“O” Yeah!

Alumnus gets physical with Cirque du Soleil


Matt Biancuzzo, ’06 | Athletic Trainer, Cirque du Soleil

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Five nights a week, 85 acrobats, synchronized swimmers, divers and characters perform in, on and above water in Cirque du Soleil’s “O” at the Bellagio Las Vegas. And with so much physical strength and endurance required by the performers, athletic trainers, like Matt Biancuzzo, ’06, play a vital role in the show, as well as in the other 17 Cirque shows in more than 300 cities in more than 40 countries on six continents around the world.

As an athletic trainer for “O,” Biancuzzo and the rest of the performance medicine team evaluate, assess and treat the performers, taking a proactive approach with corrective exercises to prevent injuries. He says his favorite thing about his job is working with such a wide variety of personalities and cultures.

“Since joining Cirque du Soleil three years ago, I feel I have opened my eyes to so many different cultures and ways to approach things — not only in the therapy setting, but just in life in general,” he explains.

Before joining “O,” Biancuzzo worked on Cirque’s “La Nouba” show in Orlando. Before that, he worked as a graduate assistant at Florida State University, as an assistant athletic trainer at Georgia Southern University and as a student athletic trainer at UCF.

“I was always an active youth and very much into athletics,” he says. “The medical field had intrigued me after taking some focused courses in high school, and when I took my PSATs and saw the sports medicine/athletic training major, I just knew it was the direction I wanted to take.”

Biancuzzo says his UCF degree has helped him immensely in his work.

“The program gave me such a solid foundation to build upon to not only become a certified athletic trainer, but also to continue to develop as a professional in the field.”

Cirque du Soleil, which translates to “Circus of the Sun,” originated in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, in 1984. Its shows are a fusion of circus styles from around the world, each with its own storyline and central theme, where imaginary worlds are brought to life through amazing acrobatic performances.

Q&A Cool Down

Q. What’s your favorite thing about living in Las Vegas?
A. The variety of outdoor activities that you can find yourself doing. Red Rock is right around the corner for hiking, Lake Mead isn’t too far for boating, and several mountains aren’t far away for skiing/snowboarding.

Q. Least favorite?
A. Honestly, the touristic aspect of the strip. It’s just too many bright lights and too busy for my liking. I can handle the strip in small doses when I have friends or family visiting, but otherwise I stick to off-strip locations.

Q. What’s your favorite part of the show?
A. It is hard for me to pick my favorite part of “O.” I guess the general answer I would give is just how incredible the aspect of water comes into play during the show. One moment, you have a performer walking across the stage, and the next, one is diving into the water in the same spot.

Q. Out of all of the Cirque shows you have seen, which is your favorite, and why?
A. This answer could get me into trouble! But, I think I’ll have to go with “La Nouba” in Orlando. It was the first show I worked for and is one of the originals with Cirque du Soleil. It will always hold a special place in my heart.

Q. Why did you choose to attend UCF?
A. I knew I wanted to get involved with athletic training, and my first year of undergrad I attended Central Connecticut State University on an academic scholarship. I just didn’t feel at home there, so a life-long friend of mine who was attending UCF had me come check out the school, and I immediately knew that it was the right school for me.

Q. Favorite UCF memory?
A. Getting to travel with the UCF Football team as a student athletic trainer to Hawaii to work the Hawaii Bowl.

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These Guys Will Kickstart Your Heart

Alumni radio hosts rock Central Florida mornings


Pat Dougher, ’90 & Bob Miller, ’96 | On-Air Personalities, WJRR

By Angie Lewis, ’03

The subject matter can get a bit raunchy, and the occasional bodily function may slip through the airwaves, but what Orlando rock fans tune in for are the on-air personalities and guitar-laden music.

Loyal listeners of Orlando’s WJRR morning show are familiar with its hosts, Pat Lynch and Taco Bob. But, even if you just channel surf through morning FM radio, you’ve probably heard their unmistakable voices. The guys regularly promote local rock concerts, describe the latest viral videos and, most importantly, talk about their alma mater — UCF.

Meet “Pat Lynch”
Pat Dougher, ’90, better known as Pat Lynch, grew up in South Florida. He chose to attend UCF thanks to a recommendation about WUCF radio from a counselor at Palm Beach Community College.

While he was a student, Dougher worked an internship, which, he says, was key to his future career because it allowed him to meet some of the real players and shot callers in the local radio industry. “Doing an internship opened the door to the people who have and still do make it possible to do what I do for a living,” he adds.

As a radio/television major, Dougher ended up leading a student drive to gain an afternoon block of student programming on WUCF, which proved successful.

After WUCF, he went on to work for Central Florida’s old Q-96, then Relativity Records in New York City. After a brief time up north, he moved back to Orlando, where he worked as a manager at Peaches Music. In addition, he worked part time for WDIZ, which was eventually merged with WJRR when Paxson Communications bought the station. Seventeen years later, Dougher’s still with WJRR.

