UCF Alumnus Memorializes Pulse Tragedy Through Art

Last month, UCF art grad Forrest Lawson ’18 bested more than 400 artists for top honors and a $50,000 award at a regional competition for his piece 6/12/2016, a sculpture he created to memorialize the Pulse tragedy, honor its victims and communicate the emotions and responses the shooting awakened across communities.

Born and raised in a small town in between Naples and Sarasota, Punta Gorda (“we call it the In Between because there really is nothing going on there”), Lawson somewhat explored his creativity growing up, but hadn’t really thought of it as a future career path.

“I was always drawing very macabre things, because I was a gay teen in the closet,” Lawson says. “But I never really explored it until I got to college because back then it was like I had to become a dentist or a doctor.”

Lawson, who met his now-husband during their sophomore year of high school, was bullied growing up for being gay long before he even came out. Because of this, he and his husband dated secretly for a few years until officially making their relationship public following graduation.

“It was more of a survival thing; I was just denying it because I didn’t want to have to confront other people or myself,” Lawson says.

After high school graduation, Lawson attended Florida Gulf Coast University, before transferring to Valencia College to major in architecture. But once he realized he was having more fun building actual models, he took advantage of the DirectConnect to UCF program and switched to majoring in art by the time he arrived at UCF in 2014.

“Coming to UCF was a great experience for my work and growth,” Lawson says. “I just never really felt the sense of community that I feel in Orlando anywhere else. For me, UCF was the right choice.”

The decision Lawson made to switch from architecture to art was in large part due to the joy he found in the creation of tangible objects.

“I think I have control issues, even still, because so much of my life and coming out felt out of control,” Lawson says. “So I think for me, having that control over tangible clay and making sculptures, it makes me feel a little more stable.”

During his years at UCF, Lawson was able to implement a community aspect to his work by doing more outreach-driven projects, taking his initial vision and allowing others to participate in its execution.

Shortly after the Pulse tragedy  in Orlando on June 12, 2016, Lawson and several of his friends came across an article that said a long-standing FDA ban had been lifted. The ban in question specifies, “Men who have had sex with other men (MSM), at any time since 1977 (the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the United States) are currently deferred as blood donors.” When Lawson showed up to donate, however, it became clear that the article was false — the ban was still very much in place.

“We had literally just been gunned down in what we kind of equated to a church for us,” Lawson says. “We had been told at that point we were worthless because somebody wanted us dead. And so, we wanted to help. We wanted to donate blood and help our brothers and sisters. But we couldn’t. It was a slap in the face, just, ‘no, you’re still worthless, don’t bring that here.’ It was a kick when we were down.”

“Thirty people participated after being asked to donate blood and answer questions required by the FDA during the initial screening process. The project began first as an attempt to spread feelings of alienation and rejection felt among gay males towards their straight counterparts, but the process only ended up highlighting the discrimination and educating the participants of their inherent privilege.” -forrestlawson.com/gallery

Most of Lawson’s work is a response to his own anger. And being turned away from donating blood and doing all he could to help the victims of Pulse made him angry. So he got to work creating the sculpture Better Blood (seen right).

“Artists have a task, in society, to paint the revolution in a way that people can connect with,” Lawson says. “I want to use the platform that I have in whatever capacity that I have to communicate that ignorance and hatred are not acceptable.”

While creating Better Blood was a helpful experience for Lawson to express his frustration, he was still eager to create something that would memorialize the Pulse tragedy and honor the victims.

This motivation would eventually become 6/12/2016, which involves 49 cubes with the names of the victims hand-stamped and their dates of birth. The cubes also contain the two commonalities between each of the 49 victims – their death date and the wristband they were wearing the night of the shooting. Lawson posted a nationwide call for people to submit their response to the tragedy and each of the narratives selected are juxtaposed to a name and wristband.Putting together 6/12/2016 took Lawson about five months. He describes it as a long and emotionally exhausting process.

“It definitely made me confront a lot of feelings that I hadn’t yet,” Lawson says. “I had feelings of alienation and separation anxiety after the shooting. Pulse was actually the first club that I’d ever gone to. So it was strange, especially going there and seeing the pictures. I don’t think there’s ever going to be a time where I’ll fully process it, but doing this at least did make me confront it.”

This past May, 6/12/12016 and Lawson headed to Lake City, South Carolina to compete in the ArtFields competition. ArtFields began in 2013 with a simple goal to honor the artists of the southeast with a week’s worth of celebration and competition. This year’s event involved 400 artists showing pieces over the course of eight days, culminating in 12 awards presented. Lawson recalls feeling relieved after the smaller-in-dollar-amount prizes had been awarded because he was nervous about having to get up onstage and give a speech. He hadn’t begun to fathom he’d be the recipient of the grand prize of $50,000.

