed, ’98; cousin Ashley (Sneed) Monnier, ’08; mom Connie Kissee, ’10; cousin Donald Shafar III, ’11; and cousin Courtney Sneed, ’12. Plus, cousins Alyson Shafar and Madelyn Shafar will graduate in 2014 and 2017, respectively.

With several of the family members in school at the same time, sharing a class was bound to happen at some point. Cousins Courtney and Donald shared a chemistry class together. And, for Alisha, it was biology with her mom.

“Most people wouldn’t dare think to take a class with their parents, but I was quite the opposite and found it to actually be fun,” Alisha says. “We used each other as resources, and she was a great study partner.”

Alisha says their mother-daughter relationship grew stronger because they had the opportunity to see each other in a role that they would probably have never seen had they not taken a class together. “We had much respect for one another.”

They were also able to help each other with tougher classes.

“At the time, we were also taking pre-calculus together, [but], in the middle of the semester, I ended up withdrawing because of my workload and the fact that math never was my strong point,” Alisha explains. “On the other hand, math was my mom’s strongest subject. So, she was able to help me in math, while I was able to help her in biology, because that was one of my stronger subjects. It worked out well and, as a result, we now have a closer relationship and can look back on those great times.”

But, what happens when a family of Knights comes together outside the classroom? They celebrate games and birthdays in UCF attire, of course. In fact, Alisha’s cousin, and current UCF student, Alyson’s 21st birthday was a UCF tailgating party.

To top it off, Alisha’s mom Connie adds, “We even celebrate Christmas in UCF fashion, with black and gold Christmas decorations.”

No matter how different their majors or professions (see “Family Resumes” below), this spirited group will always have one thing in common: Knight pride.

Family Resumes

Although they all attended the same university, their degrees and professions are plenty varied. Take a look:

Alisha: advertising/public relations, psychology (minor); marketing assistant for the Orlando Regional Realtor Association and co-owner of Prime Processing LLC
George: marketing; teacher/athletic director for Leesburg High School in Leesburg, Fla.
Jennifer: elementary education + curriculum and instruction (master’s); 3rd grade teacher for Orange County Public Schools
Julie: nursing education manager for Cornerstone Hospice
Ashley: public administration, urban and regional planning (minor); civilian in the Department of the Navy
Connie: early childhood education; special needs teacher
Donald: criminal justice; border patrol agent in Casa Grande Station, Ariz.
Courtney: social science education; 8th grade American history teacher

Family Successes

We asked the family’s eight alumni how they felt their UCF education prepared them for life after graduation. Here’s what each said:

Alisha: My degree has helped me find a position in my chosen career path. The marketing field is very competitive to enter, and I feel UCF helped me break into the industry.
George: U Can Finish!
Jennifer: It prepared me to be the best teacher I can be.
Julie: The B.S.N. program is geared toward leadership in nursing. And, I am in a leadership position.
Ashley: I was fortunate to be able to attain a job in my career field right after graduation.
Connie: The school and classes helped me prepare for becoming a teacher and working with students.
Donald: I felt that the education was significant, however, the internship with the U.S. Marshals was invaluable to my current successful position.
Courtney: UCF’s education program is incredible. I was able to start teaching immediately after graduation, and was able to work on the same level with my peers.

Hey, Mr. DJ

Love of music spins alumnus into his dream job


Jay Edwards, ’04 | On-Air Producer/Personality, MIX 105.1

By Angie Lewis, ’03

A typical day on the job for Jay Edwards, ’04, includes waking up at 3:45 a.m., getting games and prizes ready, and setting up the studio for his co-hosts, Scott McKenzie and Dana Taylor — until they all go live at 5:30 a.m. On some days, he even gets to hang out with celebrities like Dr. Oz, the Backstreet Boys and Mary J. Blige.

As the on-air producer of Scott McKenzie & The Morning MIX on MIX 105.1 in Orlando, Edwards’ job doesn’t stop when the show ends at 9 a.m. After that, he edits audio for their evening podcast, reaches out to celebrity publicists and managers to book interviews for future shows, and he manages much of the station’s social media and website updates.

“People dream about going to work each and every day to a job they love, and with people they like and respect,” he says. “I have exactly that — and they pay me! I get to talk about fun topics, listen to music and hang with celebrities. What’s not to like about that?”

