Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—July 17

1. A story for those young at heart: A new program at UCF pairs seniors and children to play games together. The goal is for participants to become more active and to have positive social experiences, where the adults feel a greater sense of well-being and purpose by helping the children, and the kids learn more about aging.

2. UCF recently was selected to receive two awards totaling $3.1 million from the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative that is focused on making solar energy systems more efficient and affordable. The research projects will be led by two alumni, Kristopher Davis 07 ’11MS ’15PhD and Joe Walters ’13MS.

3. The American Athletic Conference preseason poll for football will be unveiled Tuesday at its annual media day. Fans can tune in at 8:30 a.m. on The American’s Facebook and YouTube pages.

4. You might learn a thing or two in this Ted Talk with alumna Gail Lovelace Menasco ’08:

5. The latest issue of Pegasus examines how UCF grads are at the center of a creative boom in Central Florida.

Small World Moment for Knights in Texas

Alumna Shelby Shankin mentors current UCF student Justin Tejada, whom she met by chance in Austin, Texas, at his summer internship

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (July 13, 2017) – Nearly four years ago, UCF alumna Shelby Shankin ’13 found herself in Austin, Texas, for the first time in her life to work on mega festival South by Southwest.

Justin Tejada is a current first-generation student who has made it his mission to grasp every opportunity he finds at UCF. That’s how he ended up in Austin, Texas, for the first time in his life this year for a summer internship.

Tejada said it’s unusual for an out-of-state candidate to be selected to intern at marketing agency George P. Johnson, which has worked with clients such as American Express, Google, Lexus, Under Armour and Samsung. So when the powers-that-be at the company found out Tejada was a UCF student, they knew exactly who his mentor should be — one of its event logistics managers, Shelby Shankin.

“From the moment I met her, I could tell she was super excited and eager to help me learn,” he said. “It was just because of that connection of UCF. That was awesome.”

Although Shankin recently accepted a job with a historical boutique hotel, Hotel Ella, she intends to keep in contact with Tejada well after his internship ends in August. While he is in Texas, the two meet for an hour once a week and discuss his internship as well as general questions he has about life, career and his upcoming senior year at UCF.

“As a first generation student, I’m super nervous about what’s to come. I’m always worried about, am I going to get a job? That’s something I wanted to work on myself this summer – putting that aside and focusing on the now and enjoying the present,” he said. “I think she has helped me understand that I need to worry about the future, but not as much as I do.”

The two are somewhat of kindred spirits. When Shankin was studying at the Rosen College of Hospitality Management, she gained valuable experience in several internships, working for companies like Universal Orlando and the Orlando Science Center. She even studied abroad in France for a semester.

She moved to Austin after graduation as a contracted event coordinator for High Beam Events and flip flopped with the company and George P. Johnson in different positions before accepting her newest venture as a venue event coordinator for Hotel Ella.

“Whenever a good opportunity has come up I just say yes. I just like to try everything,” she said.

Tejada’s resume reads with that same philosophy.

He worked as an external relations assistant for the College of Business Administration; interned for UCF Athletics, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando; served as public relations director of Children Beyond Our Borders and is currently the marketing director of CAB, the UCF campus activities board.

An advertising-public relations major who is also minoring in political science, Tejada is studying for the LSAT and thinking about law school. Like Shankin, he has tried different opportunities to see how they fit for him and knows he has Shankin in his corner to help him along the way.

“He’s seeking as much information as he can and trying to get as much out of this experience and life as possible. No matter where he ends up, I see him being very successful because he wants it,” Shankin said. “I’ve encouraged him to try everything. Take as much advantage of senior year as possible. I don’t think there’s anything wrong from having that urge to try everything. I think that’s where you learn so much. You just don’t know where life can take you.”

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—July 10

1. Matt Williams ’16 is making UCF proud in the NBA Summer League with the Miami Heat. After netting 14 points on July 6, he started against San Antonio on July 8. The Heat have a game at 4:30 p.m. today against the Wizards, which will air on NBA TV. Williams is one of more than 10 Knights who started professional careers in their sport in 2016-17.