Meet “Taco Bob”
Bob Miller, ’96, better known as Taco Bob, says he chose to attend UCF because it seemed like the next step on the ladder after growing up in Central Florida and attending Valencia. “Plus, UCF offered a great communications department,” he adds.

As a radio/television major, Miller had the opportunity to meet guest speaker Jenny Sue Rhodes from then-Paxson Communications [now WJRR], to whom he credits helping him get his foot in the door of the radio industry thanks to an internship with her company, after which he was hired on as an employee. This year marks his 20th year with WJRR. 

Pat Lynch, Meet Taco Bob
So, how did this pair end up together?

“When WDIZ merged with WJRR, our program director walked in the studio one day and said, ‘Pat, this is Taco Bob. He’s going to be on during the lunch hour with you to do entertainment news,’” Dougher explains. “I said, ‘OK,’ and we hit it off immediately. We had good chemistry, so the powers that be said, ‘Looks like we may have something here we can develop into a full show.’ The rest was history.”

Learn more about the guys and their lives in radio in the Q&A below.

WJRR has had several format changes over the years, but adopted its current rock format and call letters in 1993. Some of the station’s alumni includes Larry the Cable Guy, Just Plain Mark and Buckethead.

Rockin’ On Q&A

Q. Describe a typical day at work.
Pat Dougher:
Arrive at 4:10 a.m., catch up on overnight news and start the show at 5 a.m. From 5 a.m. to 10 a.m., we execute the mechanics of the show as well as the online/social media aspects of the show. After the show, we produce any promos or commercials that have been assigned, meet with our programming boss and sales counterparts as needed. The day sometimes also includes on-site appearances for client and station promotions. I try to leave the office by noon, catch a nap and then begin a couple of hours of show prep for the next day’s program. 

Q. Favorite thing about your job?
Bob Miller:
When we have a great show. 

Q. Why do you do what you do?
I always loved radio as a kid and decided I would try to make it a career.
I love entertaining people. 

Q. Working in radio, you’ve probably had opportunities to meet some pretty famous people. Who has been your favorite so far, and why?
Hands down, Ozzy Osbourne. Why? He is the front man of, in my honest opinion, the most important hard-rock band, Black Sabbath.
Matt Damon because he’s very down-to-earth and a great guy to have a beer with. Slash because he’s Slash, and he does so much more than rock. Larry the Cable Guy because Pat and I worked with him for years, and it’s so good to see a great person become beyond successful. 

Q. What did you want to be when you grew up?
Police officer/law enforcement
Meteorologist or actor 

Q. How did you end up at WJRR? (What other jobs have you had?)
My previous radio jobs have been at WUCF (when the station played rock music and paid some of the students, including me). I then went to work for the old Q-96. After that, I briefly worked for Relativity records in NYC. I moved back to Orlando and worked for Peaches Music as a manager, and also part time at the legendary WDIZ (where I ended up working full time). WDIZ was merged with WJRR when Paxson Communications bought WDIZ. Been at WJRR ever since.
I did an internship at WJRR while attending UCF, and they hired me. I worked in the restaurant business from [age] 14 to 21. 

Q. What advice would you give to current UCF radio/television students?
Minor in something that will make you more valuable to a potential employer — business, marketing, etc. And, do an internship to establish some contacts.
Do an internship and learn as much as you can while you’re there about promotions, marketing, production, sales, etc. 

Q. What was your first paying job?
I started mowing yards when I was 10. When I turned 15 and was legally allowed to work, I went to work for a mom-and-pop grocery store chain in South Florida.
Sold mistletoe at the age of 7. We made a killing growing up in Winter Park! 

Q. What or who inspires you?
Adversity inspires me. There’s nothing more satisfying than overcoming adversity.
Successful actors who give back to their local communities and anyone who does charitable work 

Q. What’s the first album you ever bought/owned?
Kiss’ “Destroyer”
Bob Marley’s “Uprising 

Q. What was the first concert you ever attended?
Cheap Trick and U.F.O.
Pink Floyd 

Q. What music/artist would you never be caught listening to?
Mumford and Sons
One Direction — unless my daughters do a sneak attack on me 

Q. What songs would make up the soundtrack of your life?
“Street Fighting Man” by The Rolling Stones, “You Won’t Change Me” by Black Sabbath, “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” by Judas Priest, “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Cool Change” by Little River Band, “I’m No Angel” by Greg Allman, and “Back for More” by Ratt
Songs by Bob Marley, Sublime and The Zach Brown Band

On the Air

In preparation for this article, the guys invited me to stop by the WJRR studio and sit in with them during one of their live shows. Our executive director (and huge WJRR fan), Tom Messina, ’84, and our social media coordinator, Stephanie Sheppard, ’12, accompanied me.
Listen to our segment.

‘Lions and Dolphins and Mines, Oh My!

