Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—May 30

1. Today we’re talking NCAA postseason for UCF Athletics – and there’s a lot to cover.

For the first time since 2012, the No. 22 UCF baseball team will be heading to an NCAA Regional tournament. The Knights will be the No. 2 seed in the Tallahassee Regional and will match up against No. 3 seed Auburn at noon on June 2.

For the ninth straight season, the UCF track and field program will be represented at the NCAA Championships after the 4×100 relay team was among the top 12 at the NCAA East Preliminary Round to advance to Eugene, Oregon. The NCAA Outdoor Championship takes place from June 7-10 at historic Hayward Field.

Two other teams wrapped up their seasons among the top 25 in the country over the weekend. The three-time American Athletic Conference champion rowing team posted its highest finish in program history, closing out the NCAA Championship in 18th place. Meanwhile, the men’s golf team finished in a tie for 14th at the NCAA Championship, marking the Knights’ best finish since 2009.

2. In case you missed it, big news from everyone’s favorite big man, Tacko Fall, who chose to forego this year’s NBA Draft and return to UCF for his junior season in 2017-18. Read his heartfelt letter to fans about his decision.

3. As the Orlando community prepares for the one-year mark of the Pulse tragedy, UCF has several events scheduled to honor and remember the 49 lives taken on June 12, 2016. The public is encouraged to come together at blood drive, remembrance ceremony and art exhibit all scheduled to take place on campus June 8.

4. After graduating May 6 with her bachelor’s degree in political science, Burnett Honors College alumna Rebecca Fate almost aced the LSAT and is headed to Harvard. And how sweet is this – she credits an elementary school teacher for her success. Good luck Rebecca, and we expect to see you sporting black and gold around Harvard Yard!

5. UCF’s rise to national prominence under the direction of President John C. Hitt is featured in the latest edition of Florida Trend magazine, which hit stands over the weekend. “Strength in Numbers” is the cover story in the June edition that focuses on higher education in the state.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week MEGA EDITION—April 24

*If you’re graduating and picking up your cap and gown this week, make sure you keep reading because we’ve got five more things especially for our newest alumni!

1. USA Today gave a shoutout to UCF football assistant coach Jovan Dewitt for an app he produced to help with recruiting. Dewitt, a math and physics double major during a two-time Division II all-America career at Northern Michigan in the late 1990s, considers the app a side project – so he’ll still be coaching up the linebackers and special teams come Fall.

2. Staff, alumni and friends of the Burnett Honors College raised nearly $38,000 to establish the Alvin Y. Wang Endowed Scholarship to honor the longtime dean’s service to the university. They surprised him with the news late last week at a celebration of his tenue. Dean Wang plans to step down and focus on teaching in the classroom, so luckily he’s still sticking around.

3. Hot air balloon rides, a rocking concert, food comas and a friendly battle on the gridiron – the UCFastival and spring game was a rousing success. And UCF has all the coverage you could possibly want, complete with videos, recaps and photo galleries.

4. The Orlando Sentinel featured 10 people who make Orlando great, and we’re happy to say we recognize some names as Knights! Chris Castro (Class of 2010) of IDEAS For Us; Mary Palmer, a former professor and the former Dean of the College of Education; and Ryan Rivas (Class of 2005), publisher at Burrow Press, all made the list – and here’s why they did.

5. Just in time for Earth Day, a UCF chemistry professor just found a way to trigger the process of photosynthesis in a synthetic material, turning greenhouse gases into clean air and producing energy all at the same time. The process has great potential for creating a technology that could significantly reduce greenhouse gases linked to climate change, while also creating a clean way to produce energy. Score one for science!

Five More Things – Graduation Style
To our newest alumni, we’ve got nothing but love for ya this week. Here are some need-to-knows about graduation that includes opportunities for free swag! Also, if you’ve got any questions about graduation, chances are, the answers lie here.

1. The #UCFGrad cap Instagram contest is in full swing and four prizes are up for grabs, including a legacy brick on Knights Terrace at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center. Here’s how to win:
> Decorate your grad cap
> Post it to Instagram
> Tag UCF alumni in the photo & use #UCFGrad in your caption!

