Knights’ Love For Bacon And Bots

Courtesy of Exploding Bacon

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (May 10, 2017) – With a name like Exploding Bacon, it’s hard to believe that the moniker was the second choice for a local youth robotics team led by alumna Elise Cronin-Hurley ’90 ’94MPA.

Organized Chaos was voted as the winner – conceptualized by a random name generator – but when the mother of the lead mentor doodled a pig riding a rocket as a potential logo, the team knew it needed to reverse its decision.

Now, 12 years since that day, Exploding Bacon is coming off its largest win in team history as a Chairman’s Award finalist at the 2017 Houston FIRST World Championships.

FIRST was founded nearly 30 years ago to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology. The Chairman’s Award is FIRST’s most prestigious award and is given to the teams that best represent a model for others to emulate.

“We are very proud because it’s definitely not just this year’s Exploding Bacon team who won that award. It’s built on a lot of people’s sweat and tears and a lot of effort and just a passion and a heart for it,” Cronin-Hurley said. “We’re very close knit group. Once you’re bacon, you’re always bacon.”

Cronin-Hurley had never heard of Exploding Bacon when she drove her son, Zachary, to the team’s headquarters for the first time in 2011. Unsure of what her teenager was signing up for, she wanted to learn more about the program, so she stuck around that first practice and has been there ever since.

Zachary, now a mechanical engineering major, is one of three current UCF students who volunteer with the team and said he has incorporated lessons and textbook materials from his coursework at UCF into his role as a mentor for Exploding Bacon.

Over the years, Cronin-Hurley’s role has also changed. She worked her way from serving as a volunteer parent to the lead of the FIRST Robotics Club program.

The political science, organizational communication and public administration alumna owns a freelance graphic and web design business. She said she never envisioned working with students or becoming a teacher. Yet, the relationships she has built over the years has kept her coming back.

“You really care about their individual progression and what they’re able to accomplish, and you want to help them,” she said. “I work all day on a computer for 8-10 hours and then I come here for 2-5 hours a night. This is what feeds me. Working with them feeds me.”

Dominic Canora, who attends Lake Highland Prep, is co-president of the 30-member team this year and will attend UCF in the fall as a freshman, choosing the university over Georgia Tech.

His fellow team members hail from 12 different schools or home school. They span five different counties, and some drive one hour each way to attend a four-hour practice session weekdays during competition season.

In a six-week span, the 30-member team builds and programs an industrial-size robot to play a difficult field game against more than 15,000 students from around the world.

Exploding Bacon’s robot, which was built in a six-week span, at the FIRST World Championships | Courtesy of Exploding Bacon

In addition to its annual competition, Exploding Bacon established the #FIRSTLikeAGirl video campaign to share the stories of the women and girls on the team to inspire and encourage girls everywhere to pursue their interests in STEM.

Alexis Bishop is a UCF student and a mentor on the team who has eagerly helped develop the program.

“I take pride in being a role model for girls on the team,” she said. “It’s been a really great thing to be a part of. It’s really important to me that they know if I can do this, they can definitely do this.”

Exploding Bacon also participates in an average of 30-40 demonstrations and outreach events each year, and in this year alone has totaled 1,130 volunteer hours.

The team holds STEM summer camps and has created an international outreach program that provides Spark science kits with reusable experiments and instructions for students with few resources to help them develop problem solving skills in their own communities.

“We’re trying to figure out how to make the world be a better place,” Cronin-Hurley said. “Everybody needs to pitch in, so if we can help spark those problem solving skills in kids in their own countries, then maybe we can help build everything from the ground up.”

Mentor With A Smile

Dr. Sophia Parpia, ’91, got involved with the UCF Parent & Family Philanthropy Council and found a way to help dental students.

By Melanie Brown, UCF Career Services

ORLANDO, Fla. (Aug. 30, 2016) – Dr. Sophia Parpia, ’91, has been practicing dentistry since 1995 and has always aspired to help others enter the field, especially students at her alma mater.

She and her husband, Amman Parpia, opened a local dental practice in 1999 in Altamonte Springs. Since then, she has helped high school and college students take a hands-on approach to exploring the field of dentistry.

“I’m willing to help whenever anyone asks,” Parpia said.

She gives students an opportunity to visit her practice, get accustomed to various dental instruments, interact with patients and observe different procedures.

Recently, the UCF Pre-Dental Student Association (PDSA) participated in two all-day workshops with Parpia that went beyond observation. Students had the chance to prepare extracted teeth for composite restoration (fillings) and take impression molds on their peers.

“You never know if this is what you want to do until you try it. You can end up in dental school and realize that you don’t like working in someone’s mouth,” explained Parpia, who wasn’t as fortunate to gain real-world experience prior to entering dental school.

Parpia is a first-generation dentist and was one of the only students in her graduating class to not come from a family of dentists.

“I felt I was at a disadvantage. I didn’t have a lot of the hands-on practice that many of my peers entered school with,” Parpia said. “I want to help students know what to expect before they get to school.”