Alumna trains marine mammals for classified missions


Melyssa Allen, ’12 | Marine Mammal Assistant Trainer, SAIC

By Angie Lewis, ’03

She was just 4 years old when she made one of the biggest decisions of her life. It was a fateful trip to SeaWorld San Antonio, where she touched a dolphin and saw all of the park’s aquatic shows that sealed the deal. “I’m going to work with those animals when I grow up!” she declared to her parents. And, that’s exactly what Melyssa Allen, ’12, is doing.

As a marine mammal assistant trainer for Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), a civilian technology company contracted by the U.S. Navy, Allen trains Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions for the Navy Marine Mammal Program. The animals provide swimmer defense for the restricted waterway around the King’s Bay Naval Submarine Base in Georgia.

“Dolphins have a highly advanced biological sonar that they use for detection of objects, and sea lions have very well-developed, low-light visibility and highly sensitive hearing, which enable both animals to be extremely reliable to their tasked jobs,” Allen explains.

Because of their extraordinary senses, speed and agility in the water, the dolphins and sea lions are easily able to detect and “tag” enemy divers — who pose a threat to vessels, harbor facilities and people — with a special marker, so they can be tracked and apprehended by Naval authorities.

A typical day at work for Allen includes preparing the animals’ diets, performing maintenance on the program’s pens and boats, running practice drills with the animals, and patrolling the waterway.

At the program’s main base in San Diego, dolphins and sea lions are also trained to help the Navy detect sea mines, which are sophisticated weapons used in the ocean and designed to sink ships, destroy landing craft, and critically injure or kill personnel.

The Navy’s Marine Mammal Program has a breeding program for its dolphins, while its sea lions come from other facilities, like SeaWorld, Allen says. The program has also started taking in rescued sea lion pups deemed non-releasable by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, which are raised by the trainers for the program’s projects.

“The National Marine Mammal Foundation has played a very large role in the rescue and rehabilitation of the mass stranding of sea lion pups throughout the past year,” Allen says.

Although she’s been in her current position only since January 2013, Allen has had plenty of experience with animals. She’s been everything from a barn assistant at a horse farm, to a pet trainer at PetSmart, to an aquatic research intern with Disney’s Animal Programs.

While she was a student at UCF, Allen pursued her dream career by participating in Knights for Marine and Wildlife Conservation, Pre-Vet Society, Cognitive Sciences Lab, Applied Cognition and Technology Lab, and Physiological Ecology and Bioenergetics Lab.

She says earning both a B.S. in biology and psychology has allowed her to understand more about the animals with which she works — their physiology and anatomy through her biology background, and the different aspects of operant conditioning and behavior modification from her psychology background.

And, it was access to more opportunities to work with marine mammals in Florida (versus Texas) that drew Allen to UCF. Well, that and, she adds, “When I took the campus tour, I knew that I would be happiest spending my college career here.”

Fishing for More Q&A

Q. What’s the last thing you Googled?
A. My favorite guy from this season of “The Bachelorette,” Bryden Vukasin, who was in the Army during the Iraq war. I kind of have a thing for men in uniform — which works for me, since I work on a Navy base!

Q. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
A. I would like to pursue my doctorate degree and become a professor. (Looks like I might be coming back to UCF for grad school some day!)

Q. What profession would you not like to do?
A. Maintenance professional. I can’t stand having to unclog my shower drain.

Q. How do you manage stress?
A. Over the last year, I actually started to like running, so I began running more consistently and liking it more and more. When I found that racing in a 5K was getting easier and easier, I thought, why don’t I try a sprint triathlon? I like swimming a lot, and I’ve always liked spin class, so why not? Now, training for my races gives me a great outlet for stress! If you had told me this time last year that I would be a triathlete, I would have laughed out loud in your face, but I placed fourth in the novice division for my first race and third in the 20-24 female age group for my second race! And, I ended up placing second in my age group for the entire Jacksonville Triathlon Series that I participated in as well! 

Q. Do you have any special/hidden talents?
A. I played the violin for nine years during school and also took ballet for six years. 

Q. What or who inspires you?
A. Dawn Brancheau, whom I was lucky enough to work with during my internship at Shamu Stadium during the summer of 2009, has always been an inspiration to me in both my career and fitness. I always imagine how excited she would have been, just like the other trainers I know at SeaWorld, knowing that I finally made it to the field! 

Q. What’s your life’s philosophy?
A. When someone tells you, “You can’t,” turn around and tell them, “Watch me!”

Artisan Ice Ice Baby

Alumnus offers a cool solution to Florida’s relentless heat


Brandon Chandler, ’10 | Owner, The Hyppo Orlando

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Everyone who’s experienced a Florida summer knows the humidity is enough to make you melt. Lucky for fellow Knights and other downtown patrons, Brandon Chandler, ’10, and his team at The Hyppo Orlando are constantly freezing up new batches of refreshing gourmet treats.

