BOD Spotlight: Ericka Dunlap


Ericka Dunlap, ’05 | UCF Alumni Board of Directors

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Who could forget the moment our very own Ericka Dunlap, ’05, was crowned Miss America 2004? Preceding the competition, Ericka became the first African-American woman to be named Miss Florida. After moving to Nashville to pursue a career in country music, Ericka then traveled the world and came in third on the 15th season of CBS’ “The Amazing Race.” These days, she’s back in her home state of Florida, doing what she does best: keeping busy. She works as the principal consultant at Crown Communications Group, as well as both a keynote speaker and entertainer. And, in what little time to has to spare, she also serves on the UCF Alumni Board of Directors.

10 Questions with Ericka

Q. Favorite thing about your job?
A. From the PR angle, I’m able to help business owners and professionals get exposure for their brands. As a speaker, I inspire people to create a vision for their goals. And, finally, as an entertainer, I convey the breadth of emotion in a song or another creative form, which motivates me to study new ways of making each project, speech or performance just as exciting as the last for the target audience and me.

Q. Describe a typical day at work…
A. It’s never typical. My car IS my office.

Q. Most memorable experience on the job?
A. I’m fulfilled when at least one person says they really needed to hear my message, or when my client sees the proverbial light bulb of creativity for their ideas to come to fruition.

Q. How do you hope your leadership will affect the future of the alumni association and the university?
A. I’m hoping to encourage a diverse perspective and offer ideas on how to incorporate more diverse representation that can directly speak for the ever-evolving population of UCF.

Q. In what other ways have you been involved with your alma mater since graduating?
A. I have made several presentations and speeches for CAB, my sorority (Delta Sigma Theta), the President’s Leadership Council, and many other organizations on campus.

Q. What’s the most important piece of advice you would give to your fellow Knights to help advance our university and our alumni association?
A. Stay connected beyond graduation! What one person experiences may affect the lives of hundreds.

Q. Happiest/proudest moment of your life?
A. My proudest moment so far has been graduating from college, because I’m the first person in my family to do so.

Q. Volunteer work/philanthropy?
A. I do like doing projects with the elderly, and I love encouraging girls’ empowerment.

Q. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
A. Learn sign language.

Q. What’s something most people don’t know about you?
A. I am addicted to thrift stores and yard sales.

BOD Spotlight: Monica Thorsen


Monica Thorsen, ’02 | Treasurer, UCF Alumni Board of Directors

By Angie Lewis, ’03

As a sales representative for Brenntag Mid-South, Monica (Smith) Thorsen, ’02, sells chemicals used to manufacture products such as personal care items, food, paints, drinking and waste water treatment, and many others. Since graduating, Monica has volunteered with and served as chair of the UCF College of Business Administration Alumni Chapter, helped create a mentorship program within the college, and has volunteered with the UCF Community Volunteers Alumni Chapter. In addition, she created a scholarship for military veterans with her husband, John “Jack” Thorsen, ’07. Working in sales means she knows her numbers, which makes her a perfect treasurer for the UCF Alumni Board of Directors.

10 Questions with Monica

Q. Why do you do what you do?
A. I like not being tied to a desk and getting to spend time with different customers every day.

Q. Most memorable experience on the job?
A. It’s a tie between my first time in a factory, seeing how my products were used, the production lines and packaging, and making it on the President’s Council (top sales people in the company) for 2013.

Q. What did you want to be when you grew up?
A. A pediatric dentist. I job shadowed my dentist in high school, but after seeing one tooth pulled, I had to rethink my career path.

Q. How has your UCF degree helped you in your career?
A. I learned so many great things in the professional selling class taught by Karl Sooder. It truly has helped me get where I am today. In sales, there is a fine balancing act where you want to gather information and close a sale, but not be too pushy. His class taught me how to focus on relationships and walk that line. Having a UCF degree has also opened doors to creating relationships with many of my customers who are alumni.

Q. Why do you serve on the UCF Alumni Association Board of Directors?
A. As a student, I worked full time to pay for school and rent, so I didn’t have time to participate in many events on campus. This is my chance to give back to the school that has done so much for me, and to be a voice for students and alumni.

Q. How do you hope your leadership will affect the future of the alumni association and the university?
A. I like to lead by example and hope that I can inspire others to become active and serve on any board within UCF. We can all make an impact in the lives of students and alumni by helping create better programming, creating greater recognition of our impact in the community and further increasing the value of our degrees.