“I whimpered and I cried in front of 400 people,” Lawson says while describing the surreal moment of his win.

For the most part Lawson has very responsible plans for his $50,000 reward – pay off student loans, help out with his upcoming move to the University of Georgia where he’ll soon be starting the MFA program– but he did cook a big meal for his friends and go out for his first filet mignon in six years.

Lawson knows that his success is due in large part to his willingness to push past doubters or those who may root against him by turning that negativity into something beautiful. His advice to up-and-coming artists is to do the same, even when that negativity may be on the inside.

“Research, read a lot, learn about galleries you should be in touch with. And stick with it,” he says. “It’s so cliche, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Don’t let your inner saboteur talk you out of being creative if that’s what you’re meant for.”

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week – June 10, 2019

1. Happy Birthday, UCF! It’s been an incredible 56 years of growing, learning, winning and charging on. Thanks to all alumni for being a part of where we’ve been and get yourself ready now ‘cause where we’re going is gonna be even bigger, bolder and brighter.

2. We’re saying that with confidence because UCF continues to add new rankings to our list of accomplishments. We now rank among the top 100 universities in the world when it comes to issuing patents and 31st among public universities in the nation, according to new rankings released last week by the National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association. Learn more about the ranking and some of the inventions that led to patents in 2018 right here.

3. “When musical theatre alumna Jerusha Cavazos ’14 stopped by the UCF Performing Arts Center ahead of her Broadway debut last October, she felt a wide array of emotions: Gratitude. Excitement. Nervousness. Joy. Shock. She knew she was about to embark on something special as part of the original Broadway cast of The Prom, a new musical comedy about acceptance and love.” Read more about Cavazos and her role in Tony Award-Nominated Musical here.

4. The UCF Young Alumni Council is recruiting new members! If you’ve got a passion for your alma mater and want to help us engage the future largest alumni-base in the country, this is the role for you. Apply today and play a role in UCF’s tomorrows.

5. In case you missed it, we have four Knights who are currently playing on soccer’s biggest stage. Check this FIFA Women’s Schedule for US, Jamaica, Brazil and Scotland games and the dates you can be cheering!

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week – Feb. 4, 2019

1. You only have a handful of days left to nominate your favorite 20-something for the 30 Under 30 Awards program! This event recognizes outstanding young alumni who are dreaming, innovating and accomplishing big things in their professional and personal lives since graduation. Young alumni currently make up one third of the UCF alumni population, and we want to celebrate all that they are doing to make our community a better place. If you know a young alum who is making an impact, submit a nomination on their behalf before 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 7.

2. In terms of things that are BIG, attention-getting, conversation-starting, and phenomenon-building, the musical Hamilton is like the UCF of the theatre world. So we were curious what it’s like for UCF Alumna Abby Jaros ’14 to be a part of both. As a cast member in the hit musical that’s currently showing at the Dr. Phillips Center until Feb. 10, Abby says, “What I love about Hamilton is it’s creating conversation everywhere. [When I look back on this] I will remember the honor that it has been to be a part of something that will live on for a very long time. I get to be an original cast member of that. Who knows if I’ll ever get to experience that again? I will remember all the hard work it still took to maintain the dream.” Read more about Abby’s experience here.

3. We are still accepting submissions for UCF Love Story. If you and your partner found your roots at UCF and spent your early days holding hands on Memory Mall, we want to hear about it! Submit your story soon and you may be featured leading up to Valentine’s Day.

4. Megan Shub ’09 worked hard to climb the ladder of success for a major airline, got right up near the top, looked around, and leapt right off that ladder to the bottom of the production-industry barrel. From account manager to 27-year-old intern. From salary, health benefits and structure to who-knows-what-happens-next. It was risky and it was courageous and it was such a good decision that she is now a segment producer for “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” Read more of her story right here.

5. If you’re looking for a fresh go-to excuse to bring up your pride in your alma mater, we’ve got you covered. The UCF Business Incubation Program is celebrating its 20th year of improving the chance of survival for small businesses in the area. Since its inception, the Incubator has assisted over 500 companies in their early stages. Companies like Grubhub, Orange Blossom Pilsner, OptiGrate, AVT Simulation and NanoSpective have all grown in part because the Incubator was available to help with essential guidance. Yep. Your university did that.

