Small World Moment for Knights in Texas

Alumna Shelby Shankin mentors current UCF student Justin Tejada, whom she met by chance in Austin, Texas, at his summer internship

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (July 13, 2017) – Nearly four years ago, UCF alumna Shelby Shankin ’13 found herself in Austin, Texas, for the first time in her life to work on mega festival South by Southwest.

Justin Tejada is a current first-generation student who has made it his mission to grasp every opportunity he finds at UCF. That’s how he ended up in Austin, Texas, for the first time in his life this year for a summer internship.

Tejada said it’s unusual for an out-of-state candidate to be selected to intern at marketing agency George P. Johnson, which has worked with clients such as American Express, Google, Lexus, Under Armour and Samsung. So when the powers-that-be at the company found out Tejada was a UCF student, they knew exactly who his mentor should be — one of its event logistics managers, Shelby Shankin.

“From the moment I met her, I could tell she was super excited and eager to help me learn,” he said. “It was just because of that connection of UCF. That was awesome.”

Although Shankin recently accepted a job with a historical boutique hotel, Hotel Ella, she intends to keep in contact with Tejada well after his internship ends in August. While he is in Texas, the two meet for an hour once a week and discuss his internship as well as general questions he has about life, career and his upcoming senior year at UCF.

“As a first generation student, I’m super nervous about what’s to come. I’m always worried about, am I going to get a job? That’s something I wanted to work on myself this summer – putting that aside and focusing on the now and enjoying the present,” he said. “I think she has helped me understand that I need to worry about the future, but not as much as I do.”

The two are somewhat of kindred spirits. When Shankin was studying at the Rosen College of Hospitality Management, she gained valuable experience in several internships, working for companies like Universal Orlando and the Orlando Science Center. She even studied abroad in France for a semester.

She moved to Austin after graduation as a contracted event coordinator for High Beam Events and flip flopped with the company and George P. Johnson in different positions before accepting her newest venture as a venue event coordinator for Hotel Ella.

“Whenever a good opportunity has come up I just say yes. I just like to try everything,” she said.

Tejada’s resume reads with that same philosophy.

He worked as an external relations assistant for the College of Business Administration; interned for UCF Athletics, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando; served as public relations director of Children Beyond Our Borders and is currently the marketing director of CAB, the UCF campus activities board.

An advertising-public relations major who is also minoring in political science, Tejada is studying for the LSAT and thinking about law school. Like Shankin, he has tried different opportunities to see how they fit for him and knows he has Shankin in his corner to help him along the way.

“He’s seeking as much information as he can and trying to get as much out of this experience and life as possible. No matter where he ends up, I see him being very successful because he wants it,” Shankin said. “I’ve encouraged him to try everything. Take as much advantage of senior year as possible. I don’t think there’s anything wrong from having that urge to try everything. I think that’s where you learn so much. You just don’t know where life can take you.”

Nurses First, Scholarships Follow for Alumnus-led Startup

Alvin Cortez ’08 (left) and Richard Manual (right) of Nurses First Solutions

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (June 22, 2017) – When long-time friends Alvin Cortez ’08 and Richard Manuel connected with the UCF Business Incubation Program to foster growth for their travel nurse staffing agency, they were asked a simple question: Why would somebody choose you rather than the company next to you?

They had a simple answer. They were in the business of making business personal.

Travel nurses typically work 13 week periods in one area, and move around the country depending on where they are needed. Nurses First Solutions provides those nurses to facilities in need of professional workforce. Manuel is a nurse. So is his wife. So is Cortez’s wife, Jessiccalou ’08 ’14BSN.

They knew about the job demands first-hand – the long hours, the life-saving work and the comfort that nurses provide to their patients. They also knew there were gaps in the industry, specifically for traveling nurses when it came to retirement plans, health care insurance, paid time off and life insurance.

So they decided to do something about it.

“We treat them like family,” Manuel said. “They won’t be treated like a number. They can call the company president and speak to him directly. It’s more transparent in our company.”

Echoed Cortez: “We wanted to give back, so we started the company – hence the name Nurses First.”

