Alumni Impressed By Engineering, Computer Science Senior Design Showcase

Photo of six-legged surveillance robot
During the Spring 2018 Senior Design Showcase, “SigSent,” a six-legged surveillance robot, displayed its ability to walk on rough terrain and roll on smooth surfaces.

By Jenna Marina Lee

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.

Photo of Josh Haley
Josh Haley ’12 ’14MS, software engineer and assistant technical staff lead for SoarTech

“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.”

UCF Alumni Building A More Sustainable Orlando

Alumni Chris Castro and Brittany Sellers
UCF alumni Chris Castro and Brittany Sellers lead the Green Works initiatives for City of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. Photo courtesy of City of Orlando

By Jenna Marina Lee

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.”

One of the group’s programs, the Kill-A-Watt energy conservation competition, challenged students living in dorms to compete against each other in energy consumption reduction.

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 FAIRWINDS Alumni Center LEEDs the Way in Sustainability

LEED Gold Plaque

 

By Jenna Marina Lee

ORLANDO, Fla. (April 16, 2018) – The UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center (FAC) is not only one of the greenest buildings on campus – it was recognized over the weekend as one of the best in the Central Florida region.

The FAC won Most Outstanding Project of the Year (Existing Building) at the U.S. Green Building Council’s fifth annual LEEDership Awards on April 14.

The LEEDership Awards recognizes and honors the outstanding green building projects, forward-thinking businesses, innovative design teams and instrumental region members and volunteers who have displayed green building and sustainable development leadership in the greater Central Florida area.

LEED Project of the Year Award
UCF Advancement assistant directors Rachel Kennedy ’13 (left) and Ann Allen ’03 present the Project of the Year award.

In January 2018, the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center achieved Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Operations & Maintenance (LEED) Gold certification, established by the USGBC and verified by the Green Building Certification Institute.

The FAC is one of 21 UCF projects to achieve LEED certification, however, it is the first building on campus to achieve certification under the operations and maintenance rating system. Like many of its peer institutions, UCF mandates LEED certification for all new construction and major renovations.

High performance buildings play an integral part in supporting UCF’s goal to reach climate neutrality by 2050. When complying with the high efficiency standards, UCF LEED buildings are consuming about 30 percent less energy and 40 percent less water than similar non-LEED buildings.

In 2016, the FAC pledged to green its workspace in alignment with the university’s commitment to sustainability.

In two years, the building has accomplished significant energy reductions by using low or no-cost facility improvement measures. It has recommissioned air handler units, improved the solar reflective index of the roof and changed LED lights to a lower color temperature. These energy upgrades show a payback of 6-to-12 months and incur a cost savings of more than two times the initial investment within one year.

Installation of low flush appliances, water conserving aerators and reclaim water irrigation helped in water conservation, reducing indoor water use by 31.1 percent from baseline and outdoor water use by 50.85 percent.

The FAC has served the campus for more than a decade, hosting everything from university functions to televised Senate debates to weddings to corporate meetings, press conferences, graduation regalia distribution and classroom space. To learn more about the FAC or rent the facility, please visit ucfalumni.com/alumnicenter.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know This Week – April 16, 2018

Indoor Tailgate Graphic

1. The UCF football team’s annual spring game is upon us! Before heading to Spectrum Stadium at 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 21, stop by the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center for our first ever Spring Game Indoor Tailgate! Doors open at 3 p.m., and just like the regular season tailgates, all UCF alumni (with driver’s license or valid ID) and their guests are welcome to attend this free event. RSVP now

2. Speaking of the FAIRWINDS Alumni Center, the FAC was recognized over the weekend as one of the greenest buildings in the Central Florida region. It won Most Outstanding Project of the Year (Existing Building) at the U.S. Green Building Council’s fifth annual LEEDership Awards on April 14.

3. Universal Orlando Resort intends to hire for 3,000 positions to handle the summer season, the company announced last week. The open spots are for part-time and full-time work in several departments including attractions, food services and custodial as well as information technology, finance, marketing or human resources. People who are interested can apply online at http://www.universalorlandojobs.com/.

