1. This year Giving Tuesday is on Tuesday, Nov. 27, but you can #GiveToUCF as early as today!
2. Last year, 700 donors raised $71,000 to support programs at the university on Giving Tuesday. From First Generation Scholarships, to the UCF Football Excellence fund, to gifts that enabled the Knights Pantry to provide meals for students, each and every dollar donated has already made a lasting impact on our UCF family.
3. Our goal is to surpass last year’s success , but we need your help to make it happen. Every gift matters, whether it’s $5, $10 or $50; it makes a collective impact when we all work together.
4. If you have a passion, we can find a fund at UCF that deserves your support. If you simply can’t decide where to donate, consider making a gift to UCF’s Area of Greatest Need. By doing so, the university can direct your gift to a program or department that needs support, and therefore will offer the greatest impact.
Alex Cascio ’15 grew up hearing his mother, Jeri Cascio ’87, retelling tales of her commute between Daytona and to the University of Central Florida, where she earned her finance degree. A generation later, Alex found himself attending his mother’s beloved alma mater.
Cascio has always had a passion for film and capturing special moments that told a compelling story, but it wasn’t until he attended UCF that he realized he could parlay this hobby into a career path. While taking classes in marketing, advertising and accounting, he asked himself, why not combine business and storytelling? He switched his major from business administration to human communication/digital media, and forged his own path. This life-changing decision allowed him to go back to the creative space he loved so much, which eventually led to a successful career path in digital media.
During his time as a student, Alex worked full-time as a salesperson for a web design company and also developed his own start-up company, Vibrant Media Productions (VMP). Knowing that he could earn money to pay for expensive production-level equipment and gear that he needed for his start-up provided the motivation he needed to succeed at his commission-only sales position.
“Starting up VMP was quite challenging while being a full-time student,” Cascio recalls. “Taking the plunge and fully committing to my company forced me to grow the business. I can remember countless times having to step outside of the classroom to take conference calls with clients and pretending to be in ‘my office.’”
VMP has seen substantial growth in the few years since Cascio’s graduation, and Cascio, in partnership with his father, has worked with well-known clients like Microsoft, AT&T and Twitter. Cascio was even able to reconnect with UCF through a project with the Florida Consortium of Metropolitan Research Universities.
“On this shoot, we had the opportunity to collaborate with UCF on producing short interview segments, highlight films, instructor presentation videos, and photos,” said Cascio. “These events focused on subjects such as active learning and accelerating transfer success for students.”
Cascio credits his professional and personal successes to his experience at UCF and support of his fiancée and UCF alumna, Chloe Piersall ’15. His advice for current students is “try to absorb the information from the classes you’re taking, because you would be surprised how helpful the information can be in your professional life.” He also emphasized the importance of networking both on and off campus, which, in his experience, led to different and exciting professional projects.
In 2018, Cascio launched the VMP Student Filmfest to help provide winning student films with a cash award that can go toward the student’s continued education and help pay for production equipment. Alex hopes that the VMP Student FilmFest will give students an opportunity to showcase their work, but also allow them to set themselves apart when interviewing for jobs or internships.
“Our VMP Filmfest was created to help give students a platform to showcase their creativity,” stated Reuben Rogak ’14, chief editor of VMP. “Alex understood firsthand what it was like as a digital media student and the financial burden of equipment costs and he is excited to play a role in offering an opportunity to current Knights to help with their financial costs.”
With every project that Cascio works on, he always remembers advice he received from his father: “Never compromise quality. If you truly want your work to stand out from the competition, you have to put in the time and maximum effort.” Charge on, Alex Cascio!
The annual springtime tradition of prom is already a big deal – a crucial over-the-top social milestone for most high school students. Some students fuss over cummerbund choices, others fret about dinner plans – and some worry if their choice of a date will be met with acceptance, or conflict. The new musical The Prom opening on Broadway this fall follows the story of a lesbian student who just wants to take her girlfriend to prom in a small, close-minded town that won’t allow it – and the band of Broadway stars who try to make it happen.
Musical theatre alumna Jerusha Cavazos ’14 first had a role on the show Atlanta on FX in April, performed in Jesus Christ Superstar in Chicago through May, and is now making her Broadway debut in The Prom surrounded by industry greats. Even with such a successful whirlwind year, she stopped by the Performing Arts Center to give new Musical Theatre students a masterclass and take a moment to reflect on her roles, her journey, and her own prom.
Congratulations on your Broadway debut! How does it feel to be getting ready to take the stage?
I have so many mixed emotions right now. I am so grateful and excited … literally bursting with joy. At the same time, I’m nervous and still in shock that I get to go on a journey that I’ve been dreaming about since I was 10. There are days I walk to the theatre and ring the stage door buzzer with tears in my eyes. I’ve walked past many Broadway stage doors dreaming of what it would be like to enter it as an artist performing on that stage. I get to do that now. It feels surreal and I’m trying to be present in every moment, taking it all in, with so much gratitude.
Tell us about the show and the role you’re playing.
The show is called The Prom. In a nutshell, it’s about acceptance and love. This story will have you laughing so hard you can’t breathe – and then, it will have you crying. It is moving, honest and relevant. I play one of the high school kids in the show, in the ensemble.
Are there any memories from your own prom that inspired you in this production?