Q. If you could have front-row seats to any concert, which would you choose?
A. Journey! I actually have this on a wish list hanging on my fridge.

Q. If you could eat only one food the rest of your life, what would it be?
A. I am obsessed with cookies — maybe even more so than the Cookie Monster.

Q. What/who makes you laugh out loud?
A. My husband, Jack. We’ve been married 11 years, and our house is always filled with laughter.

Q. Last thing you Googled?
A. Chemicals. I bet Homeland Security has me on its list. I am constantly looking up chemical names, data sheets and synonyms for what my customers are looking for.

Making His Mark


Roary Snider, ’06 | Budget Management Policy Chief, Executive Office of the Governor

By Lauren Whalley

Growing up in Orlando and having a strong interest in learning about the past, Roary Snider, ’06, knew that UCF would be the perfect place for him to purse his bachelor’s degree in history.

“[UCF] offered a lot of opportunities, and the school was up and coming”, he says. “There was always optimism around the university with constant improvement and potential. It was a very natural fit for me.”

When he was not spending his time with his Delta Tau Delta fraternity brothers or studying in the Student Union, Roary could be found in his professors’ offices, specifically in the office of Robert Cassanello, with whom he credits helping him to develop his writing skills and continuing his interest in history.

Roary took his knowledge beyond the classroom and into Knightcast, UCF’s student-run radio, where he initially started as a participant in a political talk show panel. Soon, Roary became the producer and director for the broadcast, for which he was responsible for developing different topics to be discussed on the show. He also was, and still is, dedicated to upholding the UCF Creed and held a position on the Golden Rules Committee (the review committee in charge of giving students a voice in shaping the rules by which they will abide).

“UCF is a place you can come in and make your mark,” he says. Roary suggests for his fellow Knights to “Define your goals and make a plan on how you are going to achieve those goals.”

A Knight in Tallahassee
Roary first developed an interest for budget and policy when he worked in Washington, D.C., for the Friends Committee on National Legislation, where he was able to familiarize himself with law and policy development.

“I have always had an interest in government,” he says. “I like being able to look at a problem and analyze solutions.”

While attending law school at Florida State University, Roary interned for both the Florida Senate and the Florida House of Representatives, where he became well acquainted with budgets and policies, including insurance policies and property insurance.

“It was a tremendous opportunity”, he says. “I was able to see the inside process of how a bill is put together and the process it went through.”

As the budget management policy chief in the Executive Office of the Governor, Roary is in charge of representing the governor’s office in collective bargaining for state unions and utilizes his understanding of different political views and research skills to create a brighter future for the state of Florida.

Charge On!
As an alumnus, Roary is still leaving his mark on UCF. He felt that UCF needed a tagline that could branch the generations and echo throughout the country. What could be better than a line from our alma mater’s fight song? Roary contacted UCF Athletics and was instrumental in creating our new slogan: Charge On!


Q. If you were stuck on a deserted island, what would be the one item you would have with you?
A. A satellite phone

Q. Who is your favorite historical figure and why?
A. I’d have to say George Washington. He defined how the nation was going to work and he was a tremendous leader.

Q. Where would your dream vacation be?
A. The Himalayas. I’d love to see the mountain area.

Persistence and Passion

An alumna with a love for helping others works as a legislative assistant for a fellow UCF graduate


Ashley Guinn, ’07 | Legislative Assistant for State Rep. Steve Crisafulli

By Lauren Whalley

Knight Life
After completing her associate’s degree at Eastern Florida State College, formally known as Brevard Community College, Ashley Guinn, ’07, transferred to the University of Central Florida to pursue her bachelor’s in health sciences.

“I’ve always had an interest in helping people, and I wanted to have that background in the health care field,” she says.

Ashley’s passion for helping others grew through her involvement in the Greek community, where she took on several leadership roles, including Panhellenic Delegate and, eventually, president of the Chi Omega sorority. To this day, Ashley takes pride in the opportunities her Chi Omega presidency has given her.

Ashley had a very special UCF experience. Not only did she attend the first on-campus football game at Bright House Networks Stadium, but she was also part of the first graduating class in the CFE Arena. To have the opportunity to watch the development of the stadium and the arena as a student allowed her to see how the school was growing.

Her advice to current UCF students? “Have fun!” she says. “Keep up with academics, network through campus and the UCF community, and take full advantage of every opportunity that comes in front of you.”