Come Fly With Me: Alumna Trades Airlines for TV Production

Megan Shub ’09 worked hard to climb the ladder of success for a major airline, got right up near the top, looked around, and leapt right off that ladder to the bottom of the production-industry barrel. From account manager to 27-year-old intern. From salary, health benefits and structure to who-knows-what-happens-next.

It was risky and it was courageous and it was such a good decision that she is now a segment producer for “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.”

Megan, who grew up in Central Florida and transferred to UCF after completing her associate degree at Seminole State Community College, majored in humanities. Driven by a curiosity about the world, some of Megan’s fondest childhood memories were stocking up on piles of books on her weekly visits to the library with her mom. She always loved the opportunity to be transported into someone else’s story, and eventually, as a high schooler on the newspaper team, learned to love being a storyteller herself.

She had every intent of majoring in English, but on the day of her UCF orientation, a bold impulse kicked in and she stood up to go with a different group of students. A prolonged study of culture, traditions and beliefs across the world had begun and Megan spent the next two years immersed in the study of multicultural humanities.

“I think one of the most important things about UCF is the diversity of the student body,” Megan says. “Especially when studying humanities, it’s an environment where you have to be respectful of people’s opinions. It gave me a greater understanding of how the world works and what people can do together.”

Unfortunately, Megan’s transition out of college and into the workforce was during the 2009 recession. She was able to get a handful of freelance writing jobs, but it wasn’t enough to help her with rent. She knew she needed a consistent job, even if it meant moving away from what she imagined her career would be.

She ended up at British Airways as a customer service agent. The job sounded interesting enough, plus she’d get to travel some and that would probably be exciting. And, most importantly for Megan, she’d get to meet interesting people every day.

Eventually that customer service agent role led Megan to the management track of British Airways and she landed a job as the airport duty manager stationed out of the Newark airport. She had, in one fell swoop, moved out of her home state and made a huge career move with a major airline.

“It was a lot of responsibility for a 23-year-old,” Megan says. “And coming up without any friends or family, being in my early twenties and working at the airport, it was just very isolating for me.”

Megan began to look into getting a job in the corporate offices for British Airways, which would allow for her to move into New York City and continue her upward momentum within the company. She transitioned to a job on the sales team supporting account managers with marketing materials.

“There were a lot of good things about that job,” Megan says. “But I knew pretty early on that I wasn’t a good fit for it. That’s when I started really thinking, ‘OK, maybe I should make a serious change.’”

It was four years and three job titles with British Airways later and Megan felt that she had mostly given up on some of her original ambitions. What she wanted next was something creative. She wanted to tell people’s stories.

Megan’s wheels began turning — what would it look like for her to enter the entertainment industry and actually get paid to work in television. She found an ad on Craigslist for a Brooklyn production company that was willing to hire people with no prior television experience. At 27 years old, Megan became an intern on a TV series called “Finding Your Roots.”

“I knew that my role, which was mostly research, would help me learn about how to make a TV show,” Megan says. “And it drew on a lot of my interests. I didn’t know where it would lead, but, at the time, it felt like a good change and a step in the right direction.”

“Finding Your Roots” is a show specifically designed for that cousin you have who is really into sharing his ancestry.com results. In each episode, celebrities view their ancestral histories and learn more about their bloodlines and family’s experiences. Megan joined the team in season three, starting out as an intern and eventually becoming an archival researcher. She would help with historical information, fact-checking and finding specific footage. Let’s say an episode required a shot of Maya Rudolph on the red carpet, pictures of her great-relatives and some footage of soldiers from World War II in a particular location – Megan is the one to track it all down and get it ready for an editor to piece together.

Megan started out on “Finding Your Roots” as an intern in January of 2015, was hired as a researcher in March of that year and by December was an associate producer. In September of 2016, Megan took time off from work to have a baby, and when she returned to work, she started on a true-crime show as an associate producer. The research skills Megan had learned from “Finding Your Roots” transferred over as she had to be relentless in seeking information. Her customer-service experience from British Airways transferred over as well, as she was navigating difficult conversations with either families of murder victims or families of perpetrators. Megan also credits her background in humanities.

“There’s this perception that studying the humanities is some sort of kumbaya, useless, or maybe even indulgent thing,” she says. “But I learned a lot of hard skills in those classes. Research skills, analysis skills, people skills. I use those every day in my job.”

Megan was with the true-crime show for a few months before heading back to “Finding Your Roots” as a coproducer, and then in January 2018 (three years after her initial jump into the entertainment industry, for those keeping track) she transitioned to her current job as a segment producer on “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”. In general, TV producers create and execute individual stories for the air. There’s brainstorming and delegating ideas, researching topics, booking guests, writing scripts, interviewing sources — a whole myriad of things that come together to set up the segment, coordinate it, and execute it on camera.