In high school, prom was SUCH a big deal. Finding the perfect dress, the date, how you were going to arrive, the after-party, etc. I remember going to so many different dress stores with my mother. My best friend and I planned out a party bus to pick up all our friends, and we went all out. These memories really help me with my character … when I remember just how important prom was to me then, it’s easy to really tap into the brain of a high school teen who just wants to have the best senior year and make memories.
What’s the most exciting thing about being in a new, original Broadway production?
There are so many exciting things about being in a new Broadway show, it’s hard for me to choose just one! So, I’ll make a quick list:
Meeting and working with the writing team – this is so rare, and it’s so special to be part of.
Working with Casey Nicholaw and his team. I can’t express how amazing it is to watch this team work together. It’s pure magic!
Recording the original cast album – a bucket list item for sure!
Working with designers. Getting to look at costume sketches that were designed with me in mind is just out of this world. Trying on wigs that were made for me is amazing. The design team are incredibly talented people.
And, there are also about 13 people making their Broadway debuts. This is so special. The energy backstage and on-stage is electric. The Broadway vets are so excited for us and I am thrilled that I am experiencing this life-changing moment with this group of people.
You recently had a part on FX’s Atlanta. How is being on the screen different than being on the stage?
I LOVED WORKING ON ATLANTA. Donald Glover is a genius and so generous, kind and very collaborative!
When I was shooting Atlanta, we would be on set for about 12 hours a day. The biggest difference is that in TV, you have to nail your action perfectly once, but you’re exhausted once the day is done because you’ve worked on scenes for 12-14 hours. Once you get the shot you can move on to the next. In theatre, you have to recreate those moments every night, eight times a week. This requires a discipline that is individual to each actor. How you maintain and balance energy, keep moments fresh and honest, preserve your voice and body, etc. is unique to each actor.
How did your time at UCF prepare you for your career as an actor?
I’m so grateful for my experience at UCF. I think that any program you enter as an actor becomes what you make of it. And I made the most out of my time at UCF. I took advantage of the many resources that UCF has. I did independent studies with professors and worked on perfecting skill sets I knew I needed to make it. Here’s the great thing about UCF: if you really want it, the professors are there to help guide you to do so. You just have to show up.
Do you have any advice for someone pursuing an acting career?
Just do it! Don’t let anyone or anything deter you. My dad always told me, “If you feel you have something to say, say it; if not, get off the stage!” I’ve tried to live by that. It’s challenging because our business is so overwhelming at times and it can look impossible. But if you have any amount of talent and technique mixed with some good old-fashioned courage, you can make it. And it doesn’t matter where that happens. That’s the beauty of our business – there are many places where we can make that happen: New York, London, Paris, Berlin, Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville and Orlando. Just go out there and do it! Also, don’t compare your journey to anyone else’s. What’s meant for you is yours and cannot be taken away.
“Broadway’s new musical comedy with issues,” The Prom begins previews October 23 and opens November 15 at Longacre Theatre in New York. Tickets, information and more at theprommusical.com.
ORLANDO, Fla. – Sunday won’t be the first Father’s Day that Marlon Gutierrez ’11 celebrates, but this one will hold its own special milestone. This Father’s Day will be the first for his all-inclusive fatherhood community, Orlando Dads Group.
The UCF College of Business alumnus is a first-generation American – the son of Nicaraguan immigrants – and the first in his family to earn a college education. But he says becoming a first-time father nearly two years ago to his daughter Isabella was an even bigger leap into uncharted territory. He knew he needed help.
There is no shortage of mothers groups in Orlando. With a click of a button and a few seconds, you can find playgroups, breastfeeding-support groups, emotional- support groups, first-time mother groups, Mommy and Me classes, tribes for mothers of twins and triplets, single-mothers groups, mothers of preschoolers and mother meetups.
The same Google search for dads? Not so much.
Not until Gutierrez stepped in.
“I wanted to be there just as much as my wife was there for our daughter. I was having a hard time figuring out where are these people who have a similar identity that I can connect with? That’s when I realized Orlando still hadn’t developed that yet. Sometimes you have to create the things that you want,” he says, crediting his wife Stefany for the words of wisdom.
Orlando Dads Unite
He reached out to City Dads Group, a national organization that originated in New York City in 2008 and within five years grew to more than 900 fathers. In 2013, the organization expanded the concept and now fosters 34 groups across the nation in more than 20 states.
With City Dads Group’s support, Gutierrez’s Orlando chapter has grown to more than 85 members in its first year. There are no dues or minimum participation requirements.
The only prerequisite is being a dad.
“It’s an all-inclusive group,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a stay-at-home dad, working dad, gay, straight, young or older, single or married or a foster dad — you just have to be a dad.”
The group organizes three events per month. One will be held June 16 at 2 p.m. at the South Trail Branch Library (4600 S. Orange Blossom Trail), where the group plans to enjoy a free performance by DAPS, a local group of freestyle rappers and improvisers who use hip-hop to put on a comedy show.
Gatherings like these are labeled “family events,” which encourage dads to bring significant others, extended family or friends along with their children.
The second meetup of a month is categorized as a “Dads’ Night Out.” These meetups are solely for the fathers. Gutierrez planned one recently at an arcade lounge in downtown Orlando and another at Winter Garden’s Crooked Can Brewery.
The third outing of a month is for dads and their kids. A recent pizza night in Waterford Lakes was a big hit, and an upcoming movie date for a free showing of Sing is scheduled at CMX Cinemas in downtown Orlando on June 26 at 9:30 a.m.
Because the group is still relatively new, Gutierrez’s biggest challenge is figuring out what programming works best and where. His group includes fathers from Winter Garden to East Orlando.