Chandler knew he could do better than all of the Orlando frozen yogurt shops, which, he says, “aren’t very healthy or original.” So, he opened The Hyppo Orlando, at 431 E. Central Blvd., right at the edge of Lake Eola, selling artisan ice pops made from fresh fruit, cane sugar, herbs and other deliciously interesting ingredients.

Savor the Flavors
Whether you prefer the simplest of flavors, like Strawberry, Coconut or Orange Cream — or, you crave more adventurous flavors, like Guava Hibiscus, Mexican Hot Chocolate or Blackberry Goat Cheese — there’s a frozen combination guaranteed to tickle your taste buds and cool you to the core.

The shop even offers some 21-and-up combinations, like Riesling Pear, Sangria Plum, Cigar City Orange-Mango Helles Lager and Wild Turkey Bourbon Peach.

So, how does Chandler come up with each flavor? “There’s a lot of trial and error involved with not just getting the right flavor combinations, but the correct ratios of each to get the flavor profiles we want,” he explains.

The Hyppo team takes the highest quality fresh fruits, herbs and vegetables and blends them down until they’re mixed in the correct proportion. Then, the mixtures are poured into molds and loaded into flash freezers — the process that makes The Hyppo’s pops so unique. It freezes the pops so cold and fast that ice crystals don’t have time to form, creating a “texture and flavor difference [that] is incredible,” Chandler says. After 15 to 20 minutes in the freezers, the pops are given a quick warm water bath to help them release from the molds, before being sent through the wrapping machine, after which, The Hyppo’s customers happily devour them.

Chandler’s personal favorite flavor? Pineapple Cilantro. But, he says the shop’s bestseller is the Elvis pop, made with peanut butter, banana and honey — and, sometimes, bacon.

Growing Hyppo
The Hyppo originated on Hypolita Street (hence, the shop’s name) in St. Augustine, where the first store opened its doors, before growing into three more locations there.

The Hyppo Orlando is the first location in Central Florida, but Chandler plans to expand it throughout the I-4 corridor, with two to three new shops anticipated within the next year. 

UCF — For the Win!
Chandler’s UCF education and degree have been instrumental in his entrepreneurial endeavors. He was immediately able to find work in Orlando after graduating, which allowed him to save the money he needed to open the Orlando store. In addition, his accounting background has helped in every business decision he’s made. Plus, it makes the numbers of everything much less daunting, he adds.

When ultimately deciding which college he wanted to attend, Chandler knew he wanted to do something business related, so being in a big city with internship opportunities was important. “After touring all the schools around the state, I just knew as soon as I took the tour at UCF, I was going there,” he says. “So, I put my housing deposit in that day, and it was a great decision for me.”

Cool Q&A

Q. Favorite snack?
A. Chocolate-covered peanut butter pretzels from Trader Joe’s 

Q. Happiest/proudest moment of your life so far?
A. Would probably be a tie between having lines out the door on weekends and overhearing people talking about how much they love [Hyppo] and recommending it to their friends at various places around town. 

Q. Worst flavor of ice cream?
A. Strawberry — Fake strawberry is such an insult to the fruit. 

Q. Do you have any nicknames?
A. My last name being the name of a popular TV show character [Chandler Bing on “Friends”] has definitely led to a few related to that show over the years. 

Q. Favorite condiment?
A. Sriracha 

Q. Any special/hidden talents?
A. I am exceptionally mediocre at a wide variety of sports. 

Q. Bacon or Nutella?
A. Bacon

Editor’s note: Since this article was posted, The Hyppo Orlando is no longer associated with The Hyppo franchise based in St. Augustine, and has been rebranded as The Pop Parlour. It remains in the same location mentioned in the story.

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Will Brake for Cupcakes

Alumnus’ sweet treats are Yum Yum in the tum tum


Joey Conicella, ’05 | Owner & Marketing Director, Yum Yum Cupcake Truck

By Angie Lewis, ’03

He may have dreamed of being a Disney animator when he grew up, but little did Joey Conicella, ’05, realize then that he would, indeed, be bringing smiles to the faces of children and big kids alike — just, in a different way.

For the past two years, his Yum Yum Cupcake Truck has been the frosting on Orlando’s food truck scene. At least six days a week, you can find Joey and his partner, Alex, baking up flavors like Funnel of Love, Key Slime, Ballad of El Churro, Cookies Got Creamed and Dough Dough Bird.

And, their creativity doesn’t end at cupcake names. Joey and Alex serve their tasty treats in stylish detail—everything from their characteristic bow ties to their shiny, silver bakery on wheels, adorned with a distinctive bright yellow retro logo and stripes.

So, what’s a typical day on a cupcake truck like? Joey says that’s what he loves most about his business. “There is no typical day! Our days are always long. We start baking very early in the morning, and trucks don’t come back from the evening events until 10 p.m.”