“I feel like storytelling is a basic human need, right? There were cave paintings. People want to be entertained; they connect emotionally with stories. I think in some ways, stories tell themselves, it’s just my job to pull out a narrative.”

In a lot of ways, Megan’s story tells itself. Wasn’t the girl who loved going to the library always going to end up a storyteller? Wasn’t the freshman at UCF who impulsively switched her desired major always going to be the kind of adult who was brave enough to switch careers? Wasn’t the college graduate who picked airlines so she could meet interesting people always going to be the producer who gets to experience an array of stories?

“Any time you step into the unknown, it can be scary,” Megan says. “But I think that one of my better qualities is that I like change and I’m open to it. It was scary stepping out of a situation where I had accumulated respect and had to start all over again somewhere else. But I was prepared for a challenge and it was worth it.”

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week – Jan. 28, 2019

1. There is just a little bit more time left to nominate that really excellent 20-something alum you know for the 30 Under 30 Awards program! This event allows us the opportunity to celebrate the incredible success of our UCF graduates who are doing big things and representing their alma mater well. You can’t nominate yourself, but if you’re an alum, you’re going to be younger than 30 years old once April 13, 2019 rolls around and you’re out there making an impact — drop a subtle hint to a family, friend or coworker to submit a nomination on your behalf before 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 7.

2. The fifth-annual UCF Celebrates the Arts is April 5-14 at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts and it’s going to be a great one. Over the course of 10 days, this festival will include more than 30 events and exhibitions. Collaboration abounds as the School of Visual Arts and Design and the School of Performing Arts come together with other university and community partners (Orlando Repertory Theatre, Orlando Shakes, the Creative City Project, the Nicholson School of Communication and Media and more) to put an event together that will underscore the resilience of humans and the healing power of art. If you are a graduate of the College of Arts and Humanities, an arts-enthusiast or just looking to immerse yourself in something really cool happening in our community, be there.

3. Shaquem Griffin ’16 is continuing to make Knight Nation proud. Last Wednesday, Jan. 23 Shaquem accepted the 2019 Inspiration Award at the NCAA Honors Celebration. This award is reserved for people who used perseverance, dedication and determination to overcome a life-altering situation, and most importantly, are role models giving hope and inspiration to others. Pretty much sounds like the definition of Shaquem Griffin, right?

4. Unlike those little conversation heart candies, the tradition of UCF Love Story is returning this year! We are gathering tales of love that had their starting line at UCF and have no finish line to speak of. So if you and your partner have hearts that only beat for each other and all things UCF, let us know and you could be featured leading up to Valentine’s Day.

5. Maybe you’ve never been to space before (but if you have, you should definitely tell everyone that story), but if you want to tell people your university has, you can. Because we have. The research of UCF planetary scientists, Joshua Colwell and Adrienne Dove, was launched into space Jan. 23 from a facility in west Texas. Research like this, which leads to samples from asteroids, is what can help get us to new discoveries about the origins of life and the solar system. As a UCF Alum, we give you full permission to take partial credit for being a very small part of this.

Hoist The Colors

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (July 31, 2017) — When the City of Orlando raises its new flag today on its 142nd birthday, it will be a particularly proud moment for UCF alumnus Tim Eggert.

Eggert, who graduated from UCF with honors in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in art, crafted the winning design (pictured above). The new flag was selected from more than 1,000 submissions in a contest that the City of Orlando launched in February.

With more than four months of public input and committee discussion, the final design was officially approved by the Orlando City Council on July 24.

Eggert explained a little more about the process, the symbolism within the flag and why he’s proud to live in this city.

Q:  How did your idea for the flag first take shape?
A: The only idea I had was the Lake Eola fountain surrounded by the ‘O.’ Nothing else really came to me. The fountain seemed like a good foundation for the flag since it is a landmark of Orlando and has come to be an important meeting place to many people. I really wanted to have a reflection in the water and forming an ‘O’ seemed like the best way to incorporate that.

Q: Unity was a central theme in the design from the start. Why did you feel so strongly about incorporating unity?
A: Orlando is a diverse city — both in its residents as well as in the people who visit it. I wanted to convey unity and a sense of welcoming with the design.

Q: Unity was a central theme in the design from the start. Why did you feel so strongly about incorporating unity?
A: All entrants had to submit a hand-drawn design on a note card. From there I drew it on the computer and then we tweaked it over the course of a few in-person meetings. It was very collaborative. I came up with the revised look of the fountain spray, and they had the idea to split the color to have the top be white and the bottom be blue. We introduced the gold in the final stage, and we chose a blue that reflected the City’s brand.