A Young Knight, A Rising Star
After graduating from UCF, Ashley served as an admissions advisor for Colorado Technical University and Le Cordon Bleu for two years, where she learned how to actively listen and speak with people who came from various backgrounds — a skill that Ashley used quite often as a campaign assistant in her next job at Spearman Management. Here, Ashley assisted with multiple campaigns, planned fundraising events, collected data and performed cold calls. While working on campaigns, Ashley was able to “learn the psychology behind how people think,” she says, giving her a better understanding as to what influences voters’ opinions.

In November 2012, Ashley became a legislative assistant for State Representative and fellow UCF graduate, Steve Crisafulli. Between managing schedules, helping constituents, scheduling appointments and researching legislative issues, it’s never a boring day for Ashley.

“My day always varies, especially with the legislative session quickly approaching!” she says.

When Ashley is not in the office, she spends her time volunteering with the Junior League of South Brevard, an organization that Ashley describes as “women helping women,” who are committed to promoting volunteerism in the community and developing leadership potential.

Keeping the UCF Spirit
Being able to work in an environment with other UCF Knights is one of the most unique and exciting parts of Ashley’s job. She says working for a fellow UCF graduate “is an awesome experience. We even have a UCF intern working in the office too. It’s nice to have that kind of camaraderie with your co-workers.” And, it’s not just her fellow Knights that Ashley sees around the office; she has a picture of Knightro at her desk to always keep the UCF spirit around!


Q. If you could have front row seats to any concert, which would you choose?
A. Zach Brown Band or Britney Spears!

Q. If you could witness any event past, present, or future, what would it be?
A. The signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Q. What is your favorite holiday, and why?
A. Christmas, because everyone stops for a day or two and reflects on family and friends.

Black and Gold Forever

A naturalized American citizen and home-grown Knight, this alumnus is now a Knight on the Hill


Kevan Stone, ’05 | Special Projects Director, Congressman John Mica

By Lauren Whalley

Life as a Knight
Kevan Stone, ’05, describes his time at UCF as an experience that not only helped him grow as a person, but as a leader as well. Throughout college, Kevan was involved with many organizations in the UCF community, such as the Student Government Association and Kappa Sigma, and he served as the president of the Inter-Fraternity Council. Being involved in these organizations exposed him to “all sorts of people and life situations,” he explains.

After originally attending Florida State University for a semester, Kevan transferred to the University of Central Florida.

“UCF was close enough to home, but far enough away to still have the college experience,” he says. Kevan has many favorable memories while at UCF, but he always enjoyed attending football games as a student and continues to attend them with a “sense of pride” as an alumnus.

From Scotland to Capitol Hill
Kevan, a Scottish native, is a naturalized citizen who moved to the United States before his second birthday. Although he was not born in the U.S., Kevan still considers himself to be 100 percent American.

With family still overseas, Kevan’s experience traveling the world has allowed him to “see different cultures and develop an appreciation for diversity,” which has assisted him on his journey to Capitol Hill. He started out his career in Washington, D.C., in 2011, as a legislative correspondent for the House of Representatives, where he was in charge of writing and processing thousands of constituent letters and requests. Kevan soon advanced to his current position as a special projects director for Central Florida Congressman John Mica.

“Politics was always a passion of mine,” he says. “I can’t envision myself doing anything else.”

As special projects director, Kevan oversees legislative portfolios pertaining to financial services, foreign affairs, tax policy, budget, drugs/counter-narcotics, small business, housing, immigration and campaign finance. Kevan is also tasked with implementing district-sensitive projects and the effects of legislation on Florida’s 7th Congressional District.

There’s no such thing as a typical day for Kevan.

“It is never the same day twice,” he explains. “It is a 24-hour job. There is no such thing as nine to five.”

A Word of Advice
Kevan’s position in Washington, D.C., has taught him the importance of maintaining a positive image. He advises students to attend their classes and to stay out of trouble, because, “The decisions you make while in college affect your career track, your life track and, especially with new forms of social media, nothing is secret or out of the public eye. Character is a huge part of any position.”

Making the Connection
Kevan describes the University of Central Florida as an important stepping stone leading to his current position.

“A big part of Washington is connections. UCF provided me with the opportunity to make great connections. If it wasn’t for my attendance at UCF, I wouldn’t be talking to you today,”Kevan says. “Working with other UCF alums in D.C. on projects — no matter the political party — they have that UCF connection. UCF’s network on Capitol Hill grows by the day.”