Some fathers connected with the group for the same reason Gutierrez started it — they sought a supportive and relatable community. Some have joined it because their wives enthusiastically nudged them into it.
Regardless of the reason, Gutierrez tries his best to hook the dads’ interest early because he knows how helpful it can be to have a support system.
“There’s no manual or guide on how to be a parent,” he says. “I think [this group] has taught me a lot about myself, and I realized that I had to make a lot of changes. I was very much focused on my career because that’s what society expected me to do. Now, being more open with a community that has supportive fathers and environments like the City Dads’ network, I’ve been able to find other dads out there trying to do the same thing. It’s OK not to be so focused on my career. I can be balanced on my career and family and travels and make my life what I want it to be.”
Time management is key in achieving that balance, and he has found that work-life integration works best for him.
He volunteers with the UCF College of Business Alumni Chapter as a mentor for current students. He started a short-term corporate rental company with his wife called Orlando City Corporate Housing, which Stephany now manages.
He works full time from home for Student Loan Hero, a resource and loan-advisement company, where Isabella has become an honorary “employee.” When the toddler plops on her father’s lap for virtual meetings, she is greeted by name by Gutierrez’s co-workers. He says they are all supportive of his balancing act.
Although his schedule takes some careful coordinating, he has high hopes for the fatherhood group, which he plans to keep growing and make an integral part of the community.
“I want this group to also be able to paint a different picture on what fatherhood looks like. Dads can get involved. We do care, and there’s a lot of things that we’re doing,” he says. “More than our enrollment numbers, I want to have a group that feels powerful together because we’re sharing something that’s pretty amazing.”
ORLANDO, Fla. (April 30, 2018) – While four Knights fulfilled lifelong dreams of hearing their names called during the 2018 NFL Draft, another pair of Knights were working behind the scenes to capture every moment.
Alumni Eric DeSalvo ’09 and Brandon Naidus ’12 are the maestros of the social media accounts for their respective teams.
The two share more than a similar job. In fact, Naidus was an undergraduate student intern for UCF Athletics Communications when DeSalvo took his first job out of graduate school in 2011 as the UCF assistant director of communications for the baseball and volleyball teams.
They keep in touch often, and that was certainly the case over the weekend as they both worked to churn out quality content worthy of viral numbers.
DeSalvo and UCF were one of the select college brands whose digital content teams were invited to the draft at AT&T Stadium in Dallas. Meanwhile, Naidus and his department covered the draft remotely from the media conference room in the Arizona Cardinals facility.
They still might be slightly sleep deprived from the big weekend, but they took some time to share a glimpse into the strategy, the creativity and the heart it takes every day to do their jobs.
You both have covered drafts before in some capacity. How did you apply what you’ve learned from those experiences and adapt your strategy for success this year? DeSalvo: “The first draft I was really involved with was when Blake Bortles was drafted in 2014 and went third overall. We had a template created for a graphic that allowed us to interchange the team he was drafted to. It also had the round and the overall pick. People might not remember, but I screwed that up. I put he was taken sixth overall because I had put that in the template as a placeholder, and when he was picked third, I forgot to change it and didn’t realize it until about three minutes after I tweeted it. A coworker spotted it, and I had to delete the tweet with well over 100 retweets. I fixed it and put it back out and all was OK.
“That actually happened again the following year when Breshad Perriman went in the first round. It said the 25th pick when he was the 26th. So, we have learned, you don’t worry about rounds and picks. It’s all about what team the the guy is going to. After that, I measure our success on how much original, on-site content we can get and if we can get video or photos straight from the guys to show that these lifelong dreams that came true. We knew we were going to have our stuff prepared, but success in my mind, was getting more of the stuff that hits the hearts of our fans and the NFL team’s fans.”
Naidus: “My first draft I was wide-eyed, not sure what to expect. I was in charge of updating the website and handling all social media postings for the Jaguars in 2013 when I was an intern. In 2014, I still did that and that was the year they took Blake and Storm (Johnson). This year was the sixth draft I have been a part of, and I was responsible for leading the charge of what kind of social content we created and put out there. It’s interesting to see how things evolve. In 2013, I was preparing headshots for the website. Now I’m preparing graphics and tweets that can be shared by our current players to welcome our draft picks to the team – which a few years ago wasn’t even a thought. We want to be informative and engaging. Our fans have a lot of outlets they can go to for news, but we want them to come to us first.”
What kind of preparation do you need to do before a big event like the draft? DeSalvo: “Twitter is always going to be first because it’s the immediate news. Before the draft, we uploaded 32 versions of a highlight video for each player, for each team they could potentially go to. We had seven guys who could have been drafted. So seven guys multiplied by 32 possible teams meant we uploaded 224 into the back end of Twitter, before the draft, with the message of the post already crafted. I had Megan Herboth in the communications department send that out from Orlando because I was on site in Dallas. I don’t ever want to jeopardize connectivity because every second is precious when it comes to getting this post out. People can’t wait to celebrate big news. Having it out immediately and accurately is the biggest part to our success when it comes to those big numbers.”
Naidus: “I basically looked at every mock draft and said ‘OK, what are positions of need for our team?’ and created content based on the top few players at every single position. You try and do as much work on the front end to save yourself on the back end to keep from getting trampled. We had a whole list of content with all the pieces we planned on putting out leading up to the draft; the days of the draft; and the day after the draft. All the graphics, all the video elements. Could they pick someone we didn’t anticipate them to pick? Sure. But you prepare as best you can and then I assigned responsibilities to our social team so everyone knew what they were responsible for handling.”