2. Speaking of grad caps, the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center is hosting a decorating party all week. Visit us between 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. any day this week and get your hands on all the decorating materials you need to stand out in the crowd on graduation day. Plus, we’ve stocked a candy bar to give you the energy you need to get your cap on point.

3. Need some tunes to commemorate the occasion? Here’s a Spotify playlist made especially for the Class of 2017 by the members of the class themselves! Happy listening!

4. Planning on taking a much needed vacation after all that hard work and walking across the stage with diploma in hand? Consider checking out UCF’s worldwide travel packages.

5. Still need to make your class gift? You haven’t missed your chance. Help out future UCF students and be a part of a lasting legacy by making a gift of $20.17.

Dean’s Sendoff Surprise

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (April 20, 2017) – As the first member of her family born in America, Melonie Sexton ’07 was a first generation student at UCF when she received an email from Dean Alvin Wang about participating in a research project.

Before she graduated, Wang encouraged her to attend graduate school and continued to be her mentor, even when she moved to Tennessee to pursue a doctoral psychology program at Vanderbilt University.

Sexton, who now teaches at Valencia College, said over the last decade Wang has become more than a mentor to her. She considers him a friend.

So when she heard that the Burnett Honors College was honoring Wang’s service to the university with an endowed scholarship in his name, she knew immediately she wanted to contribute to it.

“He’s the first person outside of my family to tell me that I could actually do anything with my life. Your parents are supposed to say, ‘Yeah you’re going to be a doctor, a lawyer.’ But hearing it from a dean was the push I needed,” she said. “He deserves having a scholarship in his name. I think that’s what he embodies. It makes perfect sense to me.”

Wang announced in fall 2016 that he would be stepping down as dean by August 2017 to focus his time in the classroom as a psychology professor. At the time, the Burnett Honors College staff collaborated on the idea of a proper parting gift.

At Wednesday’s celebration of his tenure, the Burnett Honors College surprised him with the Alvin Y. Wang Endowed Scholarship, which has grown to nearly $38,000 in commitments and will support undergraduate research candidates in the honors college.

Of the 74 donors who contributed, 31 are alumni.

“This has been a great surprise. Thank you for making a gift like this to our students possible,” Wang said. “I always ask myself this question – how did someone like me, who aspired to become faculty and a professor, end up becoming a dean? The reason why I was able to stay in an administrative role for 16 years and enjoy it all the time was because of the people I was able to work with. It begins with my wonderful staff. It certainly includes the students. Meeting the talented, the interesting, the inquisitive student at Honors makes my day. It’s a very enriching, positive experience that I would never want to replace.”

Wang became a member of UCF’s faculty in 1987 and later joined the Burnett Honors College in fall 2001 as an associate dean. He served as interim dean for one year in 2005 before officially being named to the position in fall 2006.

Over the last 12 years under his leadership, the Burnett Honors College has flourished. In that time, 42 students have received national awards, including one Rhodes Scholar and 35 Fulbright Scholars.

In fall 2016, 289 National Merit Scholars were enrolled in the honors college, marking a university record and the second-most among Florida state universities that year.

Wang implemented the Burnett Honors College Medical Scholars Program, which reserves a spot for undergraduates in UCF’s College of Medicine provided that the students meet all the eligibility and performance criteria included in the program.

To enhance learning for honors students, he initiated international study abroad programs, developed service-learning opportunities and led highly successful philanthropic efforts to support new programs. In fact, three service learning trips to Nicaragua, South Africa and Mexico are slated for later this spring.

“I think Alvin would agree that the most important measures of success are the enriched academic experiences and support given to our nearly 5,500 university honors and honors in the majors student that have graduated while he’s been dean. Their dreams and accomplishments have been shaped in part by their time here at the honors college,” said Martin Dupuis, associate dean of the Burnett Honors College. “He supports everyone to excel at what they do. He established a very high professional standard by example, and those of us who have worked with him are better for it.”

Perhaps the most telling sign of his influence are those students, like Sexton, who have a pursued a path as educators themselves, following in his footsteps. Sexton said the biggest lesson she learned from him was to pay it forward.

“Be a role model and pay it forward. That’s what I try to live by,” she said. “If just one of my students said ‘Dr. Sexton said I can do it, and so I can,’ then I feel like I’ve truly paid it forward.”