After incorporating in 2014, Cortez and Manuel hooked up with their third partner Ronnie Elliott and the UCF Business Incubation Program, which Cortez learned about when he studied interpersonal communication at UCF.

For nearly 20 years, the Incubation Program has been helping early-stage companies develop into financially stable, high-impact enterprises by providing resources and services that facilitate smarter, faster growth.

The duo credit site manager Carol Ann Dykes as the instrumental force that has pushed their business forward since joining the incubator. After they started at the incubator in April 2016, their company expanded from three employees to a dozen and their revenue grew from $300,000 to $6 million.

“It takes grit on our part, but at the same time it’s good to have guidance along the way,” Cortez said. “They hold us accountable to having a structure. If you have questions, they’ll connect you to the right types of people.”

All the while, they have remained steadfast in their mission to put nurses first. They offer competitive benefits, paid time off, life insurance and retirement plans. They also follow through on personal touches like sending flowers when their contracted nurses’ family members are sick or welcome boxes for new hires.

“People ask, does that eat up your profit? For us, it just makes sense,” Cortez said. “We’d rather give it back to the nurses. It’s ingrained in us to want to give back and do a little bit better for the people around us.”

They recently took that philosophy one step further by establishing the Nurses First Solutions Endowed Scholarship in April to support the undergraduate members of the Student Nurses Association within the College of Nursing.

Their office is located next to the College of Nursing, and after sponsoring some events, they became interested in setting up a scholarship. That interest turned into action after they attended a scholarship luncheon and heard directly from nursing students about how scholarships impacted their lives.

“We wanted to plant the seed for these students – there are resources, there are opportunities out there. They have a wide array of opportunity ahead of them if they are truly passionate about nursing,” Manuel said. “The scholarship puts more back into the community and students that want to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—June 19

Deborah Beidel, RESTORES clinic director

1. UCF’s RESTORES Clinic, which treats those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, had a big win last week. It will receive $3 million in federal funds, and coupled with $2.5 million from the state’s budget, the program should have enough funding for the next two years, said Deborah Beidel, the clinic’s director. Want to help keep it going longer? Click here.

2. GAMEDAY ALERT! The American Athletic Conference, CBS Sports Network and UCF Athletics have announced that the Knights’ season-opening football game versus FIU will be played Thursday, Aug. 31, at 6 p.m.

3. Check out the most recent alumni spotlight featuring Vince Cotroneo ’83, who is celebrating his 25th year in Major League Baseball as a radio broadcaster as he watches his son follow in his footsteps. Got a story tip of your own? Share it with us.

4. On Saturday, Limbitless Solutions will be at the Pop Parlour UCF from 2-6 p.m. and is looking for some friends to hang out with for a live simulcast the sold out TEDx Orlando. Those who RSVP for the free event will enjoy a complimentary popsicle and will also see an arm demo from some of the Limbitless team before the simulcast, which features three-time alumnus Albert Manero!

5. Congratulations to three-time alumnus Christopher Blackwell ’00BSN ’01MS ’05PhD, who was awarded the 2017 Outstanding Nurse Practitioner Award by the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties!

Father’s Day Tip of the Cap to UCF Alumnus, Longtime MLB Radio Broadcaster

UCF alumnus Vince Cotroneo ‘83, who has been a radio broadcaster for Major League Baseball for 25 years, is now watching his son Dominic follow in his footsteps (photo courtesy of Vince Cotroneo)

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (June 15, 2017) – UCF alumnus Vince Cotroneo ’83 has experienced some memorable moments during the past 25 years of his career as a radio broadcaster for Major League Baseball.

His first opening day in 1991 with the Houston Astros. His first postseason game in 1997. His first inside-the-park home run call during the 2006 playoffs.

Yet, it was a series of three spring training games for the Oakland A’s this year that rank at the top of the list for him. He was on air alongside his 22-year-old son, Dominic, and that’s why it holds a special place in his heart.

“Let me tell you, that was rewarding. It was strange. It was very poignant. I tried not to cry,” Vince said. “He loves what he’s doing. He works very hard at it, and he’s basically done it on his own terms. It’s a proud moment watching your son going down the path of realizing his dreams.”