Many have said they expect that this year’s draft will forever be known as the year of Shaquem Griffin. Eric, what was it like to be there to experience it? DeSalvo: “It was pretty incredible to see the amount of coverage he got. He was a day-3 pick that received top-5 pick coverage. It was a roller coaster because he initially wasn’t there to hear his name called. He was with his family at the hotel. So, I was determined to get crowd reaction from whatever team he went to. Seattle had two really close picks back to back in the fifth round, so I figured it would be his time more than ever, hedged my bet and waited by their section in the stadium. Sure enough, when he got picked they went crazy. Being able to get a different angle – that in-the-moment reaction – was awesome to capture. When he did get to the stadium, it was really neat just being able to see everybody yelling his name as he was riding in his golf cart to go to the ESPN and NFL Network sets. Everyone from security guards to producers wanted to say hi and congratulate him. A lot of people congratulated his mom. So being able to experience that and just see the love he received from every single person first hand was pretty incredible. ”
What does the average person not know about your job? DeSalvo: “The amount of people you collaborate with. They don’t understand how many people are contributing to what we’re putting out there. The amount of edits that can happen. The amount of stuff that’s done on the fly. You have to be so reactionary in this business. You always have to be on. I mean, I had no idea when Alabama was giving their rings to their players, and all of a sudden, we’re getting bombarded by people, including Alabama players, tagging us in pictures of their rings. I’m flattered they are thinking about us, but to be able to pivot on the fly and come up with some replies to people, it’s a lifestyle. It’s not just a job. There’s a lot more to it than just having fun and posting messages, and sometimes it’s very tough to turn it off. Social media can consume your life. Shout out to my wife, Jessica, for putting up with me in this field. I know she enjoys seeing me love what I do, but I can’t appreciate her enough.”
Naidus: “Probably the amount of hours that go into it. I’ve had drafts where I’ve worked over 50 hours in three days. The preparation that goes into it from a content perspective – how prepared you have to be on the front end in order to succeed as everything is happening. It’s not just grabbing a cool video as a guy walks by. I would be shocked if any team has a heads up on who their picks are. I had no idea who we were taking this year. In the six years I’ve done this, I’ve only had a heads up once for a first-round pick. People probably think, ‘Oh if he works for the team, he probably knows.’ Not really. It doesn’t really work like that.”
Your role means you’re often the voice of your team. How do you feel about having that responsibility? DeSalvo: “I’m in a unique position because I’m an alumnus of the school I work for. People give back to their alma maters in different ways: monetarily, service and by working there. I feel like this is the biggest way I’ve been able to give back to UCF – a school that’s been a part of my life since day one with my dad graduating from the Class of ’75. I’m able to utilize my passion on a daily basis because I’m a fan, too. Whenever we’re putting out messages and we’re ‘yelling’ in all caps, it’s because we feel that way. I’m not just putting that out to fake emotion. It’s real. And that’s what awesome because there are so many people who work here and graduated from here who feel the same way. Being at the controls of us in our golden years right now, that’s something that I wouldn’t change for the world. It’s my way of giving back to my alma mater in maybe one of the most unique ways possible.”
Naidus: “There’s a lot of moving parts and a lot of pressure, so it’s a little nerve-wracking, but it’s exciting, too, and it has offered me a lot of unique opportunities. Last year we drafted Haason Reddick, and I was sitting at the press conference next to his mother, who was crying because her son realized his dream. In that moment, it’s hard not to get choked up. Being a part of such a special day for people who have worked their whole lives toward something, it’s really cool to be a part of that.”
Share your most memorable behind-the-scenes moment from this year’s draft. DeSalvo: “I think it was riding in the freight elevator with the Griffin family and getting the picture where I said, yup you guys broke twitter. It was just so quiet. Nobody was really talking, and they decided to go through their phones and check social media really quick. I’ve always wanted a picture like that because I was envisioning in my head it would look cool in black and white. Weirdly, two of the top moments of my career have happened in a freight elevator. The other was my first trip to New York City last year and riding in the freight elevator at Madison Square Garden standing next to Johnny Dawkins. I remember thinking to myself, he’s probably ridden in this elevator so many times, and knowing the kind of people who have gone through this elevator. So it came full circle again this weekend. That moment was definitely up there.”
Naidus: “The coolest aspect for me was how quickly and efficiently our social media team produced content. The person that leads our efforts with social media videos, Jesse, was working his first NFL Draft. While this was the second draft for our social graphics guy, Jackson, this was the first time he was responsible for creating the bulk of our graphics for the draft. Over the three days, there is so much information and so much content, it can get overwhelming at times. I thought they handled it incredibly well. Their sense of accomplishment after the last pick was made was a great moment. I thought our entire broadcasting/digital department, which we fall under, churned out great content pieces for various mediums leading up to and during the NFL Draft.”
ORLANDO, Fla. (April 20, 2018) – After Josh Haley ’12 ’14MS saw projects at April 19’s College of Engineering and Computer Science Senior Design Showcase, he’s not so sure that his own project at the inaugural showcase in 2012 would measure up anymore.
“Things that were really, really cool projects when I was an undergrad are now just kind of ‘Eh, I’ve seen cooler,’” Haley said. “The students coming from UCF every year are getting smarter and faster at implementing complex systems. The university has really kept pace on the increasing demands of this industry.”