Contributions are still being accepted for the Alvin Y. Wang Endowed Scholarship. Visit www.ucffoundation.org/alvinwang

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.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know — Oct. 26, 2015

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Ericka Dunlap, ’04, performed the National Anthem during the 2015 Black & Gold Gala awards ceremony on Thursday night.

Here are five things you should know this week:

  1. The UCF Alumni Association celebrated the achievements of 16 Knights who have “Reached for the Stars” during its 2015 Homecoming Black & Gold Gala on Thursday evening. In addition to 11 Professional Achievement Awards, the association presented awards for Distinguished Student, Distinguished Alumnus, and Service to UCF, as well as the Michelle Akers Award and Champions Award. (Individual articles will continue to be posted throughout the coming weeks.)
  2. After the Knights fell 59-10 to No. 21 Houston during Saturday’s Homecoming game — the eighth straight loss this season — Head Football Coach George O’Leary announced his immediate retirement late yesterday.
  3. This week’s alumni events include a College of Business Administration Alumni and Student Networking Knight tonight, and the UCF San Diego Alumni Club’s Knight at the Museum tomorrow night.
  4. Concluding LGBTQ+ History Month, UCF will host Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black” actress Lea DeLaria (“Carrie”), who will serve as keynote speaker during the closing ceremony tomorrow afternoon.
  5. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) congratulated UCF’s two-time national champion Cyber Defense Competition Team in a Senate floor statement on Oct. 20.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know — Sept. 21, 2015

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(PHOTO: newdogworld.com)

Here are five things you should know this week:

  1. On Wednesday, the UCF College of Sciences will host its Distinguished Speakers Series, featuring “Archaeology from Space,” presented by Dr. Sarah Parcak, a National Geographic Society Fellow and associate professor of anthropology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
  2. On Saturday, Sept. 26, the UCF Alumni Association will host a family-friendly black and gold tailgate party in South Carolina, before the Knights take on the Gamecocks.
  3. Engineering students repaired the “Wind Dancer” sculpture of Pegasus, located outside the Burnett Honors College, which was vandalized after the first home football game. UCF alumnus Jeff Douglass, ’02, who contributed significantly to the cost of the sculpture in 2007, offered to cover the cost of the repairs, which were minimal, thanks to the engineering students’ work.
  4. UCF is the first public university in Florida to allow Canine Companions for Independence dogs in training to live in dorms. Robin, a 5-month-old yellow, lab is the first on-campus resident, and lives with her student trainer, sophomore Morgan Bell.
  5. The UCF Recreation and Wellness Center now has an adaptive-climbing rock tower that allows wheelchair-bound students to experience the freedom of new heights.

Engineering Students Repair Vandalized Pegasus Sculpture

Engineering students, from left, Anthony Defilippo, Cullen Fitzgerald and Jennifer Ambrose repair the damaged "Wind Dancer" sculpture of Pegasus, which lies hobbled on its back in the Manufacturing Lab at the College of Engineering and Computer Science.
Engineering students, from left, Anthony Defilippo, Cullen Fitzgerald and Jennifer Ambrose repair the damaged “Wind Dancer” sculpture of Pegasus, which lies hobbled on its back in the Manufacturing Lab at the College of Engineering and Computer Science.

By Mark Schlueb

A group of engineering students are repairing a sculpture of Pegasus vandalized two weeks ago.

The “Wind Dancer” sculpture of Pegasus that sits in front of the Burnett Honors College was damaged on Sept. 3 after UCF’s first football game of the season. Security camera video captured a man trying to climb atop the winged horse, which was left bent and staring skyward. Despite the offer of a reward, police have not yet caught the vandal.

Burnett Honors College alumnus Jeff Douglass, ’02, founder and CEO of Cybis Communications who contributed significantly to the original cost of the sculpture in 2007, has offered to cover the cost of repairs. As it turns out, those costs should be minimal.

College of Engineering and Computer Science Professor Ali Gordon recruited several seniors majoring in mechanical and aerospace engineering to repair the sculpture. Students Jennifer Ambrose, Anthony Defilippo, Cullen Fitzgerald and Chad Robinson removed it from its base on Tuesday and moved it to the Manufacturing Lab at the College of Engineering and Computer Science, the same lab where the Limbitless team produces 3D-printed arms and hands for children.