Q. What is your favorite comfort food?
A. An Ultimate Boar’s Head Publix Sub!

Q. What are your favorite D.C. landmarks?
A. The National Archives, because you can find many of the original documents that this country was founded on. The second is The Newseum, a museum about news and how history was recorded.

Q. What is the best advice you have ever been given?
A. If you want respect, you have to give respect. You need to earn respect from your peers, industry and your family.

Once a Knight, Always a Knight


Robert “Bobby O.” Olszewski, ’99 | Winter Garden City Commissioner

By Lauren Whalley

Robert Olszewski, ’99, commonly known as “Bobby O.,” always knew he wanted to help people, especially in the Central Florida area. Having lived in Orlando since he was 2 and graduating from Dr. Phillips High School, he knew the Central Florida community was home.

“Having grown-up here in Orlando, I always wanted to be an advocate for my community,” he explains. Now, he serves his hometown community as a Winter Garden city commissioner in Orange County.

Knight Pride and Passion
Bobby’s passion for the Central Florida community led him to UCF and, more specifically, to the Nicholson School of Communication, which he acknowledges played a key role in the early development of his career.

During his time at UCF as a radio/television and organizational communication double major, he was able to gain hands-on experience working for Florida Citrus Sports as a media relations and event assistant. In his role with FCS, he was able to work closely with the UCF Athletics department.

“You felt that there was a sense of community pride in being a student at UCF,” he says. “There was always a feeling you were going to be a part of something big.”

Not only does he credit UCF’s Nicholson School of Communication for his success, he also attributes much of his early career growth to Larry Tanzi, a professor in the NSOC, who he considers both a mentor and a friend. Tanzi’s influence as a professor led Bobby to become an adjunct professor at UCF, and at other colleges and universities. He describes the experience teaching at his alma mater as “very rewarding — especially teaching at the Nicholson School of Communication. You remember when you were there as a student, and then to be there as a professor is a unique experience. I get to give back [to UCF].”

Advocating for Others (and animals!)
For more than two and a half years, Bobby attended every Winter Garden Commission meeting. In March 2012, he was elected as a Winter Garden commissioner with 70 percent of the vote in a three-way race that included the incumbent.

“Being able to promote and advocate for UCF, the community that you grew up, and all of West Orange County makes a big difference,” he says.

Bobby not only considers himself an advocate for the people of the community, but also for animals. After winning the election, he donated his remaining campaign funds equally to two organizations: the Society for the Prevention of Animal Cruelty of Central Florida, a charity that Bobby holds close to his heart since he has considers his three beagles family, and the St. Vincent De Paul Society, a charity that directly assists the less fortunate in the Winter Garden community.

“If you have a chance to make a difference, why not do it?” he says.

In addition to holding the position of Winter Garden city commissioner and managing principle of the Emerson Consulting & Management Group Inc., he is the executive vice president of Park Equus Inc., the parent company of the Arabian Nights Dinner Attraction. Arabian Nights was the home to UCF’s famous horse, Pegasus, who appears during UCF football games. Bobby played a key role in arranging Pegasus’s surprise appearance at the 2014 Fiesta Bowl.

In addition to being an adjunct professor, a Winter Garden City commissioner, and assisting with the mascot program at UCF, Bobby also serves on the UCF Alumni Association’s Governmental Relations Committee.

It is obvious that he has not only dedicated himself to serving the Central Florida community, but has proudly given back to his alma mater as well.


Q. What is your favorite condiment?
A. Barbeque sauce!

Q. If you could have dinner with any historical figure, who would it be and why?
A. I have three: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Benjamin Franklin and the poet Rumi. They all had interesting and amazing experiences in their lives from which we all can learn.

BOD Spotlight: Peter Cranis


Peter Cranis, ’84 | Chair-Elect, UCF Alumni Board of Directors

By Angie Lewis, ’03

As vice president of global consumer marketing for Visit Orlando, Peter Cranis, ’84, is helping to make people’s dreams come true. And, as the next chair of the association’s board of directors, he’s hoping to make the dreams of the UCF Alumni Association come true too. For more than 20 years, Peter has remained connected to his alma mater, as an adjunct professor in both the Nicholson School of Communication and the Rosen College of Hospitality Management.