Haley, a software engineer and assistant technical staff lead for SoarTech, was one of 32 alumni to offer their expertise as judges at the senior showcase this year.
The event featured 123 teams and 600 students. An additional 130 students from nine other engineering colleges presented 25 additional projects for the first Florida-Wide Student Engineering Design Invitational.
The partnership shows how strong engineering and computer science talent is being developed at universities to fuel Florida’s innovation economy. UCF is the nation’s No. 1 workforce supplier to the aerospace and defense industry and is among the nation’s top producers of engineers and computer scientists.
“I think we really impressed the visiting colleges with the scope of our senior design showcase given how large of a university we are and how many teams we have and how well the event came together,” Haley said. “I thought it was a great opportunity to see the focus of the senior projects at some of the universities in the state. I’m familiar with the awesome work that is being done at UCF, but I had no idea of some of the great medial technology applications coming out of Miami and USF.”
Haley is the chair of the UCF College of Engineering and Computer Science Alumni Chapter and previously spent three years as the communications chair for the group. He said many members of the chapter, himself included, enjoy mentoring and interacting with the current students on a regular basis.
He can still recall the stress and workload the students undertake in pulling off a successful project.
Before he become the first in his family to graduate with a bachelor’s degree, he developed his own project – an autonomous robotic rover with a metal detection element that safely navigated a synthetic minefield and reported back successful paths.
The showcase now holds a different vibe to him in his role as a judge.
“It’s a fun event where I can see what’s going on with the student projects, and not just within my own discipline, but across the entire college,” he said. “I think now I have a much greater appreciation for all the wonderful things the other disciplines are doing that I probably didn’t have as an undergrad.”
He said he believes the senior design showcase will continue to improve and grow as the project complexities continue to increase and the students consistently turn out high-quality work. As for the Florida-Wide Student Engineering Design Invitational, he hopes that will become an annual event.
“The statewide invitational allows more cross-pollination of project ideas and priorities. As part of the alumni judging component, we would absolutely would love to have a Florida Cup that travels school to school based on who claims the coolest project for that year.”
ORLANDO, Fla. (April 19, 2018) — The sounds of construction can be heard on the third floor of Orlando City Hall. The building is being retrofitted with energy efficient technology as part of the City of Orlando’s sustainability initiatives.
It’s one of the many projects currently underway and supervised by sustainability director Chris Castro ’10 and sustainability project manager Brittany Sellers ’13MA ’16PhD. From the moment the UCF alumni step in their offices, they are literally surrounded by the results of their labor of love.
Their daily mission, especially on April 22’s Earth Day, is to transform Orlando into one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the country. That’s not exactly easy to do when one of the world’s top tourist destinations is also Forbes’ fourth-fastest growing city in America for 2018.
“When you look at Orlando from a long-term sustainability standpoint, 30-40-50-plus years from now, the amount of energy, the amount of water we’re consuming, the amount of waste that we are generating, is unsustainable,” Castro says. “At a certain point, our economy could become impacted negatively if we don’t start proactively paying attention to that.”
Easy Being Green
Castro and Sellers have been paying attention for quite a while.
Castro, the son of palm tree farmers in Miami, arrived at UCF in 2007 as an undeclared major. In his first year, he enrolled in a class taught by Penelope Canan, a nationally recognized professor for her environmental and sociology research. After taking her environmental sociology course, he knew he wanted to dedicate his life and career to sustainability.
He jumped in immediately by starting IDEAS for UCF, a sustainability-focused student organization. The group welcomes students of all majors and interests, and it focuses on originating solutions to make UCF’s campus more sustainable.
One of its first major achievements was receiving a commitment from President John C. Hitt and UCF to become a carbon neutral campus by 2050. IDEAS worked on programming and policies to help make strides toward that goal.
“I saw UCF as this unbelievable opportunity. For me, it was the best Petri dish that any student could ever imagine,” Castro says. “Everything I was doing through campus, I’ve now tried to expand it and take it to real life and the municipal government.”
Sellers heard about the project as a human factors psychology doctoral student and wanted to study the challenge Castro helped implement as part of her dissertation.
She examined the project with a behavioral lens. How were students living in older dorms competing against students in newly constructed dorms? What if students couldn’t easily access sockets to unplug electronics? Did they know what the challenge on campus meant in the bigger picture of impacting climate change globally?
“Information does not equal action. People can know to do the right thing but there are all these other factors, and we need to look at what that means. What are the elements that can make it more possible?” Sellers says. “My transition to the department of sustainability at the city was pretty seamless even though I had come in as a psychology researcher. It might not seem like the most logical jump. But from the interdisciplinary approach I had in my education, it all made sense. A lot of that was fostered at UCF.”
People, Planet and Prosperity
Castro joined City of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer’s sustainability department full time in 2014, and Sellers joined soon after in 2015 before graduating with her doctorate a year later.
The two have brought their expertise to Dyer’s Green Works initiative, which began in 2007. Every day, these Knights and their team – which includes energy project manager Ian LaHiff ’09, sustainability associate Joe England ’09 ’12MA and public outreach coordinator Daniel Friedline ’13 – are shaping the policies and actions that make Orlando and Central Florida a more livable, vibrant and sustainable place to live.