Yum Yum does have some competition in the area, but when we asked Joey what makes his cupcakes the best, he responded humbly.

“I never like to say that we’re ‘better’ or the ‘best,'” he explains. “Everyone has his or her own taste. Some people think we’re No. 1, and some people don’t care for us. But, everyone who bites into a Yum Yum Cupcake should know that they’re made from scratch every day in small batches. Alex and our team pour their hearts into each and every cupcake. I think people can taste that love.”

These colorful cupcake connoisseurs say they started the Yum Yum Cupcake Truck as a way to get to spend more time together. “We’ve always enjoyed being in the kitchen together, whether it was baking or cooking,” Joey says. “The whole thing was a very organic process.”

Although everything seemed to fall naturally into place, there is a secret ingredient behind his success.

“I’m the person I am today because of my four years at UCF,” Joey says. “Those years were among the best in my life. I truly love UCF and the city of Orlando. It’s filled with such positive people. On top of that, the community has embraced Yum Yum, and giving back is the least we can do to show our gratitude.” (Joey and Alex regularly donate cupcakes for various UCF events.)

As a student, Joey was a Marching Knight and a member of CAB, as well as part of the ad/PR groups, and he even started his own indie newspaper called The Floridian Slip.

This fall, Joey will be part of the leadership team for the UCF Nicholson School of Communication Alumni Chapter.

Want to satisfy your sweet tooth? During the fall and spring semesters (and occasionally during the summer semesters), you can find the Yum Yum Cupcake Truck parked in front of the UCF Burnett Honors College every Tuesday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. For a complete schedule, check out the links below.

Playing with Food Q&A

Q. Bacon or Nutella?
A. Nutella, without question.

Q. If you could eat only one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
A. Spaghetti with tomato sauce. Morning, noon and night.

Q. If you were reincarnated as an ice cream flavor, what flavor would you be?
A. Cannoli

Q. Ideal last meal?
A. Spaghetti

Q. Favorite condiment?
A. Does olive oil count? I’m Italian…

Q. Favorite snack?
A. Italian bread with olive oil

Q. What’s your favorite flavor of cupcake you make?
A. I’m a sweets guy, so it’s hard for me to choose. I never get sick of the Peanut Butter Choco-Rama. So there, I’ll go with that one!

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Helping Heroes


Dr. Lance Armstrong, ’86 | Chiropractic Coordinator, Stand Down

By Angie Lewis, ’03

There are an estimated 200,000 homeless veterans living in the United States, and the population continues to grow every day. Many have made Florida’s forests and parks their “homes,” thanks to the warm weather.

Community-based intervention program Stand Down was formed to help these heroes “combat” life on the streets. In fact, the term “stand down” originated during the Vietnam War, when officers recognized overworked units and would pull them back for rest, supply them with needed services and new equipment, and get them ready for their return to battle.

Stand Down gives Florida’s homeless veterans a chance to come in from their camps in the trees to receive new clothing (everything from undergarments to boots), camping supplies, food, showers and general hygiene, dental care (when available) and chiropractic care.

You read that correctly — chiropractic care. After all, these veterans are literally sleeping on the ground. Imagine the effect that has on their bodies.

The program’s chiropractic coordinator is Dr. Lance Armstrong, ’86 (far right in photo above), who earned his UCF degree in physics. He also was the U.S. Air Force cadet commander at UCF, and flew B-52s until Congressional budget cuts in 1992.

“The cuts required I find a new career, so I came home as a chiropractic physician wanting to put the two careers together,” he explains.

In that effort, Armstrong was instrumental in creating a partnership between Stand Down and Palmer College’s Florida campus, allowing interns to adjust the veterans.

Thanks to his effort, Julie Clover, the director of membership and business development with Community Credit Union in Rockledge, FL, wanted to award the chiropractor the CCU Hometown Hero Award, which comes with a $200 gift. However, Armstrong insisted she give the money to the chiropractic student volunteers at Palmer College.

Instead of giving them the $200, the CCU Board of Trustees decided to donate $1,500. “I was in shock,” Armstrong says. “My appreciation was beyond belief.”

The donation is being used to purchase two portable adjusting tables and gas station gift cards to help with the cost of driving an hour away from campus to the site and back.

“I am proud to see the college taking the torch,” he says. “My dream is to see chiropractors volunteer at Stand Down in their states and nationwide. My dream is also to see chiropractic physicians work with Veterans Affairs.”

Armstrong has also assisted in the effort to provide chiropractic care to U.S. service men and women. Now, he says there are chiropractors on 50 military bases.

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Button Up!

Alumna brings big style to a little detail


Alexandra Gramatikas, ’12 | CEO, ALTR LLC

While attending a nautical-themed wine tasting, Alexandra Gramatikas, ’12, and her business partner and current UCF doctoral student, Tripp Driskell, found themselves in a big discussion about a relatively small item: buttons. More specifically, they complained about the lack of versatility in purchasing clothing with exactly the right buttons, and how ridiculous it is to buy a new blazer just because it has gold buttons, or making a trip to the seamstress to have plain buttons replaced with snazzier ones. And, so, ALTR LLC was born.

