Five Things Alumni Need to Know This Week – Jan. 8, 2018


1. Knights fans flooded Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom Jan. 7 to celebrate with the undefeated football team in its special parade held on Main Street, U.S.A. The celebration continues Monday with a free block party in downtown Orlando on Church Street.

2. Need to update your closet with some new championship gear? Visit ucfalumknights.com, sign up with your email and get 25 percent off your first order from Barnes & Noble.

Also, the Orlando Sentinel Media Group announced Friday that it is publishing a book on the Knights’ incredible season called “Perfect Knights.” The hardcover, full-color book is now available for a pre-order discounted price of $24.95. It can be purchased by going to OrlandoSentinel.com/PerfectKnights.

3. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office and Orlando community will remember the lives of UCF alumni and officers Debra Clayton ’98 ’02MA and Norm Lewis ’04 on Jan. 9, the one-year anniversary of their deaths. The two officers were killed in the line of duty during the attempted apprehension of a wanted homicide suspect. A motorcade that will begin on campus at the Wayne Densch Center for Student-Athlete Leadership will lead the families to a private church service.

4. UCF is seeking your input for its fifth president, so the university will host four opportunities for the campus and Central Florida communities to provide feedback at listening sessions this week. Visit www.ucf.edu/leadership/presidential-search for more information about the sessions, and while you’re there, please consider filling out the UCF Presidential Search Survey.

5. Since this is the first Five Things post of 2018, we’d like to wish you a wonderful year ahead! If it’s anything like 2017, we know it’s going to be great. Check out this retrospective video from the university on just how big last year was for Knight Nation.

 

Alumna Giving Back In Celebration Of Daughter’s Memory, Perfect Season

Alumna Sarah Dodson ’01 plans on honoring the memory of her daughter, Marlie, with a special volunteer project in Atlanta and Orlando on New Year’s Eve.

By Jenna Marina Lee

ORLANDO, Fla. (Dec. 24, 2017) – On Dec. 31, 2011, Sarah Dodson ’01 knew New Year’s Eve would never hold the same meaning to her again. After five years of treatment, her 8-year-old daughter Marlie, who dreamed of becoming a UCF cheerleader and nurse, died of a brain tumor (Pineoblastoma).

In 2012, Dodson and her family established a new tradition with the hope that they could re-channel their feelings about the day into a positive experience. As a tribute to Marlie’s life, the family has sponsored a Share-A-Meal each year at the Ronald McDonald House at Orlando’s Arnold Palmer Medical Center.

This year, they’re expanding their efforts to Atlanta where the family of Knights fans will be to support the undefeated UCF football team in its Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl appearance on Jan. 1 against Auburn.

“We were moved by memorializing Marlie for this event, but ultimately it was representing UCF in a community that we’ve been invited to be a part of with this bowl game,” Dodson said. “That was a big piece of it for me – how cool is it that we can represent UCF and give back to this community on something that we’re all so passionate about? What an honor it is to represent UCF in addition to Marlie’s memory.”

The idea to extend the Share-A-Meal to Atlanta was planted at the American Athletic Conference Championship Game on Dec. 2.

A longtime supporter of the football team, Dodson was sitting in the stands at Spectrum Stadium before the last play when her sister turned to her and said, “They’re going to win this game. What are you going to do? I guess you’re going to have to have the Share-A-Meal in Atlanta.”

Dodson said she laughed it off as an unrealistic possibility. She was already committed to their annual meal in Orlando, but the idea stuck with her.

She researched the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and learned of its reputation as college football’s most charitable bowl and its commitment to education and the community’s children. As an educator herself with Club Z! In-Home Tutoring Services, it struck a chord.

She also learned the bowl is celebrating its 50th year – it’s golden season. Gold also happens to be the color for childhood cancer awareness. And “forever golden” is how Dodson’s entire family refers to Marlie.

Dodson felt there were too many signs to ignore. Her friends and support system at home told her they would take over the Orlando meal this year and encouraged her to go to Atlanta.

“This has almost been like a movement for Team Marlie. Now we know we can do this anywhere,” she said. “We can have multiple groups travel to any city because we’re so supported. It’s so perfect that it worked out and our first city will be Atlanta, and we’ll be there because of UCF.”

Dodson connected with the Ronald McDonald Family Room at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorder Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta – Scottish Rite. They’ll be serving meals to the patients, families, nurses, doctors and hospital staff.

Although Dodson can only bring three helpers onto the floor with her to serve the meals, her entire regular tailgate crew of 12 will help in the preparation.