“Sustainability is about changing that mindset to get people looking at people, planet and prosperity. It’s about the triple-bottom line: social, economic and environment,” Castro says. “The fact is, we won’t have an economy if our people are dying and are sick. We won’t have an economy if the natural resources in our environment that we depend on aren’t there. So what cities are positioning to do in our office and our roles is to figure out how we can change our operations internally, and externally, how we can change our culture to embrace the triple-bottom line.”
The first phase of the Green Works program focused internally on city operations. The city knew it needed to buy in to what it was asking of its residents, so it began upgrading municipal building features to minimize energy consumption. It lowered water usage, diverted waste and transitioned its fleet vehicles to alternative fuels.
In 2013, Green Works took what it learned from its internal changes and applied its success outward to the community to foster a culture that embraced sustainability.
To keep from getting overwhelmed, Castro and Sellers focus on making progress in six key areas: energy and green buildings; local food systems; solid waste; livability (planting trees, pedestrian and bicycle trails, expanding parks); transportation; and water. Within each area are policies and actions needed to make their goals happen by 2040.
There are measures like developing plans for solar generation on rooftops in support of Orlando’s 100 percent renewable energy commitment – one of 50 cities in the country to undertake such a monumental task. Or transforming all downtown LYMMO buses into all electric zero-metric buses. Or adding electric motorcycles for the Orlando Police Department. Or addressing food insecurity with farmers markets that accept SNAP benefits. Or fleet farming, exactly like the food being grown in plant beds outside of UCF’s Student Union.
“We could be here all day,” Sellers says as Castro and she list one example after another.
Castro and Sellers estimate their office juggles 40-50 projects simultaneously at any given time, and even though the work is demanding, Sellers says she is excited to be part of the team and takes prides in the work they accomplish every day, especially in the city where her alma mater is located.
While some may say they’re ‘saving the world,’ she prefers to look at it from a slightly different perspective.
“I like when we go out and do good things, you see that light spark in other people. You ignite that desire to do the right thing, the good thing. So I like to frame that as ‘amplifying the good that already exists in the world,’” she says. “Sometimes we’re changing hearts and minds and there’s an evolution, but at the same time, for a lot of people, this already lies within them, and we’re just kind of empowering and enabling that in them.”
Power of One
While they are certainly leading the charge, they want everyone to understand the role each individual can play in helping the city’s progress toward a better future for Orlando.
Castro points to a phone call he received recently from a concerned citizen about an oak tree that was scheduled to be cut down because of development. The individual asked if something could be done to stop trees like the oak from being cut down in the future.
Now, Castro’s team along with the parks and planning teams will collaborate on exploring ways to improve tree ordinances and protect Orlando’s urban forest.
“That all happened because of one individual. That voice goes an extremely long way,” Castro says.
They’ve made it a priority to provide tools and information to the public on their website www.cityoforlando.net/greenworks as well as host community forums to encourage others to use their voices.
Castro and Sellers both agree that the single biggest aspect about sustainability that people do not realize is the effect one individual can have in making a difference.
“Changing out your light bulbs, changing one degree in your home [thermostat], unplugging appliances, changing your diet, carpooling or ride sharing or alternative modes of transit,” Castro says, “little by little, these actions in a collective sense, make a huge global impact.”
UCF theatre alumnus Justin Sargent ’08 is on a first-name basis with Academy Award, Golden Globe, Grammy and Tony Award winner John Legend thanks to his role in Jesus Christ Superstar, set to air live April 1 on NBC at 8 p.m.
As a priest in the ensemble and the understudy to Legend, who is playing Jesus, Sargent has spent the past six weeks rehearsing and shaping the network’s latest concert special, which also features Sara Bareilles and Alice Cooper.
Sargent, from Trinity, Florida, has played the lead roles in Broadway productions of Rock of Ages and Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, so he is no stranger to performing on a big stage. But the magnitude of this one is starting to hit him.
“Even though there’s all these amazing celebrities and people popping in and out of rehearsals, the scale of it never hit me until I saw an interview that John was doing and he was talking about it,” Sargent said, “and I realized, ‘Oh my God, this is going to be seen by millions of people. This is going to be filmed live. How are we going to do this?!”
Sargent shared details from rehearsals, what it feels like to have super powers and why Cooper yelling in his face for two straight hours was one of the best moments of his life.
Q: How did you get your first big break into the industry?
“After college, I worked in the theme parks and at a singing-waiter Italian restaurant in Fashion Square Mall. A new Spider-Man musical was going to Broadway and an open-call audition was going to be held in Orlando. I was the 180th person to audition. U2 wrote the music for the show, so when the casting directors asked what I was singing, I said, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For by U2, and they said, ‘Out of 180 people, you’re the first person to sing a U2 song, so already you’re off to a great start!’ My audition went really well, so I got a call back. Eventually, I was asked to travel to New York to audition for the creative team. They asked if I had plans of moving to the city, and when I said eventually, they said I should do it sooner than later.
“So six months later I moved to New York. I emailed the casting directors from Telsey + Company that I had met in Orlando. They brought me in for Rock of Ages, and about nine months after I moved to the city I was doing my first Broadway show.”
Q: After your stint on Rock of Ages you did end up taking over the role of Spider-Man. What’s it like to be a superhero?
“I was a huge comic book fan and a huge fan of Spider-Man when I was a kid. I remember [during the play] being in the costume every night and looking down at my hands with the red-and-black webbed gloves and thinking, ‘This is crazy, I’m Spider-Man. I’m being hooked up to wires and flying around, this is the best!’ It was amazing.”