Dominic’s journey into sportscasting nearly duplicates that of his father’s. Both men are living their dreams through hard work and perseverance, and they have their family tree to thank for their love of the game.

The son of Joe Cotroneo, Vince was the youngest of four brothers. The Cotroneo family lived in Altamonte Springs, where Joe was a Little League baseball coach for years and taught his sons to love the game.

On a family trip to Brooklyn for a funeral when Vince was 14, his cousins were watching the New York Knicks on television. He still recalls his family turning down the sound on the TV and turning up the radio instead.

“They were listening to Marv Albert do the game on the radio while watching on television, and I thought that was really cool,” he recalled. “That’s what ultimately hooked me into what I wanted to do.”

While attending UCF, he joined the radio station as a first-year student and later became the sports director. He also served as the sports editor for the university’s student newspaper, the Central Florida Future.

“There were so many open doors for students. I was lucky enough to jump in with both feet and take advantage of it,” Vince said. “They gave me so many different opportunities in so many areas to prepare me for what I wanted to do in real life. To learn my craft, make my mistakes, get better, to enjoy the atmosphere. To enjoy the camaraderie of people.”

Following graduation in 1983, he made his way to Lynchburg, Virginia, to cover the New York Mets’ minor league club.

After nine years in the minor leagues, he was called up by Houston for an open position it needed to fill. On the Astros’ opening day in 1991 against the reigning World Series champion Cincinnati Reds, Cotroneo was in the broadcast booth at 30 years old.

“It’s something I’ll never forget — being involved in that environment, wide-eyed, watching it all unfold,” he said. “I was extremely fortunate to get that opportunity and it’s been a great run ever since.”

Perhaps it’s because his family has been with him for the ride.

He met his wife, Veronica, at a baseball field. Their first date was to see the 1989 film “Major League.” Their honeymoon was at Chicago’s Wrigley Field.

Before he met Veronica, Vince planned to name his first-born son Dominic as a nod to the DiMaggio brothers — Hall of Famer Joe, Vince and Dominic. His father’s favorite player was Joe DiMaggio, so it seemed only fitting.

She went along with it and got naming rights to their two daughters, Olivia and Sophia, who came along later.

Dominic is now a student at Arizona State and is mirroring nearly every step his father took.

At 15, he knew he wanted to pursue a career in sports radio. He got his foot in the door by starting away-game broadcasts for his high school baseball team.

He saved up money from his part-time job to buy the necessary equipment – a laptop, scorebook, table and a chair that he carted on the bus every road trip – and asked the coach if the team could handle his $50-per-month streaming subscription fee.

Thanks to his experience in high school, he arrived at Arizona State with a resume strong enough to secure the baseball gig for the college radio broadcast program.

Now, he’s taking advantage of Arizona State’s online classes while living in Kinston, North Carolina, to cover the Down East Wood Ducks, the High ‘A’ minor league franchise of the Texas Rangers.

His father listens in when he can and is always there to offer advice, colleague to colleague, when Dominic needs it. More importantly, with 140 games in 165 days on Dominic’s schedule, Vince knows the grind of the season better than most and checks in on his son every day.

“That’s a father’s love,” Dominic said. “It’s amazing to know I’ve got him in my corner.”

This Father’s Day, they will be almost 3,000 miles apart in their respective broadcast booths, and yet still connected through the airwaves doing what they love to do.

Adventure is Out There

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (May 26, 2017) – Years ago, when anyone asked biology alumna Anai Colyer ’14 what she wanted to be when she grew up, she dreamed of a life as a wildlife documentarist.

She didn’t view it as a practical choice – rather, a choice of the heart. A self-taught photographer, Colyer’s hobby has led to an Instagram portfolio filled of magical moments underwater in the springs outside of Gainesville; endangered Key deer in Key West; Wyoming moose and hugging monkeys.

Now, she’s about to get the summer adventure of a lifetime after winning a National Geographic short film contest with the first film she ever produced.

“What I’ve learned from this experience is never underestimate yourself,” she said. “If you have a passion for something and really want to do something, do it. Don’t hold back. Just go for it.”

Colyer’s love of wildlife and the world began when she was 8 years old. Her father took her underwater for the first time, sharing his tank with her, when they two spotted a pack of dolphins.