“Meals are very important for the families who visit the family room. Most families do not want to leave their child’s bedside even if that means going downstairs to the cafeteria, so having a place where they can eat as a family moments away from their hospital room and worry free of cost, is a special treat,” said April Smith, family support services manager for Atlanta Ronald McDonald House Charities. “Families have expressed how grateful and appreciative they are to have groups and individuals volunteer their time to provide and serve warm prepared meals. I was happy to hear Sarah wanted to continue her volunteer work while visiting in Atlanta.”

They also plan to distribute sparkling apple cider and champagne flutes to help create a festive New Year’s Eve atmosphere in the children’s rooms.

Dodson said experiences like these are always a balance of excitement and compassion. Inevitably there will be some tears, but she is looking forward to the opportunity to honor her daughter’s memory on a weekend she knows her little cheerleader would have been thrilled to be a part of.

“This season was something that we’ve all been waiting for. The thing about Marlie was win or lose, she was a fan. I know her pride for this team would be through the roof,” she said. “If I was able to put to words what Marlie might feel, looking down on us, I think mostly she would be excited that we were living life and embracing another community and another group of children. She taught us to live life and to find happiness and love in everyone you come across. Continuing to be her voice and share that passion, I think she’d be excited we have smiles on our faces and are enjoying the experience.”

Marlie Dodson

Peach Bowl Weekend: Tips To Live Like An ATL Local

Atlanta UCF Alumni Chapter

By Jenna Marina Lee

ORLANDO, Fla. (Dec. 21, 2017) – When news broke that the UCF football team was headed to the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Jan. 1, perhaps no one was more overjoyed than the Atlanta UCF Alumni Chapter.

With roughly 4,200 UCF graduates living in the Atlanta metro area, it’s one of the largest hot spots in the country for alumni.

“I was bombarded with messages. Everyone was so excited,” said Falini Shah ’14, chair of the Atlanta chapter. “I know we’re going to leave our mark here, and everybody is going to enjoy their time in Atlanta.”

Atlanta’s group is one of 25 active UCF Alumni chapters or clubs around the country.

Shah recently moved to Atlanta from Denver, where she served as the chair-elect for one year. The regional chapter and club program has helped her network and create new friendships as she has started her career in healthcare. She is a big advocate for getting involved with the chapter and club program as a way to grow professionally and stay connected to UCF.

“If there’s any hesitation, I’ve found it’s related to time commitment. A lot of people say, ‘I already work 50-60 hour weeks and I have a family and I like to travel a lot, I just don’t think I’m going to be as available.’ But it’s really what you make it,” she said. “So any sort of involvement you’re able to give back to a university that has given so much to you, I would say take up that opportunity. You just never know who you’re going to meet at these events.”

The group has been helping prepare the city transform into #Knightlanta. Shah and several devoted members of the chapter recently traveled around the city hanging UCF flags at local establishments to help make UCF fans feel more at home when they arrive on bowl weekend.

“When I was going around to these places asking them to hang up our flags, all I had to say was we were able to sell out our allotment of 13,000 tickets in less than a day, and everyone I talked to was like, ‘Yeah, put up some flags! We’re happy to have you guys!’” Shah said. “We’ve done so well for ourselves this year, and it shows in how strongly Knight Nation supports UCF.”

The chapter also has some tips to share with fellow Knights who are traveling to its city. Read on for Shah’s local guide to Atlanta.

>Where is the best place for a cup of coffee that’s not Starbucks?
Dancing Goats Coffee Bar. They have a few locations around the city, and in addition to their specialty coffees, they have a lot of great pastries that they make on site.

>I’ve been to Six Flags, the Coca-Cola Factory and the Georgia Aquarium. What are some other sites I shouldn’t miss?
Ponce City Market. During the day it’s all retail shops and food. There’s a winery, a brewery, a couple of small plate restaurants of any cuisine you can think of. On Friday and Saturday nights they turn the entire roof into a mini amusement park with a putt-putt golf course and carnival games. They also have an ice skating rink right now through the holidays.
Atlanta has a lot of history and we have several museums. One of my favorites is called the Fernbank Museum of Natural History. The Atlanta Botanical Garden is also something I’d recommend for everyone, especially during the holidays. They have special light displays.

>Where can I go to get a jump on my New Year’s resolution to exercise more?
The BeltLine. Also, the Chattahoochee River Trails. You can walk, bike or run on various trails and there are beautiful views year round. It’s great for all ages.