2. Florida sunshine making it hard to read your phone screen while you’re spending your summer days at the beach? UCF professor of optics and photonics Shin-Tson Wu, PhD, and his team of researchers developed a film that coats cellphone screens to cut down the glare. Their inspiration? The eyes of a moth.

3. A team of UCF researchers has discovered a potential new weapon in the fight against tuberculosis, which is one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide. Their research studied extracts of sponges and other marine organisms to see if they could kill the dormant tuberculosis bacteria. Findings of the study published in June in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.

4.  An associate professor of computer science at UCF recently had his startup get picked up by Uber.

5. A new restaurant is expected to open on University Boulevard this week. Toasted’s menu features a variety of types of grilled cheese sandwiches as well as burgers and salads. The restaurant plans to hire 20 new workers and has signed a five-year lease.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—July 3

1. One UCF professor’s musical composition has been selected to be performed by the National Symphony Orchestra at a U.S. Capitol concert for Labor Day. Stella Sung’s The Peace Corps, which was inspired by a painting of President John F. Kennedy, will also be conducted at a Fourth of July celebration in Cincinnati.

2. This comes at no surprise – UCF Athletics was outstanding in 2016-17. In this retrospective breakdown, we learn that every sport was represented on the all-conference team by at least one student-athlete, with an overall total of 62 honorees, and a record 11 programs made postseason appearances. Still need to get your season tickets for 2017-18? Visit UCFKnights.com or call 407-823-1000.

3. The UCF police department wants to make sure you are Snapchatting safely with the app’s newest Maps feature, which allows others to see when users are not home along with other location information. They provide step-by-step instructions for how to turn on “ghost mode” as a way to keep your privacy intact.

4. Give this guy a gold star! UCF professor Marshall Schminke was one of four professors recognized for their excellence with a national Master Ethics Teacher Award. A well-deserved honor for a man who has previously served as an expert witness on corporate ethics in U.S. District Court proceedings.

5. Companies that grew up in the UCF’s business incubators sustained 4,710 jobs and added more than $725 million to the region’s gross domestic product in the past two years, according to a newly released economic impact study. Check out our most recent alumni spotlight on one of those businesses, Nurses First Solutions.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—June 26

UCF student Cole Kolasa is kayaking 800 miles this summer

1. The Rosen College of Hospitality Management is getting a new food service lab thanks to a $1.5 million commitment from the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation. Construction is expected to be completed by 2019. By the way, Rosen is ranked among the top five hospitality management programs in the world, enrolling more than 3,700 students and offering five undergraduate and two graduate degrees, in addition to a doctorate in hospitality management.

2. UCF stands for opportunity, and that’s true of a recent study of head coaches nationally. UCF was the only school to earn an ‘A’ for racial and gender hiring practices for women’s teams’ head coaches in a new report released June 23 that examined 94 schools from eight different conferences. Charge On!

3. Two alumni walk into an Italian restaurant… no joke here. UCF Alumni Board member Dean Caravelis ’02 ’03MBA recently sat down for a Q&A with co-founder and CEO of RIP-IT Jason Polstein ’02 ‘03MS to discuss successful startups, career challenges and life as an entrepreneur. Here’s a snippet of the full interview:

“The people who really stand out during interviews are the people who show up and say, ‘Hey, this is my skill set. I can show you in the past how I move x to y, I can tell you how I did it, and by the way, this is my 90-day roadmap of how I can create value for your company once you hire me.’ That really shows that this person hasn’t only done something in the past that’s of value, but spent the time to try and understand our business and came to the interview prepared in pitching themselves in how they’re going to generate more value for our company.”
— Jason Polstein ’02 ’03MS, co-founder and CEO of RIP-IT

4. UCF has received a silver rating for its sustainability by a program within the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. UCF’s ranking is credited to numerous categories including its energy-efficient buildings, how campus is used as a living laboratory and its commitment to diversity.