Colyer still remembers trying to reach out to the pack as they clicked sounds to communicate. From that moment, she was hooked.

A few years later, she became fascinated with photography after picking up a camera spontaneously to photograph dolphins jumping in the wake of her aunt’s boat.

“I got addicted to capturing that moment,” she said. “I wanted to share that experience and what I was seeing and maybe get people to get outside themselves and witness it.”

Photography by Anai Colyer ’14

After graduating in 2014, she struggled to find the first open door to a full-time job and a career. So she started working part time at a local dive shop and kept snapping photos.

This past February, a friend called her to suggest she enter herself in National Geographic’s WILD TO INSPIRE filmmaking contest. The grand prize was a trip to Africa to document wildlife for “Nat Geo WILD” viewers.

Disheartened about her struggle to find a job, she did not feel confident about entering the contest.

“I was reluctant. I told him, ‘You’re out of your mind. I’ve never done a film in my life. I don’t know what I’m doing. There’s only two weeks left to submit,’” she recalled. “He was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, you’re right. You don’t need to go to Africa. Just forget about it.’”

In those two weeks, a sleep-deprived Colyer filmed everything she could while she also learned how to edit audio and video and create a script for her short film.

As she considered storyline options, she connected with one friend’s piece of advice: “The only story you’re going to be able to tell well is the story that you know.”

“That really hit home,” she said. “I thought, well, the story I know is I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve never done this before.”

When she learned she was one of three finalists in the contest, her immediate reaction ranged from tears to pure joy to wondering if the message she received was a mistake.

Two weeks later at the 2017 Sun Valley Film Fest in Idaho, she heard her name called as the first female winner in the 4-year-old competition.

“My whole world opened up,” she said.

She won’t know where she is headed in Africa until two to four weeks ahead of her trip. She does know for sure she wants to extend her time there and take in as much as possible.

“I probably won’t come back,” Colyer somewhat joked of her first trip overseas.

Until then she is continuing to practice her film-making skills and still always dreaming of what lies ahead.

“I don’t want to go through my life, look back and say, ‘What if?’ At this stage of life, I just want to travel. I want to experience things,” she said. “It’s the beauty and the awe of nature that keeps me going.”

Anai’s pro tips for your own photography:
1. If you’re new to photography, you can only learn so much from the internet. The best way to learn is to get out there and practice, practice, practice.

2. With wildlife photography, my No. 1 tip is to study the subject and learn to predict its behavior so you’re ready to capture the “wow moment” when it happens.

3. With underwater photography, my No. 1 rule is to get close to your subject. Rule No. 2: get closer. Rule No. 3: when you think you’re close enough, you’re not! Get closer! Water reduces color, contrast and sharpness. So to achieve a better photo reduce the space between you and your subject as much as possible.

4. Every photographer, no matter how good they are, still encounters missed shots and gear malfunctions. The key is to never give up.

Kings Of Pop

Brandon (left) and Adam (right) Chandler, co-owners of Pop Parlour

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (May 12, 2017) – The groundbreaking of the UCF Downtown campus on Thursday had a little extra pop of flavor thanks to local businessmen and brothers, Brandon ’10 and Adam Chandler.

The owners of Pop Parlour, a gourmet popsicle and coffee shop, crafted the Partnership Pop of a strawberry, mango and chocolate mashup to commemorate the special occasion. The three flavors symbolize the school colors of Valencia and UCF, which will share the new campus in Parramore that is expected to serve 7,700 students from both institutions when it opens in 2019.

The Chandler brothers were eager to be involved in the historic day and were excited about the blend of flavors.

“We wanted to make sure above anything it tasted the best it could. Black isn’t an easy color to do, but the chocolate is pretty close and it’s delicious. This year, the strawberries and mangos have been the best fruits I’ve ever gotten. It really came together nicely,” said Brandon, who graduated from UCF with an accounting degree. “Doing things like this is a really good way to be in the community, and it’s a city and a school I love.”

Pop Parlour will continue selling its stock of the Partnership Pop in both its downtown and UCF locations for at least the next several weeks. Although strawberry season is ending soon, Brandon said that they will incorporate the pop in their menu as much as possible.