4. UCF was ranked 25th in the nation for enrollment of freshmen National Merit Scholars in Fall 2017, according to the annual report recently released by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. With 88 National Merit Scholars enrolled, UCF also was ranked the 13th highest public institution in the country. The ranking places UCF above institutions such as UCLA, Penn State and Georgia Tech.

5. All of Knight Nation is Team Hannah after UCF sophomore Hannah Sage advanced to the semifinals in the Jeopardy! College Championship, which airs Tuesday at 7 p.m. Sage, along with 14 competitors from universities across the nation, has the opportunity to win a grand prize of $100,000 and a shot at the next Tournament of Champions game.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know This Week – April 9, 2018

Statewide Job Fair Infographic

1. UCF will be hosting the Statewide Job Fair on Thursday, May 10, from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. at CFE Arena. The Statewide Job Fair is an opportunity for employers to recruit students and alumni from 10 of Florida’s state universities. For more information about the job fair, please contact UCF Career Services at 407-823-2361 or [email protected] You may also visit the Florida Career Centers website.

2. Don’t miss UCF sophomore Hannah Sage in the Jeopardy! College Championship beginning Monday, April 9, during kickoff for the quarterfinal competition. Representing one of only three public universities in the competition, the Burnett Honors College student says she is thrilled to share her love for UCF on a national scale.

3. UCF was featured in the Orlando Sentinel for a culinary medicine course, a class that’s becoming more common in U.S. medical schools in order to combat the obesity epidemic and other chronic diseases. UCF’s a four-week elective is a collaboration between Nemours Children’s Hospital and UCF College of Medicine, Rosen College of Hospitality Management and YMCA of Central Florida.

4. Over the weekend, a group of UCF students showcased its oil-cleanup invention at the National Sustainable Design Expo in Washington D.C. The students’ high-tech sponges clean up ocean oil spills by soaking up oil but repelling water, leaving behind no toxic byproduct. It’s a green solution with a bonus – the oil could be recycled for future use. Now that’s BIG!

5. All this week you can catch UCF’s Celebrates the Arts showcase at the Dr. Phillips Center for Performing Arts in downtown Orlando. The festival consists of free or low-cost presentations by the School of Visual Arts & Design and the School of Performing Arts. Many events feature collaborations across the university and community partners. Full Schedule of Events

Five Things Alumni Need to Know This Week – April 2, 2018

1. UCF’s Day of Giving on March 29 was a smashing success thanks to YOU! Your combined efforts blew by the donor goal of 1,000, and your love for UCF supported a variety of scholarships and programs at the university. Read more about the day and check out the results:
Day of Giving Infographic

2. In addition to the buzz of UCF Day of Giving on March 29, the Florida Board of Governors unanimously confirmed the selection of Dale Whittaker, PhD, as the University of Central Florida’s next president. Whittaker, who currently serves as UCF’s provost and executive vice president, will become the university’s fifth president on July 1.

3. UCF Alumni announced the recipients of its fourth annual 30 Under 30 Awards on March 30. The winners will be recognized in a formal ceremony on campus at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center on May 19. View the complete slate of honorees.

4. What do sea turtles, veterans, language programs, science and football have in common? They’ll all be better off thanks to the generosity of Jim ’81 and Julia Rosengren, who have committed $6.6 million to support those programs at the University of Central Florida. Combined with their previous donations, the Rosengrens have committed $7.95 million to UCF – the largest total from an alumnus in university history.

5. If you missed news from UCF’s Pro Day last week, get yourself caught up with this recap. In addition to 60-plus scouts and executives from around professional football in attendance, nearly 70 members of the media were credentialed to cover the event. That media contingent included two crews from ESPN and one from NFL Network, in addition to coverage from Sports Illustrated, Yahoo! Sports and every local outlet that usually covers the UCF football team.

UCF Alumni Announces 2018 30 Under 30 Awards

By Jenna Marina Lee

ORLANDO, Fla. (March 30, 2018) – UCF Alumni announced the recipients of its fourth annual 30 Under 30 Awards on March 30. This year’s class includes marketing and communications professionals, entrepreneurs, engineers, software specialists, attorneys, education leaders, doctors, nurses, the youngest-elected Florida state representative and a football star, among others.