5. Cole Kolasa, a UCF environmental engineering major, is making waves as he paddles nearly 800 miles down Florida’s Gulf Coast this summer. Why? He hopes to raise $10,000 to support artificial reefs in Hernando County. Follow along with his journey.

Nurses First, Scholarships Follow for Alumnus-led Startup

Alvin Cortez ’08 (left) and Richard Manual (right) of Nurses First Solutions

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (June 22, 2017) – When long-time friends Alvin Cortez ’08 and Richard Manuel connected with the UCF Business Incubation Program to foster growth for their travel nurse staffing agency, they were asked a simple question: Why would somebody choose you rather than the company next to you?

They had a simple answer. They were in the business of making business personal.

Travel nurses typically work 13 week periods in one area, and move around the country depending on where they are needed. Nurses First Solutions provides those nurses to facilities in need of professional workforce. Manuel is a nurse. So is his wife. So is Cortez’s wife, Jessiccalou ’08 ’14BSN.

They knew about the job demands first-hand – the long hours, the life-saving work and the comfort that nurses provide to their patients. They also knew there were gaps in the industry, specifically for traveling nurses when it came to retirement plans, health care insurance, paid time off and life insurance.

So they decided to do something about it.

“We treat them like family,” Manuel said. “They won’t be treated like a number. They can call the company president and speak to him directly. It’s more transparent in our company.”

Echoed Cortez: “We wanted to give back, so we started the company – hence the name Nurses First.”

After incorporating in 2014, Cortez and Manuel hooked up with their third partner Ronnie Elliott and the UCF Business Incubation Program, which Cortez learned about when he studied interpersonal communication at UCF.

For nearly 20 years, the Incubation Program has been helping early-stage companies develop into financially stable, high-impact enterprises by providing resources and services that facilitate smarter, faster growth.

The duo credit site manager Carol Ann Dykes as the instrumental force that has pushed their business forward since joining the incubator. After they started at the incubator in April 2016, their company expanded from three employees to a dozen and their revenue grew from $300,000 to $6 million.

“It takes grit on our part, but at the same time it’s good to have guidance along the way,” Cortez said. “They hold us accountable to having a structure. If you have questions, they’ll connect you to the right types of people.”

All the while, they have remained steadfast in their mission to put nurses first. They offer competitive benefits, paid time off, life insurance and retirement plans. They also follow through on personal touches like sending flowers when their contracted nurses’ family members are sick or welcome boxes for new hires.

“People ask, does that eat up your profit? For us, it just makes sense,” Cortez said. “We’d rather give it back to the nurses. It’s ingrained in us to want to give back and do a little bit better for the people around us.”

They recently took that philosophy one step further by establishing the Nurses First Solutions Endowed Scholarship in April to support the undergraduate members of the Student Nurses Association within the College of Nursing.

Their office is located next to the College of Nursing, and after sponsoring some events, they became interested in setting up a scholarship. That interest turned into action after they attended a scholarship luncheon and heard directly from nursing students about how scholarships impacted their lives.

“We wanted to plant the seed for these students – there are resources, there are opportunities out there. They have a wide array of opportunity ahead of them if they are truly passionate about nursing,” Manuel said. “The scholarship puts more back into the community and students that want to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—June 19

Deborah Beidel, RESTORES clinic director

1. UCF’s RESTORES Clinic, which treats those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, had a big win last week. It will receive $3 million in federal funds, and coupled with $2.5 million from the state’s budget, the program should have enough funding for the next two years, said Deborah Beidel, the clinic’s director. Want to help keep it going longer? Click here.

2. GAMEDAY ALERT! The American Athletic Conference, CBS Sports Network and UCF Athletics have announced that the Knights’ season-opening football game versus FIU will be played Thursday, Aug. 31, at 6 p.m.