Alexandra’s patent-pending button covers allow wearers to “ALTR” the look of any standard buttons without the use of a needle and thread. She began her line with a design close to the hearts of all Knights — the coveted Pegasus.

This great invention not only gives UCF alumni a way to literally wear their pride every day, but it also won Alexandra first place in the 2012 UCF Joust, for which she was awarded $10,000 cash and one year free residency in the UCF Incubator program.

We caught up with Alexandra and asked her a few questions about her entrepreneurial spirit and bubbly personality. Here’s what she had to say…

Q. Why do you do what you do?
A. The idea of doing anything else seems like a jail sentence. I crave innovation… Whether it’s something obvious like creating a new product, or something unsuspected like a new adaptation of an existing product.

Q. What is your favorite thing about your job?
A. The immediate answer: marketing. However, when I take a second to think about it, I would have to say the manufacturing operations. I LOVE that I’ve been exposed to such a relevant industry. Rapid prototyping, machining, injection molding, etc., have a huge impact on today’s manufacturing. Not only are a lot of these operations being brought back to the U.S., they are becoming more affordable for budding innovators. A student could create prototypes in his or her dorm room with the technology that is available!

Q. Describe a typical day at work…
A. I wake up at 7:30 every morning (which is early for me) and eat breakfast while watching Good Morning America and answering emails. Then, I usually have a morning meeting and head to the office, located at the Orlando UCF Incubator — I love the UCF Incubator! From there, it’s anything from licensing and product research to web and content development. I always take breaks in between to engage on social media, since that is currently our primary source of marketing. Then, around 3:30, I fulfill the day’s orders and ship them out.

Q. What did you want to be when you grew up?
A. Peter Pan… then an architect… then a pastry chef… then a media buyer.

Q. What was your first paying job?
A. A server at Harry’s in Tallahassee during undergrad. I think EVERYONE should be a server or host/ess at least once in their life. It gives you a whole new level of patience and appreciation.

Q. Why did you choose to attend UCF?
A. I graduated with my undergraduate degree at Florida State in 2009. The only opportunities that were being offered to me at the time were either as a recruiter or in sales. Though they were great opportunities, and I have friends who have done phenomenally in those fields, I just knew that I would constantly crave something else. So, I worked at Shari as a hostess for a year (another life lesson in patience). One day, my dad suggested I come with him to attend UCF’s Joust finals. It would give me an opportunity to meet some of the faculty, and see what direction UCF was going in. The day after, I signed up for the GMAT and applied to UCF’s M.B.A. program.

Q. What is your favorite UCF memory?
A. Winning the very competition that encouraged me to go back to school in the first place

Q. What is the last thing you searched for on Google?
A. “best design for creating friction” and “yoda quotes”

Q. What one thing drives you absolutely crazy?
A. No. 1 is TIME!!! I HATE when people have no regard for time (and, in turn, no one else’s) — drives me bonkers! Students (especially graduate) without a LinkedIn profile, and #selfies are a close second.

Q. What is the No. 1-most-played song on your iPod/MP3 player?
A. Oooooooo that is tough. I always play my Spotify “schizophrenic playlist” on shuffle… Right now, the top three are probably: “Baby, I Love Your Way” by Big Mountain, “Heroes” by David Bowie and “Radio” by Lana Del Rey.

Q. What songs would make up the soundtrack of your life?
A. “You Only Get What You Give” by New Radicals

Q. What movie can you quote word for word?
A. Wedding Crashers and Finding Nemo

Q. What TV show are you embarrassed to admit watching?
A. I LOVE anything on the Smithsonian Channel. Guilty pleasure: American Idol — mainly to roll my eyes because the female judges this year are awful. Bring back Steven Tyler!!!

Q. Do you have any nicknames?
A. Star (it’s my middle name), Little One, Gram, Midge… I’m really short if you couldn’t tell from those, lol.

Q. If you could eat only one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
A. Chocolate chip cookies!!! And mac ‘n cheese.

Q. What was your most embarrassing moment?
A. HA! There are so many… But definitely the time in undergrad, my roommate talked me into signing up for a gym membership. The first day I went with her, we were next to each other on the treadmill. Mine wasn’t working, so I walked across hers to her other side. I realized I left my iPod at the other treadmill, so I went to walk back across. However, in that short time, she had started running on her treadmill. So, when I stepped on it, I went flying off the back with my feet in the air like a cockroach. We still laugh about it to this day.

Q. What is the hardest thing you have ever done?
A. Start a company.

Q. What is your favorite app?
A. Instagram. 99.9 percent of our pictures are taken with my phone and put through Instagram. I LOVE IT!