Edwards fell in love with radio when he interned during his junior year at UCF. But, a career in radio wasn’t always on his radar. When he was a child, he dreamed of being a police officer.

His first paying job was as a summer camp counselor. He also worked as a recreation supervisor and tuxedo salesman. However, he says his love of music ultimately made radio much more appealing. “And I’m so glad it did, because I have the best job in the world!” he says.

Music also led him into a second job, about which he’s just as passionate. On most weekends, Edwards puts on his best attire and DJs his heart out for new brides and grooms. And, thanks to all of his hard work and dedication, his company, Liquid Entertainment, has been named tops on many wedding-affiliated lists.

Since he’s lived in Central Florida his whole life and wanted to stay, UCF was a natural fit when it came time for him to choose a college. It also helped that his brother was a Knight. “He had nothing but good things to say, so I followed in his wise footsteps and now I’m a proud grad!” Edwards says.

Whether it’s teaching or mentoring the UCF interns who work on the show nearly every semester, or scoring an interview with Coach George O’Leary, his alma mater has remained a constant in his life since graduation.

He’s even been out to campus several times to speak to radio/TV students about careers in the field. His advice to them: “Don’t just focus on your voice! Sure, vocal presentation is key in radio, but these days, there are so many other things that go into being a great DJ. Know how to blog, know every aspect of social media, and be up to speed with everything happening in the music and entertainment industries. If you’re a pop culture geek, radio is the right place for you!”

MIXin’ It Up Q&A

Q. Working in radio, you’ve probably had opportunities to meet some pretty famous people. Who has been your favorite so far, and why?
A. One of my goals as the producer of the morning show was to have Bill Cosby on the show. I’m a really big fan and, about six years ago, I was able to book him for a five-minute phone interview, which turned into a 45-minute interview. He was so cool! When you get to talk to someone that you’ve truly admired and respected your whole life, and they are genuine and humble, it makes you appreciate them even more!

Q. Do you have any special/hidden talents?
A. Before I got into radio, I was the singer in a band, and I also play the drums.

Q. What movie can you quote word for word?
A. “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”  

Q. What part of pop culture do you wish would just go away?
A. Baggy pants, twerking and lip syncing 

Q. What do you do for fun?
A. I coach my kids in football, baseball, basketball and softball. So, if I’m not working, I’m on a field somewhere with them. We also have an RV, and we love to go all over the Southeast and camp at new places and go jet skiing.

Q. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
A. I still have the desire to be a police officer. I find their line of work absolutely fascinating, and I have the utmost respect for them. I will occasionally do ride-alongs with different departments just to get a taste of what they do day to day.

Q. What’s the first album you ever bought/owned?
A. I bought a cassette single of The Outfield’s “Your Love.”

Q. What was the first concert you ever attended?
A. I was a big fan of Van Halen and, shortly after they split up, David Lee Roth came in concert, and I had to go! He had some band no one had heard of opening up for him called Guns n’ Roses.

Q. If you could have front-row seats to any concert, which would you choose?
A. Red Hot Chili Peppers! My favorite band ever, and I’ve been close — just not front row.

“O” Yeah!

Alumnus gets physical with Cirque du Soleil


Matt Biancuzzo, ’06 | Athletic Trainer, Cirque du Soleil

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Five nights a week, 85 acrobats, synchronized swimmers, divers and characters perform in, on and above water in Cirque du Soleil’s “O” at the Bellagio Las Vegas. And with so much physical strength and endurance required by the performers, athletic trainers, like Matt Biancuzzo, ’06, play a vital role in the show, as well as in the other 17 Cirque shows in more than 300 cities in more than 40 countries on six continents around the world.

As an athletic trainer for “O,” Biancuzzo and the rest of the performance medicine team evaluate, assess and treat the performers, taking a proactive approach with corrective exercises to prevent injuries. He says his favorite thing about his job is working with such a wide variety of personalities and cultures.

“Since joining Cirque du Soleil three years ago, I feel I have opened my eyes to so many different cultures and ways to approach things — not only in the therapy setting, but just in life in general,” he explains.

Before joining “O,” Biancuzzo worked on Cirque’s “La Nouba” show in Orlando. Before that, he worked as a graduate assistant at Florida State University, as an assistant athletic trainer at Georgia Southern University and as a student athletic trainer at UCF.