>When it’s any weekend but the Peach Bowl, where can I hang out with fellow Knights in Atlanta?
The hardest part about Atlanta is that it’s so big. Our watch parties are held at The Bird Rotisserie & Sports, which is in between the metropolitan area and the suburbs, and my goal has been to make sure that we have events in different parts of Atlanta so everyone can be involved in one way or another.

 

Five Things Alumni Need to Know This Week – Dec. 18, 2017

1. “It’s not enough to have a successful career. Success should be defined in terms of doing everything you can so everyone in your community has the same opportunities.”

That advice is from NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was one of the speakers during commencement weekend. Read the Orlando Sentinel feature.

2. The latest issue of Pegasus magazine is out, and its cover story explains how UCF’s history department is working with Florida veterans to preserve their stories.

3. If you’re heading to Atlanta for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, remember to check out the complete list of bowl weekend activities at ucfalumni.com/bowlbound.

4. UCF research may lead toward an exciting future where the blind see again, neurostimulator implants help relieve chronic pain and war veterans feel the sensation of touch in their prosthetic limb. Melanie Coathup, PhD, an internationally recognized specialist in bone regeneration and implant design, has been hired to lead the university’s new Prosthetic Interfaces faculty research cluster, which will work on big problems like these.

5. This is the last Five Things post of 2017. UCF Alumni wishes you and yours a happy holiday season and a great new year! Go Knights!

UCF Grad’s Life With Knightro

Michael Callahan ’05 ‘09MBA ‘17EdD , center, has served as Knightro’s head coach for more than a decade (photo courtesy of Chris Schubert ’92)

By Jenna Marina Lee

ORLANDO, Fla. (Dec. 14, 2017) – When Michael Callahan ’05 ’09MBA ’17EdD graduates this weekend with his third degree from UCF – a doctorate in higher educational leadership – those in the audience at CFE Arena likely won’t notice any difference between him and the others receiving their diplomas.

And that’s exactly what he has been accustomed to in his double life as Knightro’s head coach and a former mascot.

“You walk out of the tunnel on game day, and people are screaming Knightro. I walk into a building and people ignore me. It’s night and day difference,” Callahan said. “When you get that much attention, I have seen through this program that one individual has the ability to make change if they want to.”

Before his senior year of high school, the Massachusetts native was visiting his grandmother in Leesburg, and she encouraged him to visit “this college that’s in the newspaper.” After touring UCF and learning more about its affordability and academic programs, Callahan knew he had found his school.

His decision led to one of the longest relationships of his life: Knightro.

After seeing the beloved mascot perform at some football games, Callahan thought it looked like a fun job and tried out for the team in the spring. He said he made the cut not because he had the best skillset, but because the coach believed in his dedication.

“He saw something in me from a work ethic standpoint that he just couldn’t turn me away,” Callahan said. “That changed my life for the future.”

Michael Callahan as Knightro in his undergraduate days

Now he’s the one in charge of selecting the talent and team that brings Knightro to life.

He has had to juggle his career as the director of information systems with the Burnett Honors College; his personal life as a husband and father of three (including 3-year-old twins!); and years of classes and coursework in his pursuit of master’s and doctoral degrees.

But he’s been showing up every day, without fail, for the last 12 years – ever since UCF’s spirit program head coach Linda Gooch ’85 asked him to come say a few inspirational words to the team and offer some advice. When he showed up to practice, she introduced him to the group as Knightro’s new head coach.

“That’s when it hit me, ‘Huh, I’ve taken on a coaching responsibility,’” he said.

Gooch laughed playfully: “I have my ways.”

In her defense, she knew he was the man for the job. Gooch said one of the most challenging aspects of serving as Knightro’s head coach is finding the right team of student performers.

“The interesting thing about selecting a mascot is if you were in a room with them, you might pick out the guy who is the cut up or who seems really funny. But a lot of these kids are reserved and quiet in person. And then you put that head on them, and they transform. He’s able to see those qualities that we need,” she said. “His true gift is empowering the people who are part of the program to be able to work together as a team. It is truly a labor of love for him, no question about it.”

Their weekly routine consists of two practices a week. They work on skits for game day and practice flag waving, his walk and his signature. They discuss scheduling for the most popular guy on campus. And over the years, they’ve had to implement social media strategies or learn the latest dance crazes.

On game days, in addition to critiquing the student’s performances, Callahan is in charge of maintaining Knightro’s minute-by-minute schedule from tailgate appearances to his on-field antics.