The Parpias have two daughters that attend UCF – Gabriela, a biomedical sciences sophomore, and Aleena, a freshman studying health sciences-pre clinical.

Gabriela is a member of the Burnett Honors College and was a National Merit Scholarship finalist coming out of Seminole High School. She intends to follow in her mother’s footsteps and now works part-time as a dental assistant at her parents practice.

“I feel very fortunate to get to do this. It’s great experience. I feel more on my feet and will be ready for dental school [when the time comes],” Gabriela said.

In September 2015, the Parpias learned of the UCF Parent and Family Philanthropy Council while touring the Burnett Honors College. The council is in its inaugural year at UCF, and they felt compelled to join.

The primary mission of the Parents Council is to engage parents and family members who lend their talents and provide support for vital student programs. Through engagement with the council, Dr. Parpia connected to the PDSA and other students at UCF.

“This is so important to me, and I’m so proud to help so many students,” said Parpia, who has now helped a few alumni do more than just gain experience prior to dental school.

Andreina Alacrón, ’10, shadowed Parpia while studying at UCF and went on to graduate from the University of Colorado’s School of Dental Medicine in May.

Alacrón first came to Parpia’s practice to obtain observation hours and was soon hired as a dental assistant due to “good work-ethic and enthusiasm about dentistry.” Parpia helped her through her application process, and now that Alacron has graduated from dental school, she will return on Aug. 18 as the practice’s newest practitioner.

Another UCF alumna, Aamna Zaidi, ’16, pursued a similar path in working with Parpia, who wants to hire Zaidi once she is finished with school. Parpia aspires to help more women get into dentistry.

Andrew Bertot, a Burnett Honors College student and the vice president of the PDSA, is thankful to be able to shadow professionals in his field.

“It’s a great opportunity when a dentist opens up their office and lets us figure out if this is what we want to do,” Bertot said.

A number of PDSA students will be first-generation dentists, just like Parpia.

“What Dr. Parpia is doing to help our students advance in their field is extraordinary,” said Neal Robinson, assistant director of leadership annual giving at UCF Alumni. “Career Services invites alumni, parents and friends of the university to host students for short-term job shadowing experiences through the department’s job shadowing program.”

The UCF Externship Program is a 1-5 day job shadow program open to all UCF students. Twenty-four percent of students who completed the 2015 Winter Externship program received a job offer.

Strength in the Saddle

Alumna ensures disabled horseback riders get the therapy they need

5-30-15-Lauren-and-Whitey
Lauren Parslow, ’14, shares a quiet moment with Whitey, one of the horses that provides therapy,
through Freedom Ride, to physically/mentally disabled children and adults.
Lauren Parslow, ’14 | Volunteer Coordinator, Freedom Ride

By Angie Lewis, ’03

“Horses mirror our emotions,” Lauren Parslow, ’14, says. “What we feel, they will feel.”

And, that’s what makes them especially well suited as animal partners in helping children and adults cope with physical and mental disabilities, and post-traumatic stress, while improving their interaction skills and building their confidence.

Parslow, who’s been riding and working with horses since she was 5 years old, works as the volunteer coordinator for Freedom Ride, a therapeutic horseback riding center in Orlando. She loves everything about her job, because it allows her to make a difference in the lives of others every day.

“I can see the changes in the riders, their physical and mental health improving, and their overall quality of life improving,” she explains. “I also love that I get to work with the things I am most passionate about: children and horses.”

Freedom Ride is a PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship)-accredited riding center, which provides therapeutic riding lessons that help its mentally and physically disabled participants gain core strength, posture and balance.

In addition, the non-profit organization also provides hippotherapy, a form of occupational therapy in which a therapist uses the movements of a horse to engage sensorimotor and neuromotor systems to create functional change in a patient. It also offers a military program to help veterans increase self-awareness, enhance coping skills and learn more effective ways to interact and move forward within the community and with loved ones.

Parslow originally majored in forensic science at UCF — until she took chemistry, which was extremely difficult for her. During her struggle, she was also working at the YMCA, which led her down her new path.

“I realized how much I enjoyed working with children,” she explains. “I did my research and knew I didn’t want to become a teacher, so I took the early childhood development track. I loved every class and gave 100 percent every day.”

While pursuing her degree in early childhood development and education, Parslow interned with Freedom Ride for four months to gain the hands-on experience required for her major. Now employed with the organization for almost one year, she ensures they have enough quality volunteers to care for the horses, facility, and work the classes alongside the riders.

“I think my education degree helps me offer my expertise on our riders and their behaviors that the other staff may not understand,” she says. “I’m able to offer insight into why children do certain things and not others, or what they respond to best.”

3-31-15-Lauren-and-Jasper-2
Jasper & Lauren

Horsin’ Around Q&A

Q. What advice do you have for current education students at UCF?
A. Enjoy what you’re studying! You’re going to be guiding future generations. A degree in this field is EXTREMELY important. I wish more people would understand that. The first eight years of life are most important. So many milestones are reached in that time frame. PLEASE enjoy what you are doing. There has to be passion for what you want to do or it will affect future generations.