“I was always an active youth and very much into athletics,” he says. “The medical field had intrigued me after taking some focused courses in high school, and when I took my PSATs and saw the sports medicine/athletic training major, I just knew it was the direction I wanted to take.”

Biancuzzo says his UCF degree has helped him immensely in his work.

“The program gave me such a solid foundation to build upon to not only become a certified athletic trainer, but also to continue to develop as a professional in the field.”

Cirque du Soleil, which translates to “Circus of the Sun,” originated in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, in 1984. Its shows are a fusion of circus styles from around the world, each with its own storyline and central theme, where imaginary worlds are brought to life through amazing acrobatic performances.

Q&A Cool Down

Q. What’s your favorite thing about living in Las Vegas?
A. The variety of outdoor activities that you can find yourself doing. Red Rock is right around the corner for hiking, Lake Mead isn’t too far for boating, and several mountains aren’t far away for skiing/snowboarding.

Q. Least favorite?
A. Honestly, the touristic aspect of the strip. It’s just too many bright lights and too busy for my liking. I can handle the strip in small doses when I have friends or family visiting, but otherwise I stick to off-strip locations.

Q. What’s your favorite part of the show?
A. It is hard for me to pick my favorite part of “O.” I guess the general answer I would give is just how incredible the aspect of water comes into play during the show. One moment, you have a performer walking across the stage, and the next, one is diving into the water in the same spot.

Q. Out of all of the Cirque shows you have seen, which is your favorite, and why?
A. This answer could get me into trouble! But, I think I’ll have to go with “La Nouba” in Orlando. It was the first show I worked for and is one of the originals with Cirque du Soleil. It will always hold a special place in my heart.

Q. Why did you choose to attend UCF?
A. I knew I wanted to get involved with athletic training, and my first year of undergrad I attended Central Connecticut State University on an academic scholarship. I just didn’t feel at home there, so a life-long friend of mine who was attending UCF had me come check out the school, and I immediately knew that it was the right school for me.

Q. Favorite UCF memory?
A. Getting to travel with the UCF Football team as a student athletic trainer to Hawaii to work the Hawaii Bowl.

More Info

These Guys Will Kickstart Your Heart

Alumni radio hosts rock Central Florida mornings


Pat Dougher, ’90 & Bob Miller, ’96 | On-Air Personalities, WJRR

By Angie Lewis, ’03

The subject matter can get a bit raunchy, and the occasional bodily function may slip through the airwaves, but what Orlando rock fans tune in for are the on-air personalities and guitar-laden music.

Loyal listeners of Orlando’s WJRR morning show are familiar with its hosts, Pat Lynch and Taco Bob. But, even if you just channel surf through morning FM radio, you’ve probably heard their unmistakable voices. The guys regularly promote local rock concerts, describe the latest viral videos and, most importantly, talk about their alma mater — UCF.

Meet “Pat Lynch”
Pat Dougher, ’90, better known as Pat Lynch, grew up in South Florida. He chose to attend UCF thanks to a recommendation about WUCF radio from a counselor at Palm Beach Community College.

While he was a student, Dougher worked an internship, which, he says, was key to his future career because it allowed him to meet some of the real players and shot callers in the local radio industry. “Doing an internship opened the door to the people who have and still do make it possible to do what I do for a living,” he adds.

As a radio/television major, Dougher ended up leading a student drive to gain an afternoon block of student programming on WUCF, which proved successful.

After WUCF, he went on to work for Central Florida’s old Q-96, then Relativity Records in New York City. After a brief time up north, he moved back to Orlando, where he worked as a manager at Peaches Music. In addition, he worked part time for WDIZ, which was eventually merged with WJRR when Paxson Communications bought the station. Seventeen years later, Dougher’s still with WJRR.

Meet “Taco Bob”
Bob Miller, ’96, better known as Taco Bob, says he chose to attend UCF because it seemed like the next step on the ladder after growing up in Central Florida and attending Valencia. “Plus, UCF offered a great communications department,” he adds.

As a radio/television major, Miller had the opportunity to meet guest speaker Jenny Sue Rhodes from then-Paxson Communications [now WJRR], to whom he credits helping him get his foot in the door of the radio industry thanks to an internship with her company, after which he was hired on as an employee. This year marks his 20th year with WJRR. 