The Partnership Pop is a blend of the school colors for Valencia (strawberry) and UCF (mango and chocolate).

It’s the latest inspiration in a string of unforeseen circumstances that have helped grow their brand.

“[The business has] taken a life that I’m really proud of, but I didn’t see coming four years ago,” Brandon said.

When Brandon graduated from UCF in 2010, he had several self-proclaimed terrible business ideas, from purchasing a bankrupt amusement park to buying a soccer team in England.

His mom, Babette, talked him out of it each time. When he mentioned popsicles, he got her approval and that was good enough for him to leave his full-time steady income job to pursue the venture.

Given their family history, it’s not a surprise.

The name of the Chandler brothers’ business, Pop Parlour, is an ode to their grandfather, Joseph, whom they called PopPop.

Joseph returned to the States after World War II and interviewed for a job at Rieck’s Dairy in Pittsburgh (later to become Sealtest). Apparently, he impressed the interviewer so much that he invited Joseph to come to his house for dinner to meet his daughter. That is how he met Brandon and Adam’s grandmother.

Joseph made ice cream at the dairy until it closed in the 1970s.

“There was never a day with PopPop that we didn’t go get ice cream,” Adam said. “It was always kind of there.”

They opened their store in 2013, months before their grandfather passed away. He was proud to see his grandsons’ dream realized, even if he was a little apprehensive about their potential for a profitable future.

“He told Brandon not to quit his day job. He thought we were a little nuts because back in his day popsicles were like 5 cents, and we told him we were going to charge $3.50. So he thought we were crazy, but he said, ‘If you can get it, good for you!’” Adam said with a laugh.

Now, they deliver their popsicles to companies all over the country. Their popular boozy pops are always in demand even though they were never in the original business plan. Cigar City Brewing came in their store on their second day of business and asked if it could be done.

Coffee was never in the plans either, but when the UCF storefront offered more space than they typically used, they decided to try it out. Now, they’re planning to expand their coffee services in their downtown location off Lake Eola by this summer.

Brandon has been grateful that the Orlando community makes an effort to shop local. As the two brothers handed out popsicle after popsicle at the groundbreaking, Brandon said hopes that they can one day serve the Parramore community, too.

“It’s an area we’re excited to get involved in if we can. We live right here,” he said. “I think it’s important to support these local businesses. It means a lot to us. My brother and I are in the stores working every day, and I don’t think we’d want to do anything else.”

To Have And To Hold, Forever Black And Gold

Alumni Brent and Bryanna Beumel were married in November by one of their favorite UCF professors, Jeff Biddle

ORLANDO, Fla. (Feb. 14, 2017) – Brent Beumel ’14 and his fianceé Bryanna La Londe ’13 were driving back to Florida in November 2015 from a weekend trip in Savannah, where Brent had just popped the question in a historical bed and breakfast.

Giddy off the high of their engagement, they started imagining what their wedding day would look like. Who would officiate the ceremony?

Without a moment’s hesitation, long-time UCF sports and exercise science instructor Jeff Biddle emerged at the top of their list.

“He’s what every professor should be to a student. He doesn’t want you to just come in and get your degree and walk out. You could go into his office anytime he was in there and talk with him. He loved to get to know people and what you wanted to do with your life,” Bryanna said. “He was the first person we thought of.”

The now-Beumels met in 2012 in a biomechanics class at UCF’s South Lake campus in Clermont.

They started out as friends. Bryanna had plans to move to Portland, Oregon, at summer’s end. After a month, their relationship progressed to more than friends.

“And then I didn’t go! And it worked out well,” Bryanna said with a smile.

The two finished their sports and exercise science degrees, frequently driving the hefty commute out to Clermont – Bryanna drove 70 miles one way from her mother’s home in Merritt Island — because they loved the program and professors, especially Biddle, so much.

“Every class that he taught in our major, I tried to sign up with him. He made the drive out to Clermont worth it,” said Brent, who lived less than eight miles from UCF’s main campus at the time. “It was an hour to get out there, but you knew when you’d have him at 8 o’clock in the morning it was going to be fun. It wasn’t just staring at a PowerPoint for an hour and a half. You were interacting with him and all the other students. He made it enjoyable. He’s not one we’ll forget.”