Q. Where is the farthest you have traveled?
A. I am very fortunate in the traveling department. When my parents split, my dad and I spent three weeks at the end of every summer traveling with some family friends. We always packed a backpack and that’s it. I’ve had the opportunity to go places from Vietnam and Bali to scuba diving in the Galapagos and climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Q. A custom T-shirt tells the world a lot about a person. What would yours say?
A. “I know that guacamole is extra.”

Q. What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
A. “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” (Samuel Beckett)
My dad told me that quote my first week after graduating from FSU.

Q. What do you fear?
A. Missing out. I have a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out). I don’t really fear “not succeeding” because deep down, I know I will succeed at something. You could say I have fear of missing out on an opportunity.

Q. What is the one word you are guilty of using too often?
A. Hmm… I don’t necessarily use one word more than any other, but I have a tendency to make up words. I’ll accidentally combine two words when speaking, and just hope no one noticed.

Q. Tell us a secret!
A. I’m really 4 feet 10 inches and some millimeters, but I tell everyone I’m 4 feet 11 inches because the DMV gave me the extra inch on my driver’s license, and that’s the one that really counts. ;)

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Prepared for Takeoff


Jack Mill, ’80 | Vice President of Engineering, Piper Aircraft Inc.

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Jack Mill, ’80, fell in love with airplanes as a teenager. Lucky for him, his dreams of flying and designing aircraft became a reality when he landed a job with Piper Aircraft Inc. more than 30 years ago. He began as a design engineer and ascended his way up to his current position of vice president of engineering. Piper is headquartered in Vero Beach, FL, and is considered one of the “big three” in the field of general aviation manufacturing.

Jack earned his B.S. in engineering at UCF, is a licensed professional engineer in Florida, an FAA engineering authorized representative, a certified flight instructor and a commercial pilot with instrument rating in single and multi-engine aircraft.

We caught up with Jack while he was attending simulation training in Orlando. Here’s what he shared with us…

Q. How did you get started with Piper Aircraft?
A. In 1972, Piper donated an airplane to Vero Beach High School where I was enrolled in an aeronautics class. Since the donated airplane had been used extensively for structural testing, it could not be sold and we used it to learn about all of the parts and how to perform a pre-flight inspection as if we were going to actually fly it. This was my first exposure to Piper, plus involvement in a Boy Scouts Explorer club that Piper sponsored. Years later, in 1985, I had the opportunity to join Piper as a design engineer.

Q. Why do you do what you do?
A. I love flying airplanes and participating in the design process of creating a product that fulfills the dreams of our customers. Seeing an airplane that I have had a part in the design of and talking to customers that love our products fills me with pride for the Piper team that cannot be described.

Q. What motivated you to learn how to fly?
A. My first airplane ride in a Piper Cub at a Vero Beach airport open house sparked my interest. We slowly flew low over the Indian River and across the island to the beach at only a few hundred feet and saw fisherman, boaters and golfers, and everyone was looking up at us and waving. Looking at the world from above provides an amazing perspective that hooks you.

Q. Describe your best day as a pilot…
A. This is a tough question as I have enjoyed so many flights varying from personal trips, experimental flight tests, giving flight instruction, traveling for Piper and many challenging flights to different places. Several very memorable flights include opportunities to fly the Piper Cub, Piper Cheyenne, Piper Malibu/Mirage, Ford Tri-motor, Pilatus PC-12 and Beechcraft King Air, to name a few. Flying the Piper Meridian last week was my most recent “best day” flying!

Q. What’s your favorite thing about your job?
A. Leading the engineering team at Piper allows me to work side by side every day with some of the most dedicated and talented people in the general aviation business. The passion for making the best airplanes in the world is what drives the Piper team and I’m so very proud to be a part of it.

Q. What’s your least favorite thing about your job?
A. The administrative portion of the position consumes so much of my time that it’s a challenge to stay focused on the important tasks that need to get addressed both tactically and strategically.

Q. Describe a typical day at work…
A. I usually ride my bicycle to work (it’s only 4.5 miles) in time to change and start into emails and review my schedule for the day around 7 a.m. or so. Normal days are comprised of project and design reviews, developing and/or reviewing presentations for financial reviews, board of directors meetings, staff meetings and working with various teams setting priorities for resources as necessary to accomplish the corporate goals. I see my position as more of a coach and mentor, providing the tools and resources the team needs to accomplish the work that needs to get done. I use lunch time and late in the afternoon to catch up on emails and correspondence to industry associations, employees, the FAA and various customers. I usually change and ride my bicycle to Charles Park around 6:15 p.m. to meet my wife and friends for a few miles of running and walking, then home for dinner. Often times, I use the evenings after dinner to further catch up on emails and reading journal articles or providing feedback and direction.