3. Check out the most recent alumni spotlight featuring Vince Cotroneo ’83, who is celebrating his 25th year in Major League Baseball as a radio broadcaster as he watches his son follow in his footsteps. Got a story tip of your own? Share it with us.

4. On Saturday, Limbitless Solutions will be at the Pop Parlour UCF from 2-6 p.m. and is looking for some friends to hang out with for a live simulcast the sold out TEDx Orlando. Those who RSVP for the free event will enjoy a complimentary popsicle and will also see an arm demo from some of the Limbitless team before the simulcast, which features three-time alumnus Albert Manero!

5. Congratulations to three-time alumnus Christopher Blackwell ’00BSN ’01MS ’05PhD, who was awarded the 2017 Outstanding Nurse Practitioner Award by the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties!

Father’s Day Tip of the Cap to UCF Alumnus, Longtime MLB Radio Broadcaster

UCF alumnus Vince Cotroneo ‘83, who has been a radio broadcaster for Major League Baseball for 25 years, is now watching his son Dominic follow in his footsteps (photo courtesy of Vince Cotroneo)

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (June 15, 2017) – UCF alumnus Vince Cotroneo ’83 has experienced some memorable moments during the past 25 years of his career as a radio broadcaster for Major League Baseball.

His first opening day in 1991 with the Houston Astros. His first postseason game in 1997. His first inside-the-park home run call during the 2006 playoffs.

Yet, it was a series of three spring training games for the Oakland A’s this year that rank at the top of the list for him. He was on air alongside his 22-year-old son, Dominic, and that’s why it holds a special place in his heart.

“Let me tell you, that was rewarding. It was strange. It was very poignant. I tried not to cry,” Vince said. “He loves what he’s doing. He works very hard at it, and he’s basically done it on his own terms. It’s a proud moment watching your son going down the path of realizing his dreams.”

Dominic’s journey into sportscasting nearly duplicates that of his father’s. Both men are living their dreams through hard work and perseverance, and they have their family tree to thank for their love of the game.

The son of Joe Cotroneo, Vince was the youngest of four brothers. The Cotroneo family lived in Altamonte Springs, where Joe was a Little League baseball coach for years and taught his sons to love the game.

On a family trip to Brooklyn for a funeral when Vince was 14, his cousins were watching the New York Knicks on television. He still recalls his family turning down the sound on the TV and turning up the radio instead.

“They were listening to Marv Albert do the game on the radio while watching on television, and I thought that was really cool,” he recalled. “That’s what ultimately hooked me into what I wanted to do.”

While attending UCF, he joined the radio station as a first-year student and later became the sports director. He also served as the sports editor for the university’s student newspaper, the Central Florida Future.

“There were so many open doors for students. I was lucky enough to jump in with both feet and take advantage of it,” Vince said. “They gave me so many different opportunities in so many areas to prepare me for what I wanted to do in real life. To learn my craft, make my mistakes, get better, to enjoy the atmosphere. To enjoy the camaraderie of people.”

Following graduation in 1983, he made his way to Lynchburg, Virginia, to cover the New York Mets’ minor league club.

After nine years in the minor leagues, he was called up by Houston for an open position it needed to fill. On the Astros’ opening day in 1991 against the reigning World Series champion Cincinnati Reds, Cotroneo was in the broadcast booth at 30 years old.

“It’s something I’ll never forget — being involved in that environment, wide-eyed, watching it all unfold,” he said. “I was extremely fortunate to get that opportunity and it’s been a great run ever since.”

Perhaps it’s because his family has been with him for the ride.

He met his wife, Veronica, at a baseball field. Their first date was to see the 1989 film “Major League.” Their honeymoon was at Chicago’s Wrigley Field.

Before he met Veronica, Vince planned to name his first-born son Dominic as a nod to the DiMaggio brothers — Hall of Famer Joe, Vince and Dominic. His father’s favorite player was Joe DiMaggio, so it seemed only fitting.

She went along with it and got naming rights to their two daughters, Olivia and Sophia, who came along later.

