O’Dang! Look Who Landed a Big Deal with Publix!

Jesse Wolfe, founder and CEO of O'Dang Hummus, at Orlando's East End Market, which carries his products (PHOTO: Jim Carchidi)
Jesse Wolfe, founder and CEO of O’Dang Hummus, at Orlando’s East End Market, which carries his products (PHOTO: Jim Carchidi)

By Matthew Richardson
Reporter, Orlando Business Journal

A University of Central Florida student known for his hummus landed a deal with a big supermarket chain to carry his product, but it’s not the product he’s widely known for.

Jesse Wolfe, founder and CEO of O’Dang Hummus, told the Orlando Business Journal that he closed on a deal with Publix Super Markets Inc. this month for the stores to carry his new salad dressing product. Wolfe’s product will be available at all of Publix’s 1,106 locations throughout six states. Wolfe still sells his hummus products at local farmer’s markets throughout Central Florida.

Wolfe, whose popular hummus comes in a variety of flavors like Bomb-A-Licious Buffalo, Dillionaire Fresh Dill Hummus, and Sweet & Spicy Black Bean, has caught the eye of many business investors. In October, t he startup won $15,000 at Blackstone’s first LaunchPad Demo Day in New York City, where Wolfe placed second out of 20 competitors.

Wolfe said he first met with Publix in April to talk about selling his hummus, but after the company turned down that idea, Wolfe quickly worked on another product — the salad dressing.

“I think they liked the dressing because it’s oil-free and dairy-free. Publix loves it, and it’s a really good take on hummus,” he says.

This story appeared in an Aug. 13, 2015, edition of the Orlando Business Journal online. It has been slightly edited in accordance with AP and alumni association style guidelines. See original article. 

Nearly 10-percent Increase in College Grad Hires

job-hunting
Orlando is the fastest-growing metro area in the country, with more than 4 percent in job growth.
(Photo: Deanna Ferrante, Central Florida Future)

By Deanna Ferrante
Senior Staff Writer, Central Florida Future

You’ve turned in your last assignment, taken your last test and walked across the stage at graduation. But, there’s still one thing to do: Find a job.

Employers are planning to hire 9.6 percent more college graduates than they did last year, according to a recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Sean Snaith, director of UCF’s Institute for Economic Competitiveness, said it seems to be a high percentage — even though Orlando is the fastest-growing metro area in the country, with more than 4 percent in terms of job growth. That’s well over the state’s rate of growth at around 3 percent and twice the national rate, which is just above 2 percent.

“We’re now in the seventh year of this economic recovery,” Snaith said. “I think hiring has been improving not rapidly, but improving steadily.”

Lynn Hansen, executive director of UCF Career Services, said it’s a combination of the economy and the university’s location that makes Orlando an advantageous area for graduates.

“I think we’re fortunate that we’re located where we’re located,” she said. “With the history of technology companies, transportation, health care and hospitality here, I think we have a lot going for us.”

Big-name corporations, such as Pepsi, Frito-Lay, Target, Lockheed Martin, Yelp, Yahoo and even the CIA, have all come to UCF to recruit students. Hansen said employer recruitment on campus has seen a significant increase. In spring, Career Services was actively working with 1,077 employers — an increase from 563.

“To me, that’s an indication that the demand is up for talent,” she said.

In a 2013-14 Career Services survey of 8,658 graduating students, 71 percent said they were seeking full-time or part-time employment. Of that number, 42 percent were already in the workforce or had accepted job offers, and 8 percent had been offered positions.

Students who were already employed or had received a full-time job were in the hospitality services and health care industries. Education and engineering were other popular choices.

Also in 2013, the Florida Department of Education found that out of the 12,047 UCF fall graduates, 68 percent of those who found jobs in Florida were still employed a year after graduation.

But, these statistics aren’t the whole picture, Hansen said.

There are plenty of students who get jobs out of state or in other countries who aren’t counted as part of these totals.

Hansen said students who do fall in the employment statistics can improve their chances of being hired by joining campus organizations, volunteering with clubs, conducting undergraduate research, finding internships or getting part-time jobs.

“Those things help build that student into a person … that the working world is looking for,” she added.

For graduating students looking for work, it all comes down to planning.

“It’s never too early to begin the process,” Hansen said. “Finding that great job after graduation isn’t like picking up your cap and gown on the way to the commencement ceremony.”

This article appeared in a July 16, 2015, edition of the Central Florida Future online. It has been slightly edited in accordance with the AP and alumni association style guidelines. See original story. 

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Swinging for Scholarships

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

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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.

Rosen College Alumna to Lead Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce

Rosen-KatieWorthington

By Kathy Dorf
Rosen College Public Relations

At just 30 years old, UCF graduate Katie Worthington, ’05, will be the new chief executive of the Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce, bringing a fresh perspective to a budding area of Central Florida. Like most success stories, Worthington’s was neither predictable nor planned, but for her, it started at UCF’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management.

After graduating from Rosen College with a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management, Worthington left her job working at the front desk of the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes, a hotel she helped open, and relocated to Polk County. After brief stints in financial services working for State Farm Insurance and SunTrust Bank, she spent several years as the director of reception, public relations and customer service for a local medical clinic.

In 2011, she joined Clark/Nikdel/Powell , an integrated marketing strategy firm located in Winter Haven, where she currently serves as media and account director for clients such as Polk County Tourism and Sports Marketing, the Central Florida Development Council, Enterprise Florida and Fantasy of Flight. She also volunteers for various community organizations, including the Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce, founded the Winter Haven Young Professionals Group, organized the first Polk Emerging Leaders awards ceremony and received the 2013 Leadership Winter Haven Distinguished Alumnus Award.

“Because I’m a tourism nerd, I tried to get involved in anything I could do volunteer-wise within my clients’ business areas, the Chamber of Commerce and economic development,” Worthington said. “Over about six or seven years, I did of a lot of volunteering and became very familiar with the Chamber and all of Polk County.”

As her local reputation and professional brand grew, people started to take notice of Worthington’s talents and passion. When current Chief Executive Bob Gernert decided to retire after a 17-year career that saw CSX and Legoland Florida arrive in Winter Haven, she was encouraged to apply. Following a national search, Worthington was named to lead the Chamber on January 17, 2014, and will officially assume the role on March 1.

Worthington credits her education and experience at Rosen College for making her well-rounded in various aspects of business, including customer service, operations, marketing and public relations, a foundation that translates across industries. She also benefited from learning about the economic impact of tourism and how it can transform communities.

“I think having that holistic view of the economic impact of tourism is probably what’s prepared me most,” she said. “I think of restaurant management and even thought I never wanted to own a restaurant, knowing the challenges of running one makes me much more prepared since many of the chamber members are small business, family-owned restaurants. I certainly have an appreciation for them since I had to come up with a business plan for a restaurant, do a financial analysis and learn about operations in class.”

Worthington hopes to guide Winter Haven through what she calls a pivotal point in the city’s history as community leaders work to formulate a strategic plan for the future. She points to Winter Haven’s strengths as both a tourism and residential destination with its traditions, natural assets and potential to attract young professionals to live and work.

As she reflects on the journey to her new leadership post, she advises students to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible whether it’s through volunteering, shadowing professionals, doing internships or getting involved in student organizations. Also, never underestimate the value of hospitality education to various industries.

“A hospitality management degree is, in my opinion, great because it teaches you the business element as well as customer service, public relations and marketing,” she said. “There’s an emphasis on customer service, which in reality, is the real reason businesses succeed, no matter what industry you’re in.”

See original story on UCF Today.

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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COHPA Alumni Chapter

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.