Q. What’s your most memorable experience on the job?
A. The day the Piperjet proof of concept vehicle first flew. This was our first jet design that we built and flew to prove the concept of a single engine turbofan powered airplane. Watching the airplane fly for the first time brought tears to my eyes.

Q. Why did you choose to attend UCF?
A. Because it was a local university with a reputation for excellence in the engineering program.

Q. What’s your favorite UCF memory?
A. Graduating!

Q. What song(s) would make up the soundtrack of your life?
A. Pink Floyd, Beetles, Dave Grusin, Debusy, Boston, Jimmy Buffet, Big & Rich, generally a variety of anything but rap…

Q. Do you have any hidden talents?
A. I learned to juggle a few years ago! I want to learn piano.

Q. What magazine do you look for when you’re stuck in a waiting room?
A. Flying, Field & Stream, Boating, Water Ski

Q. If you could watch only one TV show, what would it be and why?
A. I only get to watch what my wife has on and it’s usually HGTV!

Q. What do you do for fun?
A. Flying, scuba diving, free-diving, hunting lionfish and lobster, golfing, waterskiing, boating, traveling with my wife, Dawn (Miller) Mill, ’77, and visiting with my daughters Katy and Angela

Q. A giant meteor is hurling through the atmosphere toward Earth, and life as we know it will cease to exist by this time tomorrow. How will you spend your last 24 hours?
A. With my wife and children

Q. If someone wrote a book about you, what would the title be?
A. “What a ride!”

Q. What or who inspires you?
A. My wife, my mother and father (God rest his soul), my faith, many of my coworkers and associates over the years

Q. How do you manage stress?
A. Sometimes taking a walk or getting away to a quiet place for a few minutes does wonders, and sometimes an intensive workout.

Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A. Be true to yourself.

Q. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
A. I admire my wife Dawn’s artistic ability and profession so much that I would love to be able to draw or paint.


Far Out!

With $30 million up for grabs, UCF alumni and students are in a race to space.


Ruben Nunez, ’11 | President/CEO, Earthrise Space Inc.

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Like many kids from his generation, Ruben Nunez, ’11, grew up watching Weird Science, E.T. and Star Wars. Little did he know the influence the science fiction and technology in those movies would have on him. But after his parents took him to visit Kennedy Space Center and he had an encounter with one of the astronauts, it all made sense: He wanted to build a spacecraft that would help us explore our universe.

Unable to find a good internship opportunity as a college student, then learning about the $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE, Nunez decided to start his own company and team to pursue it.

Earthrise Space Inc. (ESI) provides students with experience building real spacecraft, doing so in collaboration with industry and academic institutions. As president and CEO, Nunez, along with three UCF alumni and 33 UCF students, formed Omega Envoy. The team is competing against 22 other teams from around the world to be the first to safely land a robot on the surface of the moon, have it travel 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send video, images and data back to Earth.

If Omega Envoy wins the money, Nunez says the cash prize will be used to expand his company’s infrastructure and workforce to further develop its technologies in order to increase the reliability of its spacecraft.

“We intend to demonstrate that Florida is the No. 1 place for space, since all the infrastructure and resources needed to build and launch spacecraft can be found here,” Nunez says. “We hope to create technologies to enable pin-point precision lunar landing — technologies which can then be used to explore other places in our solar system. We also intend to be the first commercial entity to offer lunar payload delivery services.” (ESI has already sold $1.6 million in lunar payload delivery services to Angelicvm, a Chilean company also competing in the Google Lunar X PRIZE.)

In addition, he says he would use the prize money to hire more engineers and other disciplined professionals with experience, and provide more internships from different majors (e.g., engineering, business, marketing, public relations and art) to increase the symbiotic mentoring methodology they implement to spur innovation. He would also schedule future lunar payload delivery missions with increased payload mass capabilities, as well as create spin-off technologies for use on Earth and further space exploration.

Thanks to Nunez’s ambitious endeavor, ESI has secured a contract with NASA for up to $10 million, through which ESI is providing data from its Omega Envoy spacecraft development and mission. The space giant will use this data in an effort to learn how a small, nonprofit company, like ESI, is able to build a lunar module for a fraction of the cost it spent in its past lunar missions — information that could be imperative to any future NASA operations.

“As the Florida team in the competition, it is important to engage students here in the state who will be the future space workforce,” Nunez explains. “What better place to do that than at UCF and other Florida universities? We want to provide experience and support to students and alumni from our alma mater, increasing our momentum and our community involvement.”

Earthrise Space is part of the UCF Business Incubator and is housed in Central Florida Research Park, which is close to its main workforce of UCF students. Since its inception, ESI has provided internships to more than 60 students, six of whom were hired with companies like Boeing, Pratt & Whitney, Lockheed Martin and Aircraft Electric Motors.

Since ESI is a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation, it’s seeking other sponsors, partners, donors, grants, contracts and other funding sources in an effort to fulfill its lunar payload delivery service capabilities and to win the Google Lunar X PRIZE.

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