Q: What’s been the coolest moment for you in working with the celebrity cast of Jesus Christ Superstar?
“When I was 14 years old, my mother took me to see Alice Cooper on his tour. We sat in the second row of Ruth Eckerd Hall (Clearwater, Florida). Alice Cooper did his whole show in front of us – I could reach out and touch him if I wanted to. At the end of the show, they roll out this giant guillotine and ‘decapitate’ him, and his bass player picks up his head and drinks blood out of it and spits it all over my mom and I. I was hooked as soon as it happened. I was like, ‘Oh. My. God. That was the most amazing thing in the world!’ He came to our rehearsal one day, and he watched us do a run-through of the show. I was singing the Jesus role, and he came up to me afterward and gave me a big hug. He was very complimentary and very kind, and I got to tell him that story.
“There’s a part of our show when Jesus is brought in front of King Herod, and he does this big flashy number in front of Jesus and taunts him quite a lot. So after I told him my story, for about two hours, I was just on my knees pretending to be Jesus while Alice Cooper screamed in my face. And it was one of the most surreal, amazing experiences. I’ll never forget it.”
Q: NBC has produced several of these throwback live -productions. Why do you think they are so popular?
“I really believe that entertainment, in general, is cyclical. Back in the earlier part of the 20th century, the movie-musical was a huge part of the entertainment industry. Going all the way back to Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers and then of course with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye and all these musical performers, these things were part of our industry from the start. And it’s been a long time since that’s been represented in pop culture. NBC took a risk with Sound of Music (2013) being the first one that was done on TV in 56 years, and it really hit a chord with people. This is so nostalgic. I think it was one of those things that people realized, ‘Oh yeah, this is a thing! This is something that we all enjoy!’”
Q: When you look back on your involvement with Jesus Christ Superstar, how do you think you’ll feel about the experience?
“I am having the time of my life. I’ve starred in Broadway shows. I’ve done work that I’m proud of. I’ve done work that I’ve been challenged by and that I’ve enjoyed. But nothing has felt quite like this. This means a lot to me. This musical, this score, this rock album is something that’s been in my life since I was a child. My parents introduced me to this when I was young, so it feels like home to me. To be part of the process that creates this thing for a new generation is so extremely special, and I honestly cannot believe I’m getting to do this. Just going to rehearsal every single day is exhausting and challenging for so many reasons, but it never ever, ever, ever feels like work.”
Q: How did your education at UCF help prepare you for a career in theatre?
“The Bachelor of Fine Arts track in musical theatre at UCF accepts a certain number of students every year, so it’s a very hands-on program. You become very involved with your professors and your fellow students. Having that personal touch be my introduction to the art form was a pretty unique experience. It was wonderful and helped shape the way I look at what I do. I try to look at everything as if it’s a cohesive family unit. Each project has its own family and we all have to work with each other and for each other in order to make things happen. I think that’s one of the great things about going to a program like UCF. It’s so personal.”
ORLANDO, Fla. (March 1, 2018) — On any given day, you can find Kristin Harris ’11 interviewing A-listers such as Ryan Gosling, Rihanna, Nicole Kidman, Bill Murray and Ed Sheeran.
As BuzzFeed’s celebrity editor and head of talent-relations, Harris has the job that pop culture nerds dream about.
When she was 10 years old, the Lake Mary, Florida, native pictured her career as it is today, and though it’s taken a lot of hustle and hard work, the advertising and public relations alumna has made it her reality.
Harris broke into the industry during her first year at UCF when she was selected by Teen Vogue for a program the magazine was spearheading to collaborate on a project with a skin-care company.
The pivotal moment to jumpstart her current career, however, happened two summers later. She emailed more than a dozen editors to beg for an internship. Without any published work to her name, she created a blog and wrote sample articles in the hopes it would be enough to convince an editor to hire her.
She received a reply from Eva Chen, one of the fashion industry’s youngest editors to lead a national American magazine. Two days later, Harris flew to New York for an interview and was offered an internship at Teen Vogue about eight years ago.
“I’m lucky she took a chance on me. It sounds overdramatic now, but at the time, an internship at Teen Vogue – it was the heyday of [MTV’s show] The Hills – it was a really big deal,” she said. “It was the year magazines started creating an online presence. It was the beginning of everything that exists now. She let me do whatever I wanted. … Without that experience, I would say I would not be where I am right now.”
In addition to the working knowledge she gained through her internships, Harris continued to round out her resume with campus involvement through student government and the study-abroad program. Her time at UCF helped transform her from a quiet teenager to a go-getter.
“I grew up so much in those four years and in this industry and my job, I really truly needed that,” Harris said. “It was really through my experience at UCF — the friendships I made, the professors I met and the opportunities I had — that I grew into the kind of person who could go after her dreams and make them happen.”
She moved to England to further her education at the London College of Fashion. When she came back stateside, she job hunted for a year in New York City.
She remembers a day that seems so long ago now, sitting by the water in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn contemplating her life. Despite her hard work and effort, a job remained elusive.
What was she doing? Should give up on her dream? Map out a new life plan?
Then she checked her inbox.
“I randomly got an email from an editor at Seventeen magazine. She blindly emailed me and said, ‘Someone passed on your resume, I’m hiring for this editor position. Are you interested?’” Harris said. “I still, to this day, don’t know who passed on my resume, which is why networking and hustling and staying involved is so important. Because you just never truly know what’s going to happen.”