Q: In addition to unity, there are now several layers of symbolism within the flag’s design. What is your take on those?
A: As the design evolved, so did the meaning. Parts that evolved were the colors and the reflection in the water. The reflection (seven shapes total) stands for the six commissioners as well as the mayor. That was something that was incorporated after tweaking the design and meeting with the City’s staff. The introduction of the orange/gold color was also part of the design process. I love the addition of gold to the flag and the meaning of sunshine and hope it brings.

Q: How does it feel to know that you’re part of this historic day at the official flag raising and that you’ve played a unique part in creating a lasting symbol for this city?
A: I love how the flag raising is coinciding with the city’s 142nd birthday. It’s exciting to be a part of history.

Q: This isn’t the first community project you’ve been involved in. You have a sunset painting on an art box by the downtown YMCA in Mills 50 district. Why do you take such pride in being an active part in this community?
A: I grew up in Orlando and have seen this city become a uniquely creative place. The arts are all around this city, and I think it is important to help cultivate that by being involved.

Q: Why are you proud to be a UCF Knight and represent this university?
A: I’m proud to be a UCF Knight because I loved my experience there. I had some amazing professors and learned so much. It shaped who I am professionally and personally.

Five Ways Philanthropy Impacted UCF This Year

turtles
Image taken as part of the UCF Marine Turtle Research Group’s permitted research

1. Research
Thanks to donor support for more than three decades, UCF’s Marine Turtle Research Group has played an integral role in sea turtle recovery on Central Florida beaches. Last year, UCF’s section of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge – which was created in 1991 because of UCF research – counted a record 14,905 green turtle nests. In comparison, there were less than 50 nests when UCF first started monitoring the area in the early 1980s. And they are seeing growth in other turtle populations, too — this year saw 17,192 loggerhead nests (second highest since 1982) and 55 leatherback nests (highest since 1982).

History was made in July when UCF and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reached an agreement to establish a permanent conservation research facility along the Brevard County coastline. The new agreement allows UCF to build a new facility at the refuge that will not only protect research equipment and house workers overnight, but also foster collaborations with visiting scientists and international research partners.

UCF must raise $5 million within the next five years to construct the new buildings. Want to help? Here’s how.

2. Resources for Student-Athletes
In order to achieve their level of success on the field and in the classroom, UCF’s teams need a team of their own to support them. This year, several members of their team stepped up to the plate in a big way.

Thanks to John Euliano’s $1.5 million gift, the baseball team is on its way to having a state-of-the-art facility. This facility will not only benefit the student-athletes, coaches and fan experience, it will also provide an edge in recruiting.

Of equal importance for the student-athletes is ensuring a quality education. Northwestern Mutual worked with UCF Athletics to develop the Northwestern Mutual Everyday Champions Scholarship Program, which will fund three student-athletes’ scholarships per year over the next three years. In total, this will provide nearly $150,000 in student-athlete scholarship support.

3. Experience Learning
Students and faculty from UCF’s medical, nursing, physical therapy and social work schools provided free care to nearly 200 Apopka-area farmworkers back in July. The team’s philanthropic spirit fueled their mission, allowing UCF students to render care to people who really needed it while learning invaluable experience along the way. Faculty helped by outfitting the clinic’s facilities while the College of Medicine held a bake sale to pay for medication and food they provided to the farmworkers on the day of care.


It’s just one of the many service contributions that Knights participate in worldwide every year, allowing them to apply lessons learned in the classroom and simultaneously fulfilling one of the university’s primary missions: Impacting our society positively. Here are a couple more service learning programs at UCF funded by donations:
The Burnett Honors College
Knights Without Borders

4. Giving Lives Back
This year, alumnus Jim Rosengren ’81 gave a generous gift of $1 million to UCF RESTORES, allowing the PTSD clinic to have a fighting chance of keeping its doors open and continuing to treat veterans with uniquely effective techniques (and train new therapists in those techniques).

“After three weeks of treatment, 67 percent of veterans no longer have PTSD — and more importantly, at follow-up six months later, we haven’t seen them relapse,” said Deborah Beidel, a UCF Pegasus Professor of psychology who leads the UCF RESTORES clinic.

The $5 million Department of Defense grant that allowed Beidel to establish the clinic in 2011 only covers treatment of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, not those from other conflicts. Nor does it allow Beidel and her colleagues to treat other groups, like first responders, who actually suffer from PTSD at a higher rate than the military.