Bryanna, a first-generation student, graduated in 2013 and is now working in the rehabilitation department at Arnold Palmer Hospital. Brent graduated a year later as a second-generation UCF alumnus.

As fate would have it, Brent’s parents met while they were students at UCF at a house party on Alafaya. His mother Linda graduated in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry.

They didn’t expect that decades later, their son would mirror their love story and find his future wife while at school.

“UCF helped make me who I am. The experiences I had through sport and exercise molded me into the trainer and coach that I am now,” said Brent, who works at CrossFit Firebase in Orlando. “I view it as a starting off point. That’s where we met. It’s where my parents met, as well. It holds a special value in that to me.”

Brent and Bryanna got married on Thanksgiving weekend in 2016 at Club Lake Plantation in Apopka with a black-and-gold-bow-tie-clad Biddle as their officiant.

Their grandparents gifted the couple their wedding rings and served as ring bearers in their ceremony.

The gold band of Brent’s ring belonged to his grandfather. It had to be pieced back together after it was cut off his grandfather’s finger following a motorcycle accident.

When the jeweler melded it together, he chose a black zirconium to sandwich it, making it the perfect color combination for Brent’s UCF roots.

As the couple anticipated, Biddle was a hit among the family in attendance. He was as comical and engaging in the ceremony as he is in the classroom.

In order to perform the ceremony, the professor needed to obtain a notary license. He told the couple to leave the logistics to him and insisted on paying the associated fee.

Biddle, who makes it a point to attend as many of his students’ commencement ceremonies as he can, said that Brent and Bryanna’s request to serve as their officiant was an honor and a privilege.

That realization hit him even harder when he recently watched their wedding video.

“Their kids and their kids’ kids are going to be watching that video. I’m permanently a part of their lives and their family’s lives from now on. And that’s pretty cool,” Biddle said. “I am thrilled that they asked me, thrilled that they wanted me to do it. It is certainly one of the bigger moments to happen in my life.”

What he may not realize is that he already secured a special place in their lives a long time ago.

“Being a first generation degree seeker – professors are who I looked up to for guidance and direction throughout the whole process. Dr. Biddle was a role model for me,” Bryanna said. “Finding what you love to do may change over the years and that’s OK. That is something I learned from him. I don’t even know if I’ve ever told him this, but it’s how I feel about him and what he’s done for me.”

Alumnus Holds Key To Big Data

Big Data Symposium’s keynote speaker Lee Odess ’99 alongside his family

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (Jan. 23, 2017) – In the past, the biggest threat from a data breach was to the individual. But now with the onset of Big Data, there are much bigger threats and even bigger opportunities.

Few people, however, understand what Big Data is or how it can be used, said Lee Odess ’99, vice president of UniKey and the keynote speaker for UCF’s Big Data Symposium on Jan. 26 at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center.

“The goal of my presentation is, more or less, to give real life examples of what Big Data is and the impact it can have,” Odess said. “Typically you are either super smart on Big Data and have a hard time communicating it, or you are a person who has heard of it but isn’t too sure how to get started. My goal is to bridge the two.”

Practical examples of Big Data are everywhere and can be implemented by both big and small companies. For instance, a company can analyze marketing impacts via its social media reach; predictive analytics can narrow in on customers’ shopping preferences; or it can help analyze where a business should open up its next retail location.

Big Data’s role in our society is one of the reasons UCF’s Colleges of Science, Business and Engineering and Computer Science came together to host the symposium. UCF business professors Robert Porter ’81 ’10PhD and Amit Joshi, PhD; statistics professor Shunpu Zhang, PhD; and Ivan Garibay ’00MS ’04PhD, director of UCF Research Information Systems and chief information officer at the UCF Office of Research and Commercialization, are among the speakers who will talk about practical ways companies, nonprofits and individuals can tap into Big Data to benefit their communities and society.

Odess was a natural choice for the talk because of his familiarity with the use of Big Data within his own profession.