“This year’s 30 under 30 class is a group of trailblazing young alumni who have made an impact within their professions, communities and this university in the early stages of their careers. The record breaking accomplishments of this group is inspiring, and they rank as the best of the best from UCF’s accomplished young alumni base,” said Mike Kilbride ’12, chair of UCF’s Young Alumni Council. “UCF is a special place, and it is inspiring to see so many of our graduates building on their UCF experience to make an impact in our community and around the country. The entire Young Alumni Council is proud of this group of finalists, and on behalf of UCF, I extend my sincerest congratulations on this well-deserved accomplishment.”

The 30 Under 30 Awards program recognizes outstanding young alumni who strive for greatness in their professional and personal lives.

Open-nominations for the 2018 class were accepted on UCFAlumni.com from January-February. Nominations were reviewed and scored by UCF Alumni staff and previous 30 Under 30 recipients, and winners were selected by the UCF Young Alumni Council. The finalists were then confirmed by the UCF Alumni Board based on the following criteria:

• Must be a graduate of the University of Central Florida (undergraduate or graduate degree)
• Must be age 29 or under on May 19, 2018
• Nominees for 30 Under 30 must demonstrate a commitment to maintaining a lifelong relationship with Knights and strive to uphold UCF Young Alumni values of “Scholarship, Bold, Trailblazing, Generous, Resilient”
• Self nominations are not accepted

The winners will be recognized in a formal ceremony on campus at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center on May 19. Below is the complete slate of honorees, listed in alphabetical order by last name.

Yazen Abdin ’12
Immigration Attorney, NeJame Law
College of Sciences

Michelle (Skaf) Anderson ’12
Human Resources Manager, Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress
Rosen College of Hospitality Management

Arielle Bardzell ’13
Associate Attorney, Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP
College of Sciences | College of Health and Public Affairs

Shane Chism ’12
Principal Program Manager Lead, Microsoft
College of Engineering and Computer Science

Shantavia Conner ’11 ’13MBA
Finance Director, City of Haines City
College of Business

Gregory Eisenberg ’13
CEO/Founder, The Commission on Local Debates
Executive Director, Tiger Bay Club of Central Florida
College of Undergraduate Studies

Jamison Gavin ’11
CEO, LegendVest
College of Sciences

Alexandra Gentry ’09 ’10MS
Director of Tax and Treasury, Bonnier Corporation
College of Business | Burnett Honors College

Sarah Gitto ’11 ’14MS ’17PhD
Post-Doctoral Fellow, University of Pennsylvania
College of Health and Public Affairs | College of Medicine

Shaquem Griffin ’16
Former Football Student-Athlete/Aspiring NFL Draft Pick, University of Central Florida
College of Sciences

Marlon Gutierrez ’11
Senior Marketing Manager, Student Loan Hero
College of Business

Joshua Haley ’12 ’14MS
Software Engineer, Assistant Technical Staff Lead, SoarTech
College of Engineering and Computer Science | Burnett Honors College

Shannon Hassett ’16
Registered Nurse II, Orlando Health
College of Nursing | Burnett Honors College

Ron Hawks ’12
Crisis Management Lead, Lockheed Martin
College of Health and Public Affairs

Brittany Howell ’10, PsyD
Psychologist, James A. Haley Veterans Hospital, Lakeland Outpatient Clinic
College of Sciences

Samuel Jimenez ’11 ’14MFA
Innovation Product Designer, AARP
College of Arts and Humanities

Michele (Mixon) Jones ’11 ’14MPA
Emergency Management Director, Martin County Fire Rescue
College of Sciences | College of Health and Public Affairs

Amber Mariano ’17
State Representative for Florida House District 36, State of Florida
College of Sciences | Burnett Honors College

Michael McGriskin ’10
Associate Attorney, Phelps Dunbar LLP
College of Business

David Moskovitz ’12
Director of Brokerage and Leasing, Cardinal Point Management
Rosen College of Hospitality Management