She worked at Seventeen for a year, and although she was wasn’t actively looking to leave the magazine, she applied to BuzzFeed in 2014 on a whim for an associate celebrity editor position. Known for its creative, fun and engaging content, the digital media powerhouse scared her. Harris said she didn’t think she was good enough.
“I’ve learned that the things that scare me the most, of what I’m most fearful of, are the ones that are always worth it the most, at the end of the day,” she said.
After two years, she helped create a role coordinating talent relations. She attended her first Grammy Awards in 2017, has navigated red carpets with Blake Lively, and flew from New York City to Hawaii and back in the span of 72 hours to interview Zac Efron on the set of a movie.
It’s not a typical life, but it’s the wonderful one she pursued and finally made her own.
“In this world, your imagination is your opportunity,” Harris said. “Whatever you dream up you can make happen.”
Read more about Harris’ biggest career highlights in the spring issue of Pegasus magazine.
ORLANDO, Fla. (Feb. 23, 2018) – On the surface, Kaitlyn Chana ’13 had it all together. In fact, she basically owned life.
The former straight-A student at Lake Brantley High School started her own non-profit as a teenager that sent cards of kindness to hospitalized children. She was a member of UCF’s President’s Leadership Council, LEAD Scholars and received UCF’s most prestigious student award, Order of Pegasus.
The radio-TV alumna was even selected as one of 20 people to carry the Olympic torch in 2010 for the Vancouver Winter Games through Calgary, Canada, because of her charity work.
Yet, underneath the surface, Chana battled through three different eating disorders over 10 years until the day she came to a very hard-hitting realization.
“With eating disorders, it’s life or death. If you don’t pick one, unfortunately one is going to overcome and dominate. I didn’t want to die,” she said. “I wanted to be a journalist. I wanted to be a reporter that’s telling meaningful stories.”
Today, she’s doing just that and recently returned to campus as part of LEAD Scholars’ Leadership Week to share her personal story and her mission to change the stigma around eating disorders and mental health.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, eating disorders are serious but treatable mental illnesses that can affect people of every age, sex, gender, race, ethnicity and socioeconomic group. No one knows exactly what causes them, but national surveys estimate that 20 million women and 10 million men in America will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives.
Chana said several factors contributed to her first eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, when she was in middle school. A perfectionist, Chana said society’s perception of beauty combined with desire to please someone in her life whose love and acceptance she craved warped her reality. To her, thinness equated to beauty, acceptance and success.
She began deteriorating until she weighed closed to 60 pounds. She aimed to trim to a 12-inch waist. She carried weights in her backpack and wore weights around her ankles to shed more calories all the while maintaining her perfect GPA and anchoring the school’s morning announcements.
“My bones were protruding. When I looked in the mirror, I thought I was morbidly obese,” she said. “I cut everything off. I couldn’t cry. I didn’t even know what happy was if you defined it to me. I couldn’t understand those feelings. When I had doctors, psychologist, a nutritionist trying to help me get healthier, I transferred eating disorders. I was feeling more, but I still wanted control, so I picked up another set of bad habits.”
She shifted to bulimia nervosa, a disorder marked by binging and purging to avoid weight gain. In college, she stopped purging but instead transitioned into a binge eating disorder. She would claim control by limiting her food intake for days and then gorge on 10,000 calories in one secret sitting.
As a student at the Nicholson School of Communication, she began to see the stamina journalists needed daily to be successful in the industry.
“I knew I couldn’t keep this pain and suffering all bottled up inside of me and be able to complete the task for just my basic classes, let alone an actual full time job as a reporter,” she said.
So she visited UCF’s Student Health Services and for the first time, truly wanted the help she was asking for. They helped her find Winter Park’s White Picket Fence, a counseling center specialized in eating disorders.
It took baby steps every day, but now after a decade-long journey, she says she is fully recovered. She doesn’t wake up in the morning and go to bed at night thinking about food and weight. When she is hungry, she eats, and when she feels full, she stops.
And if she is ever in a stressful point in her life, she thinks about the past and reminds herself that those methods didn’t work for years, and they certainly won’t solve problems now.
She also credits her family, specifically her mother, for helping her through her recovery.
“Together, we figured it out. My mom would read books about it, and she would help me through the process. It truly was an exhausting journey, and I can only imagine from her standpoint. There were days where doctors said, ‘Kailtyn, you’re not going to survive. You’re going to die.’ My mom would say, ‘You can’t die on me. We’re going to do this together. We’re going to figure it out together. Just hold on.”
So now Chana wants to help others through the best way she knows how – storytelling.
She achieved her professional goal and became a reporter for Action News Jax in 2015 after a brief stint at a news station in Bangor, Maine. On the side, she started another organization, Reel Stories. Real People., which tells stories that inspire, advocate, and educate the public on topics through digital media not typically showcased in traditional news media.
Through the organization, she also wants to shape curriculum about eating disorders and mental health for free distribution to public schools nationwide. She intends to produce a 30-40 minute film that high school teachers can use, along with a thought-out, written plan featuring common questions, a class activity, assessments and a list of resources.
“I went to a school the other day that had the same text book that I had over a decade ago, and it’s disheartening because there’s only two paragraphs on eating disorders. But if we were able to have that preventative care and talk about it when I was in the class, maybe I didn’t have to go through all this pain and suffering,” she said. “Our goal is to help teachers redirect the conversation on mental health by providing informative preventative care resources. Now, they will be able to instruct their class with a one-day lesson that’s engaging and dynamic, but also resourceful.”