Pat Lynch, Meet Taco Bob
So, how did this pair end up together?

“When WDIZ merged with WJRR, our program director walked in the studio one day and said, ‘Pat, this is Taco Bob. He’s going to be on during the lunch hour with you to do entertainment news,’” Dougher explains. “I said, ‘OK,’ and we hit it off immediately. We had good chemistry, so the powers that be said, ‘Looks like we may have something here we can develop into a full show.’ The rest was history.”

Learn more about the guys and their lives in radio in the Q&A below.

WJRR has had several format changes over the years, but adopted its current rock format and call letters in 1993. Some of the station’s alumni includes Larry the Cable Guy, Just Plain Mark and Buckethead.

Rockin’ On Q&A

Q. Describe a typical day at work.
Pat Dougher:
Arrive at 4:10 a.m., catch up on overnight news and start the show at 5 a.m. From 5 a.m. to 10 a.m., we execute the mechanics of the show as well as the online/social media aspects of the show. After the show, we produce any promos or commercials that have been assigned, meet with our programming boss and sales counterparts as needed. The day sometimes also includes on-site appearances for client and station promotions. I try to leave the office by noon, catch a nap and then begin a couple of hours of show prep for the next day’s program. 

Q. Favorite thing about your job?
Bob Miller:
When we have a great show. 

Q. Why do you do what you do?
I always loved radio as a kid and decided I would try to make it a career.
I love entertaining people. 

Q. Working in radio, you’ve probably had opportunities to meet some pretty famous people. Who has been your favorite so far, and why?
Hands down, Ozzy Osbourne. Why? He is the front man of, in my honest opinion, the most important hard-rock band, Black Sabbath.
Matt Damon because he’s very down-to-earth and a great guy to have a beer with. Slash because he’s Slash, and he does so much more than rock. Larry the Cable Guy because Pat and I worked with him for years, and it’s so good to see a great person become beyond successful. 

Q. What did you want to be when you grew up?
Police officer/law enforcement
Meteorologist or actor 

Q. How did you end up at WJRR? (What other jobs have you had?)
My previous radio jobs have been at WUCF (when the station played rock music and paid some of the students, including me). I then went to work for the old Q-96. After that, I briefly worked for Relativity records in NYC. I moved back to Orlando and worked for Peaches Music as a manager, and also part time at the legendary WDIZ (where I ended up working full time). WDIZ was merged with WJRR when Paxson Communications bought WDIZ. Been at WJRR ever since.
I did an internship at WJRR while attending UCF, and they hired me. I worked in the restaurant business from [age] 14 to 21. 

Q. What advice would you give to current UCF radio/television students?
Minor in something that will make you more valuable to a potential employer — business, marketing, etc. And, do an internship to establish some contacts.
Do an internship and learn as much as you can while you’re there about promotions, marketing, production, sales, etc. 

Q. What was your first paying job?
I started mowing yards when I was 10. When I turned 15 and was legally allowed to work, I went to work for a mom-and-pop grocery store chain in South Florida.
Sold mistletoe at the age of 7. We made a killing growing up in Winter Park! 

Q. What or who inspires you?
Adversity inspires me. There’s nothing more satisfying than overcoming adversity.
Successful actors who give back to their local communities and anyone who does charitable work 

Q. What’s the first album you ever bought/owned?
Kiss’ “Destroyer”
Bob Marley’s “Uprising 

Q. What was the first concert you ever attended?
Cheap Trick and U.F.O.
Pink Floyd 

Q. What music/artist would you never be caught listening to?
Mumford and Sons
One Direction — unless my daughters do a sneak attack on me 

Q. What songs would make up the soundtrack of your life?
“Street Fighting Man” by The Rolling Stones, “You Won’t Change Me” by Black Sabbath, “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” by Judas Priest, “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Cool Change” by Little River Band, “I’m No Angel” by Greg Allman, and “Back for More” by Ratt
Songs by Bob Marley, Sublime and The Zach Brown Band

On the Air

In preparation for this article, the guys invited me to stop by the WJRR studio and sit in with them during one of their live shows. Our executive director (and huge WJRR fan), Tom Messina, ’84, and our social media coordinator, Stephanie Sheppard, ’12, accompanied me.
Listen to our segment.

‘Lions and Dolphins and Mines, Oh My!