Dominic is now a student at Arizona State and is mirroring nearly every step his father took.

At 15, he knew he wanted to pursue a career in sports radio. He got his foot in the door by starting away-game broadcasts for his high school baseball team.

He saved up money from his part-time job to buy the necessary equipment – a laptop, scorebook, table and a chair that he carted on the bus every road trip – and asked the coach if the team could handle his $50-per-month streaming subscription fee.

Thanks to his experience in high school, he arrived at Arizona State with a resume strong enough to secure the baseball gig for the college radio broadcast program.

Now, he’s taking advantage of Arizona State’s online classes while living in Kinston, North Carolina, to cover the Down East Wood Ducks, the High ‘A’ minor league franchise of the Texas Rangers.

His father listens in when he can and is always there to offer advice, colleague to colleague, when Dominic needs it. More importantly, with 140 games in 165 days on Dominic’s schedule, Vince knows the grind of the season better than most and checks in on his son every day.

“That’s a father’s love,” Dominic said. “It’s amazing to know I’ve got him in my corner.”

This Father’s Day, they will be almost 3,000 miles apart in their respective broadcast booths, and yet still connected through the airwaves doing what they love to do.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—June 13

1. A mural was painted in the heart of campus as a tribute to two Knights who died at Pulse Nightclub in honor of the one-year anniversary of the tragedy. It was designed by artists Michael Pilato and Yuriy Karabash and features UCF student Juan Ramon Guerrero and two-time alumnus Christopher Andrew “Drew” Leinonen.

2. Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook and author of the bestseller “Lean In,” will be on campus June 27 at 7:30 p.m. to take part in a conversation with alumnus George A. Kalogridis, president of the Walt Disney World Resort. Tickets for the event are available through Eventbrite.com, and in addition to a guaranteed seat, all ticket holders will also receive an autographed version of Sandberg’s new book, “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy.”

3. You may have heard that tickets to TEDx Orlando – featuring two Knights – are SOLD OUT, but we’ve got you covered. If you didn’t claim a ticket to this coveted event, join us for a LIVE simulcast of TEDx Orlando at the Pop Parlour UCF location on June 24 at 2 p.m. RSVP here.

4. It was a record-setting year in fund-raising for UCF Athletics as the Knights have received more than $10 million in cash gift revenues from fund-raising in the 2016-17 fiscal year and strive to reach $10.5 million by the end of June. Learn more.

5. Here’s a heartwarming story just in time for Father’s Day. Yina Wu ’14 and her husband, fellow UCF doctoral student Qing Cai, thanked UCF engineer professor Mohamed Abdel-Aty for his role in the start of their relationship by naming their son after him. Abdel-Aty said he was surprised and honored that the 3-month-old was named after him, and a picture of the baby and himself sits on his desk alongside one of Cai and Wu’s wedding.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—June 5

1. In case you missed it, kickoff times have been announced for three of UCF’s first four home football games of the 2017 season. Some good news that will beat the heat – they’re all night games. Full details can be found on UCFKnights.com.

2. As part of “UCF Remembers” on June 8 for the Pulse anniversary, a fleet of Big Red Blood Buses will be at UCF’s Veteran’s Commemorative Site from 2 to 8 p.m. and are currently accepting appointments. Free parking will be available in garages H and I. Register to donate blood by visiting: https://admfin.ucf.edu/blooddrives/special-event/

3. UCF now has a one-stop-shop for internships, interviews, careers, events and resources. Career Services and Experiential Learning recently introduced Handshake, which is available to all UCF students and alumni.

4. UCF Theatre’s summer production of “The Lion in Winter” opens June 8 at 7:30 p.m. Performances are scheduled through June 18. Purchase tickets at theatre.cah.ucf.edu.

5. A UCF trio that included alumnus Josh Linge ’14 ’16MS rose to the top at a national computer programming competition. In addition to the team’s national title, the group finished 13th in the world out of more than 12,000 entries. Linge’s next stop: Facebook’s Seattle office.