Swinging for Scholarships

UCF alumna puts on her dancing shoes to help raise money for nursing students

JoyceDeGennaro-dance1
Joyce DeGennaro, ’03, practices with dance partner Tony Sterling for Femmes de Coeur’s “Let Us Entertain You” competition
to help raise money for UCF nursing scholarships. (Photo: Zack Thomas, UCF Foundation)

By Angie Lewis, ’03

When Joyce DeGennaro, ’03, decided to apply for the College of Nursing’s accelerated B.S.N. program, she needed some assistance to help ease the financial burden of pursuing another degree. After all, she was a little older, and had a 6-month-old baby and mortgage at the time. That’s when she discovered the Femmes de Coeur scholarship, for which she applied and was awarded, helping her to pay for tuition and books, and graduate without student-loan debt in 2009.

Femmes de Coeur (Women of Heart) is an Orlando-based, not-for-profit volunteer organization that regularly hosts fundraising events to support numerous local community projects, including nursing scholarships at UCF, Valencia College, Seminole State College and the Florida Hospital’s Adventist University of Health Sciences.

Becoming a nurse wasn’t DeGennaro’s original plan, however. She grew up thinking she wanted to become a counselor or forensic psychologist, which is why she earned her first UCF bachelor’s degree in psychology, with a minor in criminal justice, in 2003. But, it was her work in Florida Hospital’s inpatient placement program that inspired her to go back to school to become a nurse.

Forever thankful for her opportunity to follow her passion, DeGennaro recently had the opportunity to participate in Femmes de Coeur’s annual dance competition, “Let Us Entertain You,” which raises money for exact scholarship that helped put her through nursing school.

She had no previous dance experience before the competition, but was in good hands with her 19-year dancing veteran and partner, Tony Sterling. The pair practiced twice a week since March, and took the stage June 14 in the ballroom at Church Street Station, dancing the West Coast Swing to Florida-Georgia Line’s “Cruise.” While they didn’t take the top prize, they did place third, which means about $10,000 in nursing scholarships for UCF.

JoyceDeGennaro-dance2

“It was my way of being able to give back to something that helped me.” DeGennaro says.

She also gives back daily, in a different way — helping to educate future nurses in the College of Nursing, where she was hired as a permanent nursing instructor in January.

Her journey from practical to practicum began while she was working as a nurse in the multisystem-transplant ICU at Florida Hospital South, where she became a certified preceptor and discovered a love for teaching. So, once again, DeGennaro re-enrolled at UCF — this time in the nurse educator master’s program, from which she graduated in 2013.

“I love being a nurse,” she says. “I love caring for people. [But,] as a nurse educator, I’m able to impart my knowledge and experience into my students. Every time they help or care for someone, I feel as though I’m a part of it. So, in essence, I’m able to touch more people’s lives than ever before!”

While she’s not planning to make a career out of dancing, DeGennaro is planning to continue her UCF education, beginning her Ph.D. in summer 2016, with plans to do research in critical care.

Transforming Bithlo

College of Health and Public Affairs hosts symposium on creating healthy communities

Bithlo

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Ask Central Floridians what comes to mind when they think of Bithlo, and you may hear words like “trailer park,” “Podunk” or “poor.” But, to the residents of this 10.9-square-mile town, it’s the place they call home.

Now, it’s transforming into a healthier community, thanks to some help from Orange County, United Global Outreach, Florida Hospital and Volunteer UCF.

On April 22, during a health care symposium hosted by the College of Health and Public Affairs, a panel of five guest speakers addressed the town’s residents, answering questions about the challenges they’ve faced, and how the community’s partners have addressed those challenges, as part of a Creating Healthy Communities initiative focused on improving quality of life in Central Florida.

Those panelists included Bithlo resident Enrique “Kiki” Lopez, former Orange County Mayor Richard Crotty, Tim McKinney from United Global Outreach, Verbelle Nielsen-Swanson from Florida Hospital and Anna Eskamani from Volunteer UCF.

McKinney explained that they asked residents of East Orlando’s Avalon Park — Bithlo’s more affluent neighbor — the following questions: “Is it OK for you to have brown water?” “Would you be OK with having an illegal dump in your backyard?” “Is it OK for your neighbors to deal with these problems?” And, each time, their answer was “no.”

“No zip code or neighborhood should determine your likelihood to succeed or fail,” McKinney says. “We’re trying to start a movement where neighbors care about neighbors, and friends care about friends … where the residents of Bithlo have an equal opportunity to succeed.”

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Alumni Association Hosts UCF Downtown Forum

UCF-Downtown

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Fred Kittinger, ’80, associate vice president for University Relations and director of state and local government affairs for UCF, spoke with fellow Knights about the continued plans for the UCF Downtown project during an open forum held at the UCF Executive Development Center on May 11.

Kittinger, who’s a member of the project’s steering committee and executive council, among other teams, began the presentation with a video:

Inspired by a visit to the downtown Phoenix campus of the nation’s largest university, Arizona State, UCF President John Hitt envisioned a similar downtown presence for the nation’s second-largest university.

Kittinger cited that 75,000 people work and 15,000 people live in downtown Orlando. He also mentioned Central Florida’s addition of the SunRail commuter train and planned I-4 expansion. “When people ask, why downtown Orlando? I say, why not downtown Orlando?” he said.

The new campus will include countless opportunities for students within a 15-minute walk radius, much like on the main campus. In six to eight years, Kittinger said it will host 10,000-13,000 students. He added that 60 percent of colleges and universities in the U.S. have less than 13,000 students, and reinforced that UCF Downtown will be a full campus, not a satellite or branch campus.

As part of the project, America’s Leading Partnership University will also partner with Valencia College, helping to make it more accessible — especially to Parramore residents and their children, who will see a new K-8 school built in their neighborhood in the next few years.

Kittinger’s colleague Paul Lartonoix, assistant vice provost at UCF, explained more about the project’s committees and how the 170 members cross-collaborate. He also discussed the academic programs proposed for the campus, including those in the School of Visuals Art and Design, Nicholson School of Communication and College of Health and Public Affairs. With the current timeline, he said the plan is to begin building in July 2016, and open in July 2017. (All of this, of course, is dependent on funding.)

Former UCF Student Government Association President Mike Kilbride, ’12, talked about the look and feel of the downtown campus, showing examples with photos of the Institute of Design at Stanford and other functionally diverse university spaces.

The trio then fielded questions from alumni, who asked whether or not transportation will be provided between the main campus and downtown (it will), if parking will be an issue (it won’t), and how they’re addressing safety (UCF Police, the Orlando Police Department and Valencia Police are working together to ensure students’ safety).

Learn more about the plans for UCF Downtown.