Alumna trains marine mammals for classified missions


Melyssa Allen, ’12 | Marine Mammal Assistant Trainer, SAIC

By Angie Lewis, ’03

She was just 4 years old when she made one of the biggest decisions of her life. It was a fateful trip to SeaWorld San Antonio, where she touched a dolphin and saw all of the park’s aquatic shows that sealed the deal. “I’m going to work with those animals when I grow up!” she declared to her parents. And, that’s exactly what Melyssa Allen, ’12, is doing.

As a marine mammal assistant trainer for Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), a civilian technology company contracted by the U.S. Navy, Allen trains Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions for the Navy Marine Mammal Program. The animals provide swimmer defense for the restricted waterway around the King’s Bay Naval Submarine Base in Georgia.

“Dolphins have a highly advanced biological sonar that they use for detection of objects, and sea lions have very well-developed, low-light visibility and highly sensitive hearing, which enable both animals to be extremely reliable to their tasked jobs,” Allen explains.

Because of their extraordinary senses, speed and agility in the water, the dolphins and sea lions are easily able to detect and “tag” enemy divers — who pose a threat to vessels, harbor facilities and people — with a special marker, so they can be tracked and apprehended by Naval authorities.

A typical day at work for Allen includes preparing the animals’ diets, performing maintenance on the program’s pens and boats, running practice drills with the animals, and patrolling the waterway.

At the program’s main base in San Diego, dolphins and sea lions are also trained to help the Navy detect sea mines, which are sophisticated weapons used in the ocean and designed to sink ships, destroy landing craft, and critically injure or kill personnel.

The Navy’s Marine Mammal Program has a breeding program for its dolphins, while its sea lions come from other facilities, like SeaWorld, Allen says. The program has also started taking in rescued sea lion pups deemed non-releasable by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, which are raised by the trainers for the program’s projects.

“The National Marine Mammal Foundation has played a very large role in the rescue and rehabilitation of the mass stranding of sea lion pups throughout the past year,” Allen says.

Although she’s been in her current position only since January 2013, Allen has had plenty of experience with animals. She’s been everything from a barn assistant at a horse farm, to a pet trainer at PetSmart, to an aquatic research intern with Disney’s Animal Programs.

While she was a student at UCF, Allen pursued her dream career by participating in Knights for Marine and Wildlife Conservation, Pre-Vet Society, Cognitive Sciences Lab, Applied Cognition and Technology Lab, and Physiological Ecology and Bioenergetics Lab.

She says earning both a B.S. in biology and psychology has allowed her to understand more about the animals with which she works — their physiology and anatomy through her biology background, and the different aspects of operant conditioning and behavior modification from her psychology background.

And, it was access to more opportunities to work with marine mammals in Florida (versus Texas) that drew Allen to UCF. Well, that and, she adds, “When I took the campus tour, I knew that I would be happiest spending my college career here.”

Fishing for More Q&A

Q. What’s the last thing you Googled?
A. My favorite guy from this season of “The Bachelorette,” Bryden Vukasin, who was in the Army during the Iraq war. I kind of have a thing for men in uniform — which works for me, since I work on a Navy base!

Q. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
A. I would like to pursue my doctorate degree and become a professor. (Looks like I might be coming back to UCF for grad school some day!)

Q. What profession would you not like to do?
A. Maintenance professional. I can’t stand having to unclog my shower drain.

Q. How do you manage stress?
A. Over the last year, I actually started to like running, so I began running more consistently and liking it more and more. When I found that racing in a 5K was getting easier and easier, I thought, why don’t I try a sprint triathlon? I like swimming a lot, and I’ve always liked spin class, so why not? Now, training for my races gives me a great outlet for stress! If you had told me this time last year that I would be a triathlete, I would have laughed out loud in your face, but I placed fourth in the novice division for my first race and third in the 20-24 female age group for my second race! And, I ended up placing second in my age group for the entire Jacksonville Triathlon Series that I participated in as well! 

Q. Do you have any special/hidden talents?
A. I played the violin for nine years during school and also took ballet for six years. 

Q. What or who inspires you?
A. Dawn Brancheau, whom I was lucky enough to work with during my internship at Shamu Stadium during the summer of 2009, has always been an inspiration to me in both my career and fitness. I always imagine how excited she would have been, just like the other trainers I know at SeaWorld, knowing that I finally made it to the field! 

