Nurses First, Scholarships Follow for Alumnus-led Startup

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

By Jenna Marina

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

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

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

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

So they decided to do something about it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—June 19

Deborah Beidel, RESTORES clinic director

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

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

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

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

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

From The Heart

 


By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (Feb. 16, 2017) — Children spending Valentine’s Day week at Nemours Children’s Hospital got a special treat on Monday: Seven UCF College of Nursing students, dressed in their scrubs, visited their hospital rooms and brought along a new soft, cuddly bear.

In all, 88 ‘Knight Nurse’ teddy bears — also wearing UCF scrubs — arrived at Nemours as part of a larger fundraising campaign spearheaded by the college, and meant to brighten the day of hospitalized children.

Soon-to-be 13-year-old Karina, who has a closet of strategically placed stuffed animals at her Melbourne home, eagerly awaited her bear delivery before her chemotherapy treatment. When she was greeted by the nursing students, they immediately started discussing how to accessorize the bear with her favorite color, purple.

“It’s super, super soft. It’s the softest bear I think I have. It feels kind of like my unicorn,” Karina said. “Everyone is so nice here. Everyone’s just trying to make all the kids here feel better.”

In January, the college debuted its “Give a Bear, Warm a Heart” fundraiser that enabled the public to sponsor one – or an entire unit – of teddy bears wearing UCF nursing scrubs. The college partnered with MorUniversity, the college’s exclusive scrub provider, to create limited-edition bears outfitted in an exact replica of the scrubs worn by UCF nursing students.

Donations were still coming in as of late last week, but the college estimated that roughly $14,000 was raised in the inaugural campaign. All money raised will help support priority areas in the UCF College of Nursing, including student scholarships, faculty research and medical mission trips.

Although the college is finished taking orders for this year’s distribution of bears, it intends to make this an annual event.

On Thursday and Friday, students will deliver more bears to Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Florida Hospital for Children. In totally, roughly 225 bears will be delivered this year.

“I just love working with the kids. They have this incredible spirit, so any opportunity that I get to interact with them and to make them smile is just what makes it so special for me,” said Orlando native Hayley Boyle, who is in her last semester of UCF’s undergraduate nursing program and hopes to become a pediatric nurse. “These bears have such an impact. They’re just a beautiful thing to do.”

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—Jan. 23

1. We like big data and we cannot lie. The UCF Colleges of Sciences, Business and Engineering and Computer Science are hosting a Big Data Symposium this Thursday from 6-8 p.m. in the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center. The evening’s keynote speaker is Lee Odess ’99, vice president of UniKey Technologies. Although the event is complementary, space is limited. For more details and to RSVP, click here.

2. On Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons clinched their spot in Super Bowl LI. Why do we care? Because former C-USA Defensive Player of the Year and UCF alumnus Kemal Ishmael ’13 has suited up for the Falcons ever since they selected him in the seventh round of the 2013 NFL Draft. He is now the 13th Knight to be listed on the roster of a Super Bowl team.

Ishmael graduated from UCF with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies and minor in coaching in 2013. The Super Bowl will air on FOX on Feb. 5 at 6:30 p.m.

3. Apparently, the UCF women’s flag football team is creating quite a dynasty. The Knights recently captured its fourth consecutive football national championship. This year’s squad, ‘Team Check on It,’ thumped the North Carolina A&T Aggies in the championship game, 13-2. The team was led by head coach Brandon Baroody ’13, a finance alumnus who is a member of the National Collegiate Flag Football Championships Hall of Fame.

4. Emergency physicians in training from UCF’s College of Medicine used their skills on a national stage when they staffed the presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 20. During the inauguration, three ER residents and two attending physicians from Osceola Regional ran a treatment and triage area adjacent to the viewing area on the National Mall, in partnership with other first responders.

5. You can help the College of Nursing brighten up the lives of children in local hospitals. The college’s “Give a Bear, Warm a Heart” fundraiser enables the public to sponsor one — or an entire unit — of teddy bears wearing UCF nursing scrubs to be delivered by nursing students the week of Valentine’s Day to sick kids at local hospitals. Learn more about how you can get involved.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—Aug. 15, 2016

less debt

1. Less college debt? Where do we sign? Turns out, 48 percent of undergraduates at UCF carry no debt upon graduation – well below the national average.

2. UCF is partnering in a new national project called Re-Imagining the First Year of College that is designed to increase student success, particularly for students who are low-income, first-generation or racial minorities.

3. There’s a new, clear bag policy for UCF football games and you’re going to want to read it. Some key items you will not be able to bring into Bright House Networks Stadium include purses, diaper bags and non-approved seat cushions.

4. Four PhD students at the UCF College of Nursing are receiving full scholarships thanks to the help of three new grants totaling $85,000.

5. A partnership between UCF Health, the UCF College of Medicine’s physician practice and My Health Onsite opened a new health center for