To continue its mission and work, the clinic needs to rely on private philanthropy to fund the program’s annual costs. You can be the difference: Donate Now. (Be sure to click the designation drop down and select UCF RESTORES)

5. A New Partnership for Rosen, Arts and Humanities

rosen-and-elias

Gregory Elias, a Curacao-born lawyer and businessman, had never stepped foot on campus when he donated $5 million to establish the Gregory Elias Entertainment Management Program, a partnership between the Rosen College of Hospitality Management and College of Arts and Humanities.

Thanks to his generosity, nearly 200 students are pursuing an education they are passionate about, which aligns with Elias’ goals.

“It’s not about money, it’s about love,” he told them when he visited UCF for the first time in September. “If you don’t have the love for what you are doing, you cannot succeed and be happy.”

 

 

 

UCF Alumni Honors 30 under 30

Alumni association recognizes 30 young, successful Knights during inaugural awards dinner

30-under-30-awards

By Angie Lewis, ’03

The UCF Alumni Association was proud to host its inaugural 30 under 30 awards dinner Friday, Nov. 20, honoring the outstanding achievements of 30 successful Knights.

Young alumni currently make up one-third of UCF’s alumni population, making them the university’s largest constituent base. The 30 under 30 awards program allows the UCF community to celebrate the achievements of these young alumni and the impact they’ve made in the areas of business, research, leadership, arts, community, education or philanthropy.

Awardees were chosen based on nominations submitted by fellow Knights, friends, families and co-workers.

Many of this year’s recipients — most of whom traveled back to campus from locations across the country — were also recognized on the field during the UCF vs. ECU football game Thursday night, alongside the UCF Alumni Association’s 2015 Distinguished Student Award winner, Yudeysis Cores, and 2015 Michelle Akers Award winner, UCF’s Limbitless Solutions.

The following evening, alumni, families and friends, as well as members of university administration, advancement staff, and academic and volunteer leadership, and the evening’s host, UCF alumnus Todd Woodard, ’95, gathered for the awards celebration, held in the Grand Ballroom of the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center.

This year’s 30 under 30 inaugural class included:

Joshua A. Andone, Esq., ’11

Attorney, Hale, Hale & Jacobson
College of Business Administration

Stephanie C. Bolyard, MSENVE12

Graduate Research/Teaching Assistant, UCF
College of Engineering and Computer Science

Keith Brawner, ’08, MSCPE10, PhD13

Adaptive Tutoring Scientist, United States Army Research Laboratory
College of Engineering and Computer Science

Naomi Brownstein, ’08

Assistant Professor, Florida State University College of Medicine
The Burnett Honors College & College of Sciences

Janelle N. Burrowes, ’13

Service Director, Boys & Girls Club
College of Arts and Humanities

Shelby J. Campbell, ’08

Doctor of Audiology, My Family ENT
College of Health and Public Affairs

Amanda N. Castro, ’12

Anchor/Reporter, 41NBC/WMGT
College of Sciences

Chris Castro, ’10

Program Manager, Office of Sustainability & Energy/Senior Energy Advisor to Mayor Buddy Dyer, City of Orlando
College of Undergraduate Studies

Brett R. Chiavari, ’07

Owner & President, BC Restaurant Group
College of Business Administration

Aaron Dietz, MA13, PhD14

Research Associate, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
College of Sciences

Reshad D. Favors, Esq., ’10

Attorney & Fellow, Congressional Black Caucus Foundation/United States Congress
College of Business Administration

Julie Frost, ’12

Performer, Comfort Crew for Military Kids
The Burnett Honors College & College of Arts and Humanities & College of Sciences

Christopher R. Frye, ’13

Physics Ph.D. Candidate, Harvard University
The Burnett Honors College & College of Sciences

Andre Garcia, ’08

Human Factors Engineer, Northrop Grumman Corporation
College of Sciences

Lindsay C. Gartrell, ’10

Corporate Training Manager, The Kessler Collection Inaugural Class
Rosen College of Hospitality Management

Adam J. Giery, ’08, MA11

Principal, Strategos Group
College of Education and Human Performance

Jen Glantz, ’10

Founder and CEO, Bridesmaid for Hire
College of Arts and Humanities & College of Sciences

Kristin Harris, ’11

Associate Celebrity Editor & Talent Relations, Buzzfeed
College of Sciences

Jake Junot, MBA11

Vice President of Global Accounts, C3Research
College of Business Administration

Bridget D. Keefe, ’09, MPA11

Executive Director, Downtown Orlando Partnership
Rosen College of Hospitality Management & College of Health and Public Affairs

