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.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know This Week – March 12, 2018

1. If you missed it, the UCF Board of Trustees named Dale Whittaker, PhD, the university’s president-elect Friday after a nationwide search. Whittaker, who currently serves as UCF’s provost and executive vice president, would become president July 1 if his selection is confirmed later this month by the Florida Board of Governors. He would replace John C. Hitt, who is retiring from the presidency on June 30.

2. UCF has announced ticket details for the 2018 UCF Spring Game presented by Dex Imaging on April 21. To sum up, the game is basically free to attend. If you are interested in checking out the premium seating areas (Tower Club, Stadium Club, Carl Black & Gold Cabana) and are not already a premium season ticket holder, you have the option to purchase tickets in those sections. Full ticket details can be found at ucfknights.com, and don’t forget, the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center is hosting its first-ever Spring Game Indoor Tailgate from 3-5 p.m.

3. The Space Coast UCF Alumni Chapter is accepting nominations for its annual Notable Knight Award. Established in 2012, the honor is presented to a Knight who best exemplifies a heart for volunteering and giving back to the Space Coast community. You can learn more about nomination criteria and submit your pick by visiting ucfalumni.com/sknomination.

4. Shout out to UCF College of Business Administration alumnus Jesse Wolfe ’15, whose company O’Dang Hummus just scored a new deal with Walmart. His hummus salad dressings, featuring flavors Ranch, Buffalo Ranch, Honey Mustard, Caesar, Roasted Red Pepper and Greek Tzatziki, will be placed in 2,000 of Walmart’s stores. You might remember Wolfe and his company from ABC’s Shark Tank. Read more about this new partnership in the Orlando Sentinel.

5. The UCF baseball team will look to extend its 12-game win streak this week with five home games on the docket. The Knights are coming off back-to-back victories over the No. 1 Florida Gators and a weekend sweep of Siena. Get yourself to John Euliano Park!

Five Things Alumni Need to Know This Week – March 5, 2018

1. On March 29, the UCF community — alumni, parents, students and friends — will come together and give generously to the academic or athletic programs most meaningful to them. UCF Day of Giving is the day to support what YOU love about UCF, too.

At UCF we dream BIG, so we’ve set a goal 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.

2. If you’ve been keeping tabs on Shaquem Griffin ’16 at the NFL Combine, then you’ll know the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Defensive MVP ran away the competition — quite literally. Here’s a recap of Griffin’s record-breaking performance.

3. It’s March, so bring on the madness! Post-season basketball is already in full swing with the women’s basketball team set to face USF in the American Athletic Conference semifinals at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut today at 4:30 p.m. on ESPNU. The winner of the matchup will advance to face either UConn or Cincinnati on Tuesday for the league title and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Meanwhile, the UCF men’s basketball team clinched the sixth seed in its conference tournament, which will be held in Orlando at the Amway Center starting Thursday, March 8. The Knights will tip off against ECU at 9 p.m.

If you’re planning on heading to Amway to cheer for the Knights, stop by Ember for a reception from 4:30-7 p.m., hosted by alumni organizations from the American Athletic Conference. This event will offer drink specials, first-come-first-serve appetizers and best of all, is free to attend! UCF fans should register online and  check in on site with UCF Alumni for an opportunity to win a special prize pack, including two tickets to the Knights’ opening round game against the Pirates later that night. You can also buy game tickets through UCF.

4. The UCF College of Nursing is accepting nominations for its Outstanding Alumni Awards Program. Through this program, five distinguished alumni and one student will be presented an award at the 2018 UCF Alumni All-Class Nursing Reunion on April 14. Applicants and recipients of these awards have demonstrated remarkable work in the field of nursing in one of six categories: Community Service, Education, Innovation, Mentorship, and/or as an outstanding UCF College of Nursing faculty member, or Senior Noble Knight.The deadline for nominations is Friday, March 16.

5. The UCF Board of Trustees aims to select the university’s president-elect this Friday. Three of the four finalists are on campus this week for their interviews – Matthew Wilson, JD, president of Akron University, was the first to complete his visit on Friday, March 2. Once the trustees makes their selection on March 9, the Florida Board of Governors will vote on the decision March 28 or 29.

BONUS:  Make your Monday more fun with this career quiz!

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.

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

Blake Bortles will suit up for the Jacksonville Jaguars through 2020

1. UCF’s Presidential Search Committee selected four finalists for UCF’s next transformational leader, and each finalist will visit UCF to meet with students, faculty, alumni, donors and community partners and also will give a presentation at an open forum. The campus community and public are invited to attend presentations by each of the candidates scheduled for March 2 and March 6-8. Attendees will be able to provide feedback. Visit www.ucf.edu/presidentsearch to learn more about the finalists and their soon-to-be scheduled visits.

2. DUUUVAL! Former UCF football great Blake Bortles signed a contract extension over the weekend with the Jacksonville Jaguars to lead the team through the 2020 season. “This is definitely the place I wanted to be,” the quarterback said, also citing personal reasons such as Jacksonville being close to his hometown of Oviedo, Florida.

3. Radio-TV alumna and former Order of Pegasus recipient Kaitlyn Chana ’13 overcame three eating disorders from the time she was in middle school until she was ready to get help in college. Now, she’s using her experience to help others and raise awareness for mental health. Check out this National Eating Disorders Week spotlight

4. UCF has brought in 1,575 new football season ticket accounts since Jan. 1, its highest amount since the stadium first opened in 2007. Season ticket renewals are also around 90 percent sold. Shannon Green breaks down all the rewards from the best football season in school history in this Orlando Sentinel article.

5. FAIRWINDS Credit Union will fund a new $1.1 million endowed professorship for a proposed UCF FinTech program, the first of its kind in the State University System. The gift to benefit financial-technology education, to be fulfilled over the next eight years, was announced Feb. 20.

More To Her Story

Former Order of Pegasus recipient Kaitlyn Chana ’13 is using her personal experience with eating disorders to create preventative care resources for mental health education.

By Jenna Marina Lee

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.”

Chana (left center) with her Reel Stories. Real People. team

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.”

Five Things Alumni Need to Know This Week – Feb. 19, 2018

1. UCF’s Presidential Search Committee selected eight semifinalists vying to become the university’s fifth president and next visionary leader. The 15-member search committee will interview the semifinalists on Feb. 22 and 23 at the Student Union. Following the final interview, the committee will vote to bring three to five finalists to campus. Find out more about the semifinalists.

2. The UCF football team announced the date of its annual spring game: Saturday, April 21, at 6 p.m. at Spectrum Stadium. More details about activities surrounding the game will be forthcoming.

3. Three Knights are featured among Orlando Weekly’s annual selection of its “10 people making Orlando a better place to be.” College of Engineering and Computer Science alumni Ricky Ly ’08 and Albert Manero ’12 ’14MS ’16PhD along with College of Medicine alumna Rasha Mubarak ’08 all received shoutouts in the recent article.

4. This year’s recipients of the Order of Pegasus, UCF’s most prestigious student award, were announced Friday. Of the 22 honorees, four are already alumni of the university.

5. Let’s make Monday a little more fun. Take this UCF Study Abroad-inspired quiz to find out where you should travel this year!