B. Mia Mota ’12
Attorney for Emerging and Established Technology Enterprises, The Tech Law Firm
College of Health and Public Affairs

Katherine Payares ’12 ’13MSW
Bariatric and Oncology Clinical Social Worker, Florida Hospital Celebration Health
College of Health and Public Affairs

Allison (Blum) Peterson ’10
Practice Manager, Pediatric Pulmonology and Dermatology, Memorial Healthcare System
College of Business

Eugene Pringle ’17EdD
Assistant Principal, Odyssey Middle School
College of Education and Human Performance

Kristi Ray ’13, DO
Family Medicine Resident Physician, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
College of Sciences | Burnett Honors College

Sara Singer ’10
Associate Attorney, Brydger & Porras LLP
College of Sciences

John Sparkman ’13 ’15MS
Vice President and Director of Research and Development, Limbitless Solutions
College of Engineering and Computer Science

Lindsey Turnbull ’10 ’12MA
CEO/Founder, MissHeard Media
College of Arts and Humanities | College of Sciences | Burnett Honors College

Heather (Grenitz) Ulbrik ’10
Test Engineering Associate Manager, Lockheed Martin
College of Engineering and Computer Science | Burnett Honors College

Demitria Vasilatis ’11, DVM
Post-Doctoral Residency, Clinical Pathology, William Pritchard Veterinary Teaching Hospital, University of California, Davis
College of Sciences | Burnett Honors College

From Spidey to Superstar

Theatre alumnus Justin Sargent ’08, who starred in the Broadway production of Spider-Man, will perform in NBC’s live broadcast of Jesus Christ Superstar on April 1

By Jenna Marina Lee

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.”

Five Things Alumni Need to Know This Week – March 26, 2018

1. Thursday is a BIG day on campus. First up, UCF Day of Giving encourages people to make a gift to what they love at UCF. The goal is to reach 1,000 donors in 24 hours. Whether you’re a first-time donor or a loyal annual donor, we need your support to achieve this ambitious goal that will help to ensure a strong future for UCF.

The Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the 12-member State University System, is scheduled to interview Provost and Executive Vice President Dale Whittaker and hold a confirmation vote for the president-elect on March 29, and  UCF Football will also hold its pro day.

2. UCF Athletics is hosting a yard sale prior to the Spring Game on April 21. Each of UCF’s 16 sports programs will have items available for sale, including polos/golf shirts, T-shirts footwear (cleats and other athletic shoes) and game jerseys.

3. Speaking of the Spring Game, the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center will host its first-ever Spring Game Indoor Tailgate on April 21 from 3-5 p.m. in celebration of our first-year head coach Josh Heupel! Just like the regular season tailgates, all UCF alumni (with driver’s license or valid ID) and their guests are welcome to attend this free event!

In honor of President John C. Hitt’s 26 years of service to UCF, we are also encouraging Knights to submit their best Hitt-selfies and well-wishes before his retirement from the presidency in June. Visit ucfalumni.com/greatesthitts to submit your heartfelt regards and photos, which will be shared with the man, myth and legend himself.

4. Last week, UCF announced the names of two new colleges and a new interdisciplinary, inter-college school, which are part of an academic reorganization. The new names of the colleges and school are: College of Health Professions and Sciences; College of Community Innovation and Education; and Nicholson School of Communication and Media.

5. The university’s faculty and staff believe in UCF, so much so that 1,870 of them donated to this year’s annual fundraising campaign during the month of February. Campaign results were announced last week. They raised nearly $71,000 in support of first-generation scholarships alone and also contributed to areas such as Knights Helping Knights Pantry, WUCF TV and the student emergency fund.

Bonus: Were you born to be a superhero? Take a 2-minute break this Monday and find out from this quiz. Remember, with great power comes great responsibility.

The Buzz On Alumna Kristin Harris

Photo of alumna Kristin Harris '11
Advertising and public relations alumna Kristin Harris is living the life she always dreamed of as BuzzFeed’s celebrity editor and head of talent relations

By Jenna Marina Lee

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.