Jamile M. Kitnurse, ’08, MBA10, MSBM11

Regional Marketing Manager, Diamond Resorts International
College of Business Administration

Stephanie Ann Koszalka, MSW12

Director of Human Trafficking Victim Services, Florida Abolitionist Inc.
College of Health and Public Affairs

Albert C. Manero, ’12, MSAE14

Lab Director, The Limbitless Project
The Burnett Honors College & College of Engineering and Computer Science

Lauren Niederhiser, ’12

Assistant Project Manager, Walt Disney Imagineering
The Burnett Honors College & College of Engineering and Computer Science

Gregory A. Pearlman Jr., ’08

Financial Advisor, Northwestern Mutual
College of Business Administration

Leigha Audrey Proctor, ’10

Director of Business Development, Transperfect Translations
College of Sciences

Aubree A. Rider, ’10

Co-founder & Owner, The Heroes Group
College of Business Administration

Danny A. Rivera, ’12, MPA14

Special Assistant to Mayor Teresa Jacobs, Orange County Government
College of Health and Public Affairs

Colton J. Tapoler, ’12

Instructional Lead, Florida Virtual School
College of Arts and Humanities & College of Education and Human Performance

Victoria Vighetto, ’10, MNM13

Executive Director, March of Dimes Central Florida Division
College of Health and Public Affairs

Congratulations to all! Go Knights! Charge On!

Black & Gold Gala 2015 — Professional Achievement Award
College of Arts and Humanities

CAH-Hickey
College of Arts and Humanities Dean José Fernández presented the college’s
2015 Professional Achievement Award to Juliann Nicole Hickey, ’95.
Juliann Nicole Hickey, ’95 | Senior Vice President and Eastern Regional Manager,
Title Resources

The UCF Alumni Association and College of Arts and Humanities presented their 2015 Professional Achievement Award to Juliann Hickey at the annual Black & Gold Gala on Oct. 22.

Juliann received her Juris Doctorate from the University of Florida in 2000, and is a member of the Florida Bar.

She is certified to provide continuing education course instruction for real estate agents in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas, and continuing legal education to attorneys in Pennsylvania and New York.

Juliann graduated magna cum laude from UCF, with a double major in journalism and Spanish. She also was a member of the UCF Alumni Homecoming Committee in 1997 and 1998.

Learn more about Juliann:

Visual Artists Use Computers, Other Objects as Canvas

Ambitious and passionate, three Knights are pushing the limits of animation and projection mapping

TheOriginalNinjaneers_noblurb-(3)
(Left to right:) Joe Rosa, ’11, Heather Knott, ’11, and Chris Brown, ’11, are masters in digital animation.

By Angie Lewis, ’03

During his senior year at UCF, Joe Rosa, ’11, knew he didn’t want to be just another name on a resume, which could easily end up being filed away or thrown in the trash. So, in September 2010, he asked classmates Heather Knott, ’11, and Chris Brown, ’11, if they wanted to start a digital media company with him, and Ninjaneer Studios LLC was born.

The trio specializes in 3-D animation and projection mapping content, encompassing all stages of the design process, from projection conception to final product.

While the threesome works cohesively as a team, their individuality is distinct.

For example, when you ask the designers what their favorite projects have been so far, you’ll get three notably different answers. Rosa is especially proud of the team’s first large-scale projection mapping for the Art & Algorithms Digital Arts Festival, while Knott fondly remembers their “Holidays in Space” presentation at the Kennedy Space Center, and Brown appreciates the innovation and challenges of the Corrosion exhibit at the Orlando Science Center.

Take a look:



In addition, while their interest in digital media began in their childhoods, they all found themselves inspired by different life experiences.

Rosa was born a Navy brat in the mid-’70s on the island of Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands. His late grandfather passed down his love for film and animation, teaching Rosa how to draw Disney characters when he was just 5 years old. And, when “TRON” hit theaters in 1982, Rosa found himself captivated by computer-generated imagery.

“My grandfather always wanted to work for Disney when he retired from the Army after World War II, but became a truck driver instead to support his family,” Rosa explains. “In some ways, I feel that I’m carrying on his dream through me, along with my own.”

Knott grew up in Orlando, training in traditional drawing and sculpting early on, and even attending the Theatre Magnet Program at Dr. Phillips High School. She earned a B.S. in interior design from Florida State before continuing her education at UCF.

“As I got older and tried new mediums, it inspired me to see if there was a way that I could combine all of my favorite things from each medium into one,” Knott says. “Animation does that in spades.”