“During tryouts, the first thing I preface to everyone, when you think about it logically with other sports it makes sense: the football team plays for three hours on Saturday, but how much time do they spend in the weight room and practice and video and everything else?” he said. “This is no different than any other sport. You have meetings. You have to do costume repair and practice and planning. You will spend more time outside of costume to get ready for that one-hour event or game day.”

While it is exciting to be part of the game day atmosphere and athletics’ daily life, Callahan said his favorite aspect of the job has always been the community involvement.

Gooch recalled that when he was a student, Callahan made a personal goal to log 100 events in the community in one year in addition to his responsibilities and duties at athletic events.

“When you think about it, you’re basically doing an event every three days,” she said. “He was an awesome guy. So dedicated and really helped us to develop the program as a mascot himself.”

His longstanding history of love and commitment to Knightro has even resulted in a children’s book called “Hello, Knightro!” which was published in 2013. Callahan credits his wife, fellow alumna Lauren, for making the book a reality.

Michael and his wife, Lauren, wrote the children’s book “Hello, Knightro!”

“Everybody who is a UCF fan that sees it thinks it’s the coolest thing out there. It’s a good feeling to know you’re touching people in the community and making a positive change. Hopefully in a few years the children who grew up reading the book will want to come here,” he said.

Perhaps some future Knightros will be among those children. For Callahan, that’s what it all comes back to – the students.

“Working with all the students is a great reward, and I’m only able to do it because of what UCF has done for me,” Callahan said. “It’s my way of saying thank you.”

Five Things Alumni Need to Know This Week – Dec. 11, 2017

1. Headed to the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl? Start off the New Year celebrating with Knights fans of all ages at the UCF ChargeOn Tailgate in the heart of downtown Atlanta at the College Football Hall of Fame. You can expect special appearances by UCF fan favorites as well a drink ticket, breakfast buffet, fan giveaways and cash bar beverages. Register today!

2. As UCF’s presidential search committee aims to find the university’s fifth president, your opinion matters to them. UCF will host four opportunities for the campus and Central Florida communities to provide input at public forums. The university has also launched an online survey, available at www.ucf.edu/leadership/presidential-search.

3. Kyle Dencker ’08 ’16MA, a computer science teacher at Timber Creek High School, is now in the running for Florida top teacher honors after being named Orange County’s Teacher of the Year last week.

4. About 3,980 UCF students are expected to graduate in three ceremonies Dec. 15-16 at the CFE Arena. Former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is among this semester’s commencement speakers.

5. In case you missed it, UCF Football announced Josh Heupel as the Knights’ 11th head coach. He quickly named Randy Shannon as the new defensive coordinator. Read what they’re saying about this dynamic duo.

What’s The Buzz About #Perfect2Peach

UCF alumni from coast to coast have been sharing their excitement and enthusiasm about the No. 12 football team’s undefeated, championship season. As the Knights set their sights on the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on New Year’s Day, so too has Knight Nation. Check out what some fans, players and coaches — all alumni — are saying about this year’s team.

Smokin’Joe will be there! Congrats UCF, Top 10, #PeachBowl #KeepGoing #NewYears #Atlanta #TeamSmokinJoe

A post shared by Joe Burnett (@joe_burnett) on

And because he loves UCF so much he might as well be an alumnus, we close out with Knights super fan @tj_lsudad (audio on!):

Five Things Alumni Need to Know This Week – Dec. 4, 2017

1. A BIG thank you to everyone who contributed to make Giving Tuesday last week such a success at UCF. Nearly 700 donors gave $71,000 in support of scholarships, athletic and academic programs. It was a record-breaking year, and we couldn’t have done it without you.

2. To say there’s *a lot* happening in the world of UCF Athletics is an understatement. Let’s rewind the last 48 hours to catch you up:

> UCF won its third American Athletic Conference championship title after its double-overtime thriller against Memphis at Spectrum Stadium. Improving to 12-0, the Knights remain the only undefeated team in the FBS this season.

> Scott Frost announced he was resigning as UCF’s head coach to accept the head coaching position at his alma mater, Nebraska. While we’re sad to see him go, we wish him nothing but the best back at home. Director of Athletics and Vice President Danny White said a nationwide search has begun to find his replacement, and Troy Walters has been named the interim head coach.

> On Sunday, UCF accepted an invitation to compete in a New Year’s Six bowl game. The Knights will face Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl in Atlanta, Georgia, on Jan. 1 at 12:30 p.m. Full details about events and tickets can be found on ucfalumni.com/bowlbound and ucfknights.com.