“For UniKey we didn’t wake up one day and say, ‘Hey, we need Big Data.’ We did however say, ‘Hey, we need to start understanding exactly how, when, where our customers are using the locks and mobile applications powered by UniKey,” he said. “So we put the systems and tools in place to be able to collect every bit of data we could. Then once we had it, we spent the time to come up with the algorithms and dashboards to easily digest the information. Now, with a touch of a button we are no longer guessing how, when and where customers are using the product. We are 100 percent clear on it.“

In 2012, Odess was the director of sales operations for security company Brivo Systems when he was watching “Shark Tank” on television one night and saw fellow UCF alumnus Phil Dumas ’05 pitching his smart lock. It was the first time in Shark Tank history that all five investors wanted to buy into an idea.

Odess reached out to Dumas after the show and said that given their UCF roots and similar industries, they should get to know each other. Dumas agreed.

They kept in touch over the years, and when Brivo Systems was sold in 2015, Odess wanted to join with a startup that had growth opportunity. He saw UniKey as that opportunity.

His day-to-day responsibilities as vice president include business development, human resources, participation in the overall strategy for the company and its existing customer base.

Dumas and Odess aren’t the only Knights with UniKey. Odess said 80 percent of the company’s 50 employees are alumni.

“Initially people think we’re from Silicon Valley. When we tell them we’re from Orlando, we explain to them we have some hidden gems here, one of them being the university,” he said. “We look for people that want to be in this area. We think the school does a really good job preparing the students for work. It just makes sense. There isn’t a need for us to look outside what’s in front of our face.”

Odess speaks from experience.

Born in Cleveland, he grew up in South Florida before he moved to Pittsburgh, where he graduated from high school. He considered nearly two dozen universities and picked UCF because he said it just felt right.

“There seemed to be a lot of history to be written,” he said. “I liked that.”

The day after he graduated with his bachelor’s in business, he packed up his car and started driving toward Pennsylvania, where a job with Lutron Electronics awaited him.

After eight years with Lutron, he moved to Washington D.C. and worked for a variety of companies, including several startups of his own, Fresh Confections and energy + light + control llc.

In order to become more acclimated to a new city, he rekindled his relationship with UCF by joining the D.C. alumni chapter.

Now that he’s back in Orlando, he is happy to have an opportunity to further his relationship with his alma mater by lending his time to the symposium.

“I’m proud of the fact that I have an opportunity to make a difference,” Odess said. “There’s a true partnership with the university – it has aspirations and goals, and I feel like it realizes that the people that have come out of it are going to help carry it in that direction.”

The Symposium will be held Jan. 26 from 6-8 p.m. at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center. The event is free, but RSVP online is required. To learn more about the event, click here.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—Jan. 3

cops-and-max

1. The men’s basketball team is off to a hot start in conference play and are back at home Tuesday against East Carolina at 7:15 p.m. on ESPNews. The Knights, who have won their last four in a row, are coming off of their biggest American Athletic Conference win ever, defeating Temple 77-53 on Saturday. It was UCF’s largest margin of victory in an AAC game since the conference began play in 2013-14. Need tickets? Click here. Go Knights!

2. UCF Alumni is kicking off 2017 with an IGNITE Tour stop in Naples! Key members of UCF’s leadership will visit Florida’s west coast on Jan. 23. Register for this event and learn more about future stops on the tour by visiting ucfalumni.com/igniteucf.

3. Just before the close of 2016, two police officers retired from UCFPD after they dedicated more than 60 years combined to protecting and serving the community. Sgt. Hugh Carpenter retired after 33 years with UCF where he first started as a parking services employee before rising through the ranks to sergeant. Cpl. Chuck Reising retired after 10 years with UCFPD following his 25 years with the Orlando Police Department. He trained all three of UCFPD’s other K-9 teams and retired along with his K-9 partner, an 8-year-old German Shepherd named Max.

4. The 23rd annual Joseph C. Andrews Mentoring Celebration breakfast that highlights leadership in the UCF community will be in the Student Union on Jan. 30. Beginning at 8 a.m. in the Pegasus Ballroom, the event hosted by the Black Faculty and Staff Association at UCF will feature keynote speaker Marc Lamont Hill, host of BET News and VH1 Live, and a CNN political contributor. Hill is a journalist, professor at Morehouse College in Atlanta and a social-justice activist. His speech will focus on how culture, education, community involvement and mentoring intersect.