10 Questions with Peter

Q. Favorite thing about your job?
A. Not only am I promoting the greatest vacation destination in the world, but, through what we do, we have a huge, positive impact on Orlando!

Q. Describe a typical day at work…
A. There is no typical day. One day I can be talking about a digital advertising program we’re doing in Brazil, the next day it could be a partnership with the theme parks in the U.S.-Hispanic market. That’s the fun!

Q. Most memorable experience on the job?
A. One of my most memorable experiences was being part of the efforts to promote tourism following the great recession and, over the next few years, watching the number of people traveling again return to previous levels, and watching new businesses open and people getting back to work.

Q. What was your first paying job?
A. When I was a little kid, I worked at a little store in New York City, stocking shelves and the soda machine. When they would pay me on Fridays, I would turn around and spend it all on comic books.

Q. Favorite UCF memory?
A. I have so many! But, I was a member of the Student Escort and Patrol Service (SEPS), and loved patrolling at night and meeting all the great people on campus.

Q. How do you hope your leadership will affect the future of the alumni association and the university?
A. I just hope that in some small way, I can contribute to the efforts of the association and make sure that alumni have a voice in the university’s future. I feel like UCF gave me so much, I always want to find a way to give something back.

Q. Pet peeve?
A. When someone says it can’t be done

Q. Happiest/proudest moment of your life?
A. UCF winning the Fiesta Bowl and ending up in the Top 10 (of course!)

Q. Volunteer work/philanthropy?
A. Rescuing kitties/Grasty Scholarship

Q. What’s something most people don’t know about you?
A. I was once in the Top 25 tennis players in Florida in the 25 and older division.

BOD Spotlight: Dianne Owen


Dianne Owen, ’93 | Chair, UCF Alumni Board of Directors

By Angie Lewis, ’03

In addition to her role as executive vice president of marketing for FAIRWINDS Credit Union, Dianne Owen, ’93, also serves as the chair of the UCF Alumni Association Board of Directors. She’s stayed involved with her alma mater in many other ways too, including having taught as an adjunct professor for the College of Business, served on the Annual Fund committee, judged The Joust competition, mentored students and volunteered on industry panels for the alumni association.

10 Questions with Dianne

Q. Why do you do what you do?
A. My job is challenging and, at the same time, rewarding. I truly believe in credit unions — specifically, the mission of FAIRWINDS Credit Union.

Q. Favorite thing about your job?
A. Building awareness about what FAIRWINDS has to offer and then hearing “thank you” from members who we have helped to save money.

Q. Most memorable experience on the job?
A. It was the moment I found out that we were awarded the UCF Student Banking Services provider. I was so excited to get started helping students at UCF to get on the right financial path early.

Q. Favorite UCF memory?
A. When my art professor was grading my final exam, he told me I should stop taking art classes and stick to business. It makes me laugh to this day.

Q. Why do you serve on the alumni board?
A. UCF alumni are a powerhouse group of individuals. I want to leverage that group to build stronger students, a stronger university and a well-connected community. The board is a great conduit to try and make that happen. And, I just love my school and want to give back in as many ways as I can.

Q. What’s the most important piece of advice you would give to your fellow Knights to help advance our university and our alumni association?
A. ENGAGE with your university. It can be done in a multitude of ways and can be mutually beneficial.

Q. What/who makes you laugh out loud?
A. My dog. He puts the biggest smile on my face always.

Q. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
A. A chef or a winemaker. Both would be really cool.

Q. What do you do for fun?
A. I love to cook. I also like to play tennis and hang out at the beach. And, lately, I’ve developed a freakish obsession to Candy Crush.

Q. Last thing you Googled?
A. What do you call someone who makes wine?

Head Case

Alumnus’ love of a childhood novelty turns into an amusing (and valuable) collection


Nathan Arms, ’98 | PEZ Collector

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Whether you grew up in the 1950s or the 1990s, in the United States or another country, you know the name. Its three letters probably conjures up visions of your childhood. Perhaps you even begged your parents to buy you Mickey Mouse or Santa Claus (two of the top sellers). And, if they agreed, you may have even insisted on a couple of extra packs of candy to go with your beloved head on a stick. Maybe you still have a few packed away? Or, better yet, maybe you still buy one on occasion for your own children?

But, for one alumnus, PEZ is more than just a nostalgic memory.

Nathan Arms’, ’98, PEZ dispenser collection started in the late ’70s, with Diabolic, from the Eerie Spectres series. Although he picked up more here and there over the next couple of decades, he didn’t become an avid collector until 1999.

“I’ve always been a collector of something, and I was looking to start collecting something different,” he explains. “Something that was relatively cheap and didn’t take up much space.”

Now, about 700 PEZ dispensers later, Arms shows off more than two-thirds of his collection in acrylic cases hung from a wall in his home office. He stores the overflow in boxes or sealed in plastic storage bags, all safely tucked away inside a closet.

His most valuable dispensers are his first and favorite, Diabolic, and the Indian Maiden. He says both are around $150-200 on the open market. In addition to monetary value, he also has some that are just plain fun — like a large dog PEZ that dispenses dog treats.

Unlike some collectors who collect every stem color variation of each dispenser, Arms says he only collects “from the neck up.”

So, how does he keep track of 700 small candy dispensers while looking for new ones?

“I don’t keep a database, but I really need to start,” he explains. “I kind of do it backwards. I keep a wish list of ones I want or ones I need to complete a set.”

PEZ isn’t the only thing this alumnus collects. As an avid movie lover, Arms also has a film collection of about 4,000 DVDs, BluRays and digital copies.

Beyond the PEZ Q&A

Q. What’s your current title?
A. Behavior specialist at Shenandoah Elementary School in Orange County

Q. Why do you do what you do?
A. I met a friend while taking a clinical psychology class at UCF, and he offered me a job at a group home working with adults with autism. I enjoyed it so much that I’m still working in the field almost 20 years later.

Q. Favorite thing about your job?
A. Working with children with autism and learning each of their individual characteristics

Q. How has your UCF degree helped you in your career?
A. Without my UCF degree, I would not be in the teaching field. UCF also allowed me to get a master’s degree in exceptional education (2001).

Q. Favorite UCF memory?
A. Learning to juggle in Dr. Brophy’s Psychology course

Q. Favorite childhood toy?
A. “Star Wars” X-Wing Fighter

Q. What did you want to be when you grew up?
A. Archaeologist (I loved “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”)

Q. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
A. Architect

Q. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
A. Fly a plane

PEZ Fun Facts

  • Eduard Haas III invented PEZ as a breath mint in Vienna, Austria, in 1927. The name PEZ comes from the German word for peppermint, “pfefferminz,” taking the P from the first letter, E from the middle and the Z from the last letter.
  • PEZ has made its way onto both the big and small screens:
    -In “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” Elliott (Henry Thomas) showed his new friend some of his prized possessions, which included a PEZ dispenser.
    -While sitting around a campfire in “Stand By Me,” Vern (Jerry O’Connell) told his friends, if he could only have one food for the rest life, he’d choose cherry-flavored PEZ.
    -An entire episode of “Seinfeld” was based around a Tweety Bird PEZ dispenser.
  • The first PEZ collector’s convention was held in Mentor, Ohio, on June 15, 1991.
  • Pierre Omidyar and his wife, a passionate PEZ collector, wanted to set up an online platform for the exchange of PEZ characters. After the website turned out to be a success, he founded eBay in September 1995.
  • PEZ turned 80 in 2007.
  • PEZ products are available in more than 80 countries, where approximately 65 million dispensers and 4.2 billion candies are produced.
  • PEZ collector’s sets include classics like “Star Wars,” “Star Trek” and “Lord of the Rings” to more unexpected sets like “The Wizard of Oz,” U.S. Presidents, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Destined for the Stage

Alumnus’ love of musical theater leads him to a “shady” role


Rob Stack, ’07 | Actor/Performer

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Thanks to having three sisters who liked watching musicals, Rob Stack, ’07, grew up watching them too. As a kid, he found himself drawn to “Grease 2.”

“I know. It’s a horrible movie with a campy, cliché depiction of high school,” he says. “But, I loved every minute of it. I sang all of the songs, and even tried to turn my bike into a motorcycle.”

After that, he was bitten by the musical theater bug, and, in sixth grade, he started acting and enrolled in his first drama class.

“When you perform a show, it becomes a living, breathing thing,” he says. “It’s always changing — the cast, the audience, content, state-of-mind, etc. It’s very exciting and kind of a high. I love challenges and roles that stretch me beyond what I know and am comfortable with.”

And, his latest role has definitely stretched him out of his comfort zone. In addition to the usual acting and singing, Stack also has to play guitar and perform a striptease for the audience as Hugh in “Spank! The Fifty Shades Parody,” which runs through March 23 at The Abbey in Orlando.