> Sunday also saw the men’s basketball team knock off No. 24-ranked Alabama. It marked the squad’s first true road win over a ranked opponent in program history.

3. The most scenic feature on the UCF campus – the Reflecting Pond – is getting a facelift. Earlier this year, the pond’s aging underground pipes sprung several leaks. And heavy rains during Hurricane Irma caused runoff that damaged some its electrical controls. The renovation will correct those problems, as well as modernize the Reflecting Pond’s technology and features.

4. After nearly 41 years in law enforcement and almost 11 as the leader of the UCF Police Department, Chief Richard Beary announced that he will retire effective June 30, 2018. Beary graduated from UCF in 2004 with a master’s degree in criminal justice. Read his message to fellow UCFPD officers and staff members.

And in case you missed it, UCFPD made some friends on Monday morning when they handed out water to hundreds of students waiting in line – some for more than 10 hours – to purchase their bowl tickets.

5. The second UCF Presidential Search Committee meeting will be held Monday, Dec. 4, from 2-4 p.m. Those interested in the meeting can watch a livestream through UCF’s official YouTube page.

Five Funds Alumni Need to Know For Giving Tuesday

The countdown is on: Giving Tuesday is less than 24 hours away! Putting its own spin on days like Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, the global day of giving always falls on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving. So if you’re looking for ways to spread some positivity and embody the true meaning of the holiday season, consider making a gift to UCF.

Here are a few ways your generosity and passions can align to help Knights students and transform lives through the power of education:

1. UCF Athletics. Whether its big-time wins or setting the standard in the classroom among Division I FBS public institutions with a nation’s best 94-percent graduation rate, the Knights never cease to inspire us. To maintain their competitive excellence, they need our support in the areas of facilities, proper nutrition and scholarships.

2. First Generation Scholarships. Interested in really making an impact? Consider this: for every dollar you donate, the state of Florida offers a dollar-for-dollar match. One in four students at UCF is the first in his or her family to attend college, and they all could use a little help in ensuring the bright future they dream of.

3. College Excellence Funds. Did a certain professor make a difference for you? Did you love your time at UCF? Did your major  set you up for success in your professional life? This fund helps support scholarships and programs offered within each of UCF’s 13 colleges.

4. Study Abroad. Open up someone’s world. This fund is specifically designed to help make study abroad programs accessible to students with documented financial need.

5. Knights Helping Knights Pantry. It’s simple: This student-run organization’s No. 1 priority is to keep hungry Knights fed. It also offers other services like blazer rentals for job interviews, recipe inspiration, a partnership with the on campus arboretum and basic needs like toiletry products, clothing and blankets for any student.

This year, we hope to hit two major milestones on Giving Tuesday: 350 donors and $40,000. Please be one of the first to step up to join the mission and support something you believe in at UCF.

 

Five Things Alumni Need To Know This Week – Nov. 20, 2017

1. Black Friday is upon us, and all eyes will be on the War on I4. Fresh off its 10th-straight win, the No. 12 UCF football team and No. 19 USF will not only battle for bragging rights in the rivalry series, but the winner will also move on to face Memphis in the American Athletic Conference Championship game on Dec. 2. UCF Alumni’s Indoor Tailgate will open doors at 12:30 p.m., and the Future Knights Fun Zone will be held in the Dr. Hitt Library of the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center this week.

2. Speaking of football, senior linebacker Shaquem Griffin ’16 is up for the prestigious Senior CLASS Award, and you can help him become the first UCF male student-athlete to win it. Fan voting accounts for one-third of the total award process, and fans can vote once per day. Vote for Shaquem and while you’re at it, read this recent Sports Illustrated feature that is getting a lot of love.

3. For the sixth consecutive year, a computer programming team from UCF has advanced to compete in the top collegiate programming contest in the world, to be held next April in China. Out of the 40,000-plus students and 13,000-plus teams from more than 100 countries that began the competition this year, 128 teams are expected to meet in China to test their programming skills. Way to go, Knights!

4. In case you missed it, National Philanthropy Day took place last week, and we heard directly from Vice President for UCF Advancement and CEO of the UCF Foundation Mike Morsberger about what service and philanthropy means to UCF. You can make a difference again when Giving Tuesday rolls around on Nov. 28.

5. On Monday, the UCF Presidential Search Committee holds its first meeting at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center from 10 a.m.-noon. The search committee meeting is open to the public and will be broadcast live at the UCF Presidential Search website: www.ucf.edu/president-search.