The event is open to the public. It’s $350 to purchase a table and $35 for an individual ticket. Money raised will support scholarships and annual celebration breakfasts. Contact DeLaine Priest at [email protected] by Jan. 13 to reserve a seat.

5. In case you missed it, the alumni-loaded Jonnie Morgan Band won a national songwriting contest and will get to record at legendary Village Studios in Los Angeles. Check out this UCF Alumni Today feature on how Morgan found his passion for music while he was still a student at UCF.

Alumni Band Rocks On To Big Win

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (Dec. 23, 2016) — A self-taught musician, Jonnie Morgan ’10 won a national songwriter contest last week that will send his band – the aptly named Jonnie Morgan Band – to Los Angeles for a recording session in legendary Village Studios.

“We really want to put Orlando on the map as a music city. It’s very important to me to try to build that culture, and that’s why this contest is almost as important to me as anything else,” he said. “I feel like there’s a responsibility to represent where you’re from.”

Morgan grew up on the west coast of Florida and ended up at UCF based off a recommendation from his 10th-grade high school Spanish teacher.

He studied economics and minored in marketing – not exactly the DNA of rock stars. But as a junior, the he started to write his own music.

His inspiration for one of his earliest songs was what else, but a relationship. He called the love song Saranade, named after the girl he wrote it for.

“To this day, it’s still some people’s favorite song of mine,” he said. “Once I wrote that song, the floodgates opened. Everyone was like where are these songs coming from?”

Soon after he formed a band with bass guitarist Jeremy Adams ’12. The two serendipitously met at a pizza place on campus.

They drafted other bandmates along the way, including Brandon Sollins ’11 ’15MS, at open mic nights and local gigs. He thanks former SGA presidential duo Logan Berkowitz ’08 and Brandon Delanois ’10 for always pushing him to perform by booking him for tailgates or happy hours at the Dungeon.

“I love this university. I love everything that it stands for. The experiences. The friends that I’ve made. The people that have helped me and still help me to this day,” he said. “This is the place where I found out I wanted to do music for the rest of my life, and I think that’s something special.”

jmb-house-of-blues

The band has experienced some pretty cool moments, like opening up for Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Cheap Trick at the 2013 SunFest. Even though some of the players have changed in the lineup, the Jonnie Morgan Band has become family.

That family includes Morgan’s wife, Amie, who has been there rooting for him every step of the way, even as she battled breast cancer twice before the age of 29.

Morgan was in the room with her both times she learned she had cancer. He was there for her treatments, the scans, the tests and cared for her through six surgeries. Their first four months of marriage earlier this year included the bulk of her chemotherapy treatment.

“I am so thankful that I have had Jonnie next to me through this, I am not sure how I would have handled it without him,” she said. “I am a very practical person, and I never expected to be a musician’s wife. It’s a bit of a different lifestyle. But I see this guy, and he is just so talented. As an added bonus, he has surrounded himself with such an amazing group of guys in the band. We have really created such a great JMB family, and I am so thankful for each one of them.”

Now that Amie has been deemed cancer free, the band went back to recording music and booked tours in different regions of the United States in the New Year.

When a booking agent called about the EON One Take contest, Morgan figured why not? The contest was judged by legend Quincy Jones and Andrew McMahon (known for hit song Cecilia and the Satellite).

JMB made it to an initial cut of 20 semifinalist, to a top 10, to finally the last band standing with a trip to Village Studios.

“This is what we’re supposed to do and this is the time to do it,” he said.

Village Studios has hosted legends like Fleetwood Mac, The Rolling Stones, B. B. King and Bob Dylan to current artists like Lady Gaga, Coldplay, Taylor Swift and John Mayer. Even soundtracks like “The Bodyguard” and “The Shawshank Redemption” were recorded there.

He said winning the contest has helped give him the confidence to continue pursuing what he feels is his purpose in life – helping people. He believes music is the tool to achieve it.

“If you look at some of the greats – Bob Marley, Bob Dylan – they have shaped people’s lives. They help you when you’re down. They help you think about things differently,” he said. “I feel like that’s one of my purposes.”