Q. What’s your life’s philosophy?
A. When someone tells you, “You can’t,” turn around and tell them, “Watch me!”

Artisan Ice Ice Baby

Alumnus offers a cool solution to Florida’s relentless heat


Brandon Chandler, ’10 | Owner, The Hyppo Orlando

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Everyone who’s experienced a Florida summer knows the humidity is enough to make you melt. Lucky for fellow Knights and other downtown patrons, Brandon Chandler, ’10, and his team at The Hyppo Orlando are constantly freezing up new batches of refreshing gourmet treats.

Chandler knew he could do better than all of the Orlando frozen yogurt shops, which, he says, “aren’t very healthy or original.” So, he opened The Hyppo Orlando, at 431 E. Central Blvd., right at the edge of Lake Eola, selling artisan ice pops made from fresh fruit, cane sugar, herbs and other deliciously interesting ingredients.

Savor the Flavors
Whether you prefer the simplest of flavors, like Strawberry, Coconut or Orange Cream — or, you crave more adventurous flavors, like Guava Hibiscus, Mexican Hot Chocolate or Blackberry Goat Cheese — there’s a frozen combination guaranteed to tickle your taste buds and cool you to the core.

The shop even offers some 21-and-up combinations, like Riesling Pear, Sangria Plum, Cigar City Orange-Mango Helles Lager and Wild Turkey Bourbon Peach.

So, how does Chandler come up with each flavor? “There’s a lot of trial and error involved with not just getting the right flavor combinations, but the correct ratios of each to get the flavor profiles we want,” he explains.

The Hyppo team takes the highest quality fresh fruits, herbs and vegetables and blends them down until they’re mixed in the correct proportion. Then, the mixtures are poured into molds and loaded into flash freezers — the process that makes The Hyppo’s pops so unique. It freezes the pops so cold and fast that ice crystals don’t have time to form, creating a “texture and flavor difference [that] is incredible,” Chandler says. After 15 to 20 minutes in the freezers, the pops are given a quick warm water bath to help them release from the molds, before being sent through the wrapping machine, after which, The Hyppo’s customers happily devour them.

Chandler’s personal favorite flavor? Pineapple Cilantro. But, he says the shop’s bestseller is the Elvis pop, made with peanut butter, banana and honey — and, sometimes, bacon.

Growing Hyppo
The Hyppo originated on Hypolita Street (hence, the shop’s name) in St. Augustine, where the first store opened its doors, before growing into three more locations there.

The Hyppo Orlando is the first location in Central Florida, but Chandler plans to expand it throughout the I-4 corridor, with two to three new shops anticipated within the next year. 

UCF — For the Win!
Chandler’s UCF education and degree have been instrumental in his entrepreneurial endeavors. He was immediately able to find work in Orlando after graduating, which allowed him to save the money he needed to open the Orlando store. In addition, his accounting background has helped in every business decision he’s made. Plus, it makes the numbers of everything much less daunting, he adds.

When ultimately deciding which college he wanted to attend, Chandler knew he wanted to do something business related, so being in a big city with internship opportunities was important. “After touring all the schools around the state, I just knew as soon as I took the tour at UCF, I was going there,” he says. “So, I put my housing deposit in that day, and it was a great decision for me.”

Cool Q&A

Q. Favorite snack?
A. Chocolate-covered peanut butter pretzels from Trader Joe’s 

Q. Happiest/proudest moment of your life so far?
A. Would probably be a tie between having lines out the door on weekends and overhearing people talking about how much they love [Hyppo] and recommending it to their friends at various places around town. 

Q. Worst flavor of ice cream?
A. Strawberry — Fake strawberry is such an insult to the fruit. 

Q. Do you have any nicknames?
A. My last name being the name of a popular TV show character [Chandler Bing on “Friends”] has definitely led to a few related to that show over the years. 

Q. Favorite condiment?
A. Sriracha 

Q. Any special/hidden talents?
A. I am exceptionally mediocre at a wide variety of sports. 

Q. Bacon or Nutella?
A. Bacon

Editor’s note: Since this article was posted, The Hyppo Orlando is no longer associated with The Hyppo franchise based in St. Augustine, and has been rebranded as The Pop Parlour. It remains in the same location mentioned in the story.

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