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The students found that the vandal’s rough treatment of the relatively delicate aluminum sculpture had sheared off its mount and caused several pieces of its “mane” to come loose.

On Wednesday, Ambrose, Defilippo and Fitzgerald designed a new mount for the sculpture and used a machine lathe to begin forming it. They expect to weld the aluminum sculpture where needed on Thursday, with the hope of having it back in place before the next home football game this Saturday.

Defilippo says it should be much sturdier after they make the repairs and modifications.

This story appeared Sept. 17, 2015, on UCF Today. It has been slightly edited in accordance with AP and alumni association style guidelines. See original article. 

Alumnus Magician Performs for Penn & Teller

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Penn & Teller: Fool Us — “Penn’s Favorite Card Trick”
Pictured (L-R): Teller, Kostya Kimlat, and Penn Jillett
Photo: Jacob Kepler/The CW — © 2015 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved
Orlando magician, Kostya Kimlat, ’10, appeared on an Aug. 17 episode of the CW’s “Penn & Teller: Fool Us,” a one-hour competition series celebrating magic and featuring the legendary duo, Penn & Teller.

On each episode, aspiring magicians are invited to perform their best trick to try and fool one of magic’s most famous pairs. None of the competing magicians get to perform the trick more than once, and there are no camera tricks, secret edits or helpful camera cuts.

In the seventh episode of the show’s second season, Kimlat performed an original card trick he developed when he was 19 years old. But, Kimlat didn’t go on the show with a focus on fooling the magic duo.

“It was an honor to be invited to perform for Penn and Teller,” he says. “I’ve been watching them since I started in magic 20 years ago, and I never would have imagined this opportunity.”

Lucky for Kimlat, he was able to fool the guys, which means he’ll be opening up for the magicians’ celebrated show at the Rio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas in November.

WATCH HIS TRICK:

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In 2006, Kimlat was the youngest magician to be featured on the cover of Magic Magazine.

A resident of Orlando, he founded See Magic Live, which trains and books magicians for events across the country. His company’s local team serves as the magicians for the NBA’s Orlando Magic and teaches magic classes for kids and adults at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.

His local ties run deep — he’s a graduate of Winter Park High School and the University of Central Florida, and he’s been a weekly fixture at Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster, performing an intimate dinner and magic show at the Lee Road steakhouse for the last seven years.

In addition, Kimlat is a motivational speaker, using magic to train employees at organizations around the world, like NASA and GE. When he presents his keynotes and workshops, he unravels magic’s centuries-old principles of perception and secrets of communication, empowering people to be more effective in their business and everyday lives. Often referred to as “the business magician,” Kimlat has presented his sophisticated brand of magic to thinking audiences in more than 200 cities on five continents.

Kimlat graduated from the UCF Burnett Honors College with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. His Honors in the Major thesis was titled, “The Role of Magician and Philosopher in Society: The Archetype of Wonder and its Cognitive Implications in Modern Life.”

He’s currently authoring his first book, titled, “Think Like a Magician.”

To learn more about this magic Knight, visit kostyakimlat.com.

Technology on Wheels

Alumnus’ invention earns nearly $1.4 million on Kickstarter

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Gaston Blanchet, ’09 | Co-founder, Trunkster

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Frequent flyers know the importance of a good suitcase. It needs to hold all of your stuff, roll smoothly along a variety of surfaces and fit into the coveted overhead bin space onboard.

But, no matter which ones he tried, avid traveler Gaston Blanchet, ’09, realized the perfect suitcase for his needs just didn’t exist — so he invented it.

Inspired by the roll-top doors for meal storage on airplanes, the Trunkster was born. It’s the world’s first and only zipperless, roll-top luggage that introduces a revolutionary industrial design. A durable and waterproof sliding door allows for quick access to belongings, even in the most constricted spaces. The bag also includes a removable power bank, built-in digital scale, and can be enabled with GPS.

Blanchet, who earned his UCF bachelor’s degree in business management, and his business partner Jesse Potash, used Facebook and Twitter to help build awareness of their product, and targeted travel and tech bloggers, as well as business travelers. The buzz created a network that led to thousands of pledges and preorders on Trunkster’s Kickstarter page. The support and demand was so great, in fact, their $50,000 goal soon multiplied more than 27 times in 59 days, with 3,566 backers pledging $1,395,370 by the Jan. 16 deadline.