Q. Describe a typical day at work.
A. The first thing I do when I arrive at work is greet all of my staff members and volunteers. We have a small staff, and we always ensure our volunteers have a great time. We’re a family, and I want to make sure that they feel that way. Throughout the day, I enter the volunteer hours into our database, work on the monthly volunteer newsletter, ensure that we have enough volunteers each day, visit the horses and riders, and am thankful that I have a job I enjoy. There are days where we may not have enough volunteers, so I’ll need to work a class, which I thoroughly enjoy! I’m always asking the other staff members if they need anything done, and I will do it if they need the help. My days go by quickly, but I always come to work with a smile on my face and leave with a smile!

Q. What’s the last thing you Googled?
A. “Trucks for sale.” Living on a farm is tough without a truck!

Q. What one thing drives you absolutely crazy?
A. I’m a firm believer that if someone says they’re going to do something, they should do it. I don’t like seeing people, or myself, get their hopes up only to have them crushed.

Q. Last book you read?
A. PATH Instructor Manual. I’m going to become a riding instructor!

Q. If someone wrote a book about you, what would the title be?
A. Happy-Go-Lucky, or something along those lines. I’m always, always happy. I always have a smile on my face and enjoy life to the fullest.

Q. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
A. The hardest thing I’ve ever done was to beat depression and anxiety. Before attending UCF, I was a very anxious and depressed teenager. I sought help from a psychologist and her dog, and overcame my depression and anxiety. Those two things are very hard to beat and overcome, but I’m glad I did. I think that’s why I’m such a happy and thankful individual.

Q. Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A. Worrying never changes the outcome. How true is that?!

Q. What’s something you learned in the past week?
A. I’ve learned that sometimes you have to step up and take care of things when no one else is willing to help. It’s difficult, but it can be done!

Q. What’s something most people don’t know about you?
A. I’m easily intimidated, and I do NOT like confrontation.

More Info

See how Lauren and Freedom Ride are helping others:

Related

Equestrian Club at UCF Expands Outside of Stables

More than 5,000 to Graduate at Fall 2014 Ceremonies

graduation

By Gene Kruckemyer

More than 5,000 University of Central Florida students are expected to graduate Dec. 12-13 during three commencement ceremonies at the CFE Arena.

The ceremonies will be:

  • Friday, Dec. 12, 9 a.m.
    • College of Education and Human Performance
    • College of Health and Public Affairs
    • Rosen College of Hospitality Management
  • Friday, Dec. 12, 2:30 p.m.
    • College of Arts and Humanities
    • College of Graduate Studies
    • College of Nursing
    • College of Sciences
    • Office of Undergraduate Studies
  • Saturday, Dec. 13, 9 a.m.
    • College of Business Administration
    • College of Engineering and Computer Science
    • College of Medicine
    • College of Optics and Photonics (CREOL)

Doors open 90 minutes before the ceremonies, and graduates begin processing 20 minutes before the ceremonies, which are expected to last about two hours each.

The Friday morning speaker will be Alan Ginsburg, a real estate developer who founded The CED Companies, which has built more than 85,000 affordable apartment residences. He is active in many professional and charitable organizations, and his philanthropic contributions have benefited causes all over Central Florida, including The UCF College of Medicine Capital Campaign. The college’s Harriet F. Ginsburg Health Sciences Library is named in honor of his late wife. During the ceremonies, Ginsburg will be awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Public Service.

The Friday afternoon speaker will be Rick Walsh, ’77, a founding member of the UCF Board of Trustees and a former senior vice president for corporate affairs of Darden Restaurants. Today he is president of the KnobHill Group, a strategic counseling and development company. He received the 1985 UCF Distinguished Alumnus Award and has served on the UCF Foundation board for more than 10 years. During the ceremonies, Walsh will be awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Commercial Science.

The Saturday speaker will be Beverly J. Seay, a business executive in the Central Florida modeling and simulation industry for more than 25 years and a member of the UCF Board of Trustees since last year. She also serves as a board member on the Florida High Tech Corridor Council and on the Steering Committee of the UCF Downtown Campus. She chairs the dean’s advisory board for the UCF College of Engineering and Computer Science, and has helped to establish the UCF Women in Science and Engineering program.

Of the 5,067 students who filed an intent to graduate, there are 4,308 seeking bachelor’s degrees, 659 master’s degrees, three education specialist degrees, 11 educational doctoral degrees, 80 Ph.D.s, and six Doctor of Nursing Practice.

With these expected graduations, UCF will have awarded 271,257 degrees since classes began in 1968.

Each guest attending the ceremonies, including children and infants, must have a ticket to enter the arena. Tickets are available from graduates. Guests who do not have tickets can view a live telecast of the ceremony via closed circuit television at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center, Student Union and on Campus Cable Channel 21.

Parking for guests will be available in garages C, D and H.

MORE DETAILS