Much closer to his comfort zone is his day gig, playing a crab in the “Finding Nemo: The Musical” live show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Performing in two different shows each day has been challenging, but Stack has figured out how to balance his busy schedule.

“I only do five things on my work days: ‘Nemo’ in the morning, gym in the afternoon, ‘Spank’ in the evening, family in the evening and then sleep!” he explains. “On my days off, I’m spending time with my family and keeping up on ‘The Walking Dead.’ Love that show.”

Stack says he chose to attend UCF for many reasons — a big one being that it offered a B.F.A. in musical theater.

“The UCF musical theater program was such an amazing experience for me,” he explains. “First of all, I met my wife there. But, I also met a crucial network of very talented friends and colleagues who I still keep in touch with today. I enjoyed it so much because it’s such a well-put-together program. They have excellent professors, a great curriculum, and they mount fantastic productions every semester.”

As a student, Stack performed in many of those productions, including “Pippin,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “The Visit,” and “The Boyfriend.”

In addition, he and his wife, Andrea (Dunn), ’07, performed together as love interests Brad and Janet in the UCF’s production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

“It was the most fun I have ever had on stage,” he says. “It was such a wonderful team of people, from the production team to the cast. We all felt like rock stars! I’m sure you heard about it… It was legendary.”

Behind the Curtain Q&A

Q. What’s your current job title?
A. Performer/carpenter/husband/dad/badass

Q. Why do you do what you do?
A. I’ve been performing in productions since sixth grade. This is the life I know. This is what I love. This is what I feel I’m good at. Performing has been the logical choice for me since I began. While others dreamed of careers in medicine or business, I knew that this was what I wanted to be doing.

Q. How did you find/get the role for “Spank?”
A. Actually, a couple of my friends read the role breakdowns that were posted and sent it to me. The role required me to play guitar, look good in a suit and possess great comic timing. Me, me and me! I knew what the books were about, so I could only imagine how much fun it would be to parody the story. So, I auditioned and got the role.

Q. Have you read the “Fifty Shades” books?
A. I’m still trying to read the first one. Ugh.

Q. What’s it like performing the show every night? Does it ever get boring?
A. Never. The content is so crazy and outrageous, I don’t think I could ever get bored with it. The show is also so non-stop, that I don’t have a free second once I walk on stage. My time backstage is consumed with costume changes, getting props and making sure my hair looks good. The audience plays a huge factor in this show. They are the fourth character. They laugh at something different every night. Therefore, it’s always changing the energy, pace and feel of the whole show.

Q. What’s been the best part of playing Hugh so far?
A. The free bar tab. Just kidding! I love performing the show. We have a fantastic team of people behind us who make it a wonderful experience. The cast is fantastic. So good, in fact, I have a hard time not breaking character and laughing on stage. Sometimes I just have to, though. Andrea (Canny) [above, left] and Alice (Rix) [above, right] are so funny, and the circumstances we’re in are just so absurd! I love it. And the audiences have been very appreciative. VERY.

Q. What’s been your most embarrassing moment on stage?
A. I have a lot. Falling during a tap solo in “The Boyfriend,” and dancing in a dance recital when I was 18 while the rest of the class was 5-year-olds. The most embarrassing, I think, was when I fell out of the crab at “Finding Nemo” during a live show. The crab is a huge shell on wheels where the performer sits inside while wearing a red crab costume complete with claws and a facemask. Well, I fell out of it one day and couldn’t stand up because my hands were in giant claws. So, I literally had to roll off the stage while guiding the shell back into the wing. So embarrassing.

Q. What’s your favorite musical to watch?
A. No one in particular. I’m a sucker for Sondheim. His stuff is always very moving and poignant to life. His music is so beautiful, I can’t take it sometimes.

Q. What’s your dream job/role?
A. My wife and I would love to own a theatre company one day in a thriving town somewhere in the New England area. We daydream a lot. Owning a furniture business would be great too! (We like to build furniture as a hobby.) Or, building custom acoustic guitars. (I do that too. I actually started doing that at UCF as an independent study.)

Q. Anything else we should know?
A. I have $42 in overdue library charges at UCF. I still get emails from them.

Rob Stack, ’07, took the stage with his wife, Andrea (Dunn), ’07, in UCF’s production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
PHOTO: Tony Firriolo