“You can never take luck or good timing out of the equation,” Blanchet says. “I think we were fortunate to launch at a time when both smart products and crowdfunding became two of the year’s biggest trends. This, coupled with having a unique product in a stagnant industry, and months of media planning, let us claim the spot as the world’s most-crowdfunded travel campaign.”

While the guys have another idea they’d also like to take to crowdfunding, for now, they’re focused on manufacturing and delivering more than 5,000 Trunksters to anxious travelers.

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The Trunkster features zipperless entry, USB charging, a built-in digital scale and GPS.

Pack it Up Q&A

Q. How were you involved as a student?
A. I think some UCF staff thought I was probably over involved! When I begged my way into the Honors College and LEAD Scholars, I assumed that would largely be the extent of my involvement at UCF, but then I had the strange fortune of entering and winning the Mr. UCF scholarship competition my freshman year, which opened the doors to a pretty unique UCF experience! I had some of my best memories as a member of the President’s Leadership Council, where I was able to intimately partake in some unforgettable UCF moments, including the groundbreaking of the new arena, stadium and College of Medicine.

Q. Favorite UCF memory?
A. It was at Lake Nona while working on the President’s Leadership Council at the groundbreaking of College of Medicine — when the scheduled singer didn’t show up to sing the National Anthem for the opening ceremony, our PLC directors, Nancy Marshall and Ana Petkov, looked over at me and said, “Oh, Gaston sings! He can do it.” Well, it was about 6 a.m., and I never can remember the lyrics to that particular song. Ha! To everyone there that day, including President Hitt, I apologize to your ears.

Q. How has your UCF degree helped you in your career?
A. I’m grateful to be working in the field I studied. The business classes were instrumental in giving me a well-rounded toolkit to tackle all of the unique challenges that come up when running your own business. The classes that most helped me while at UCF were accounting, finance and business law, which exposed me early to everyday issues I deal with now.

Q. In what ways have you stayed connected to your alma mater since graduating?
A. I’m lucky my parents still live nearby and are involved with the Honors College as donors. And, of course, it’s been an amazing set of years as a UCF football fan. I’ve really cherished watching the team grow under Coach O’Leary and produce stars like Bortles. My fondest memory by far was watching my Knights win the Fiesta Bowl in the middle of the night while in Asia!

Q. What advice would you give to current UCF business students/aspiring entrepreneurs?
A. I’m not sure if all entrepreneurs say this, but I firmly believe there’s no better moment for aspiring entrepreneurs to take advantage of the incredible new tools available to our generation. To be specific, we’re entering a golden age of products. Crowdfunding lets you find the funds and create the community for your idea, while a fully globalized world has made component and manufacturing costs come way down. Furthermore, the Internet lets you easily find customers all over the world for your products and services. So, there’s really no deterrent but your will. The tools are out there. I encourage you to make the most of them, and take the steps to go through with the ideas you come up with. You’ll fail at a couple until the timing is right, then one of your ideas will take off.

Q. What are three things you never travel without?
A. Bose in-ear, noise-cancelling headphones; Canon C100 documentary camera; and Kindle

Q. Last vacation?
A. Vietnam — motorcycling the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Q. Dream vacation destination/itinerary?
A. Exploring mountain temples of Bhutan.

Q. Favorite way to pass the time while traveling?
A. Filming local stories for our interactive travel documentary series, “Humanity,” for iPad.

Q. What do you do for fun?
A. I’m a total adrenaline and adventure junkie. I love to sail, kitesurf, scuba, skydive, snowboard, any fun local excursions I can find …

Q. Pet peeve?
A. Delayed flights!

Q. Most embarrassing moment?
A. I left my $4,000 camera on top of a rental car and drove a mile before realizing. It miraculously stayed on!

Q. Hidden talent?
A. I can juggle.

Q. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
A. Hold my breath for five minutes.

Q. Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A. There’s no good time to launch a bad product, and there’s no bad time to launch a good product.

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See the Trunkster in action.
(Save 10 percent with code “UCF” at checkout.)