Following the death of the family TV to a lightning storm, Brown started telling stories at a young age. To keep himself entertained, he listened to collections of short stories on tape, which eventually transitioned into an interest in cinematic video games when he reached his teen years.

“It’s a never-ending source of problems to solve, and new technologies to experiment with, which has always been what I love about working in digital media,” Brown says.

In 10 years, Rosa hopes they will have a well-established company and a foothold in the animation industry, with more than 50 employees working on feature-length films and hybrid versions of projection mapping and augmented reality.

He advises current digital media students to: “See how far you can push yourself, and learn where your breaking point is. I think people would be surprised at how much they can take on. Phil Peters’ class alone was perhaps the most mentally intensive class I have ever taken. It was incredibly draining at the start, but I gradually learned how to compartmentalize, and it gave me a better work ethic now because of that experience. I attribute half of my gray hair to him!”

Knott’s advice is to: “Be proactive with your education. There’s only so much you can be taught in a classroom, so if you’re truly dedicated to this path, learn everything you can. I’m five years out of college, and I still make it a point to try to learn something new every day.

And, Brown says, “Google everything. Never be satisfied with what you know how to do already, or what you know a program is capable of automatically. Sooner or later, you’ll have to do something out of the box, and the more you understand in depth, the more ammunition you will have to throw at the problem.”

Animated Q&A

Q. Dream project?
Joe Rosa (JR): My two dream projects would be to produce and direct a feature-length animated film for theaters, and to have the opportunity to work with Universal Studios on projects stemming from their new partnership with Nintendo.
Heather Knott (HK): My dream project is to create digital sets for a production on Broadway. You can take the geek out of the theatre, but not the theatre out of the geek.

Q. What’s one thing about your job that people would be surprised to learn?
Chris Brown (CB): When working in a team of artists, a not-too insignificant number of creative differences can be settled by Nerf guns.

Q. If you had to choose another career, what would it be?
JR: Restoration of old, classic, muscle cars
HK: I’d love to be a photographer for National Geographic. Traveling the world, exploring and recording it for posterity would be quite an adventure.
CB: Lion tamer. Although, if you gave me a stern look and forced me to consider my skill set, probably computer sciences or IT. I’ve always had an interest in data visualization.

Q. Last thing you Googled?
JR: Black holes and quantum mechanics. Can’t read enough about black holes and how incredibly fascinating they are.
HK: The architectural history of Bamberg, Germany
CB: Optical tracking with OpenCV

Q. Do you have any other artistic abilities?
JR: Wood working and glass blowing. I’ve always been able to build things from scratch with little to no plans or drawings.
HK: I draw mostly. I’ve dabbled in sculpting, painting, photography and mixed media.
CB: A distinct lack thereof, actually. It was dramatically clear to me from an early age that I was rubbish at drawing. Why do you think I started working with computers instead?

Q. What’s your spirit animal?
JR: Well, according to spiritanimal.info, my spirit animal is an owl. And, this whole time, I was thinking it was a dragon!
HK: Jack Skellington
CB: Turtle

Q. Favorite website?
JR: thisiscolossal.com
HK: google.com
CB: shadertoy.com

Q. Best way to decompress?
JR: Spending time with my wife and children. It’s always fun to come home from a long day at work and play robots, wrestle on the floor, watch a good movie with them, and laugh.
HK: Depending on the amount of stress, either a quiet night with a book and a glass of wine, or a solid couple of hours killing things on my Xbox
CB: Video games, a good side project, a cold beer, or, ideally, a combination of the three

Q. What’s one thing you always bring with you to work?
JR: Passion. I love the company we three have created, the work we do, and the industry we’re in. Failure is a word that is not in our vocabulary at Ninjaneer Studios.
HK: Water and snacks. I have a tendency to hyperfocus on a project, so I regularly forget to eat or drink if it’s not sitting right next to me.
CB: A pen that can write on my arm. I’ve had one in my pocket almost continually since I was 17.

Q. If you could offer your 13-year-old self one piece of advice, what would it be?
JR: To stay passionate about what you want to do and be in life. Half way along my journey, I had not lost the passion to do what I’m doing today, but I encountered many road blocks and setbacks. Never lose focus of where you want to be in life, and keep that fire and passion burning.
HK: Don’t be afraid to be yourself. It took me a long time to be comfortable with myself, and I think I let some experiences pass me by because of it.
CB: Provided he would listen, which I sort of doubt, it would be that the things you think are a big deal right now probably won’t matter too much down the road. Just relax, and focus on the things that really interest you, and, one day, if you play your cards right, people will pay you to explore them.

More Info

NinjaneerStudios.com
Demo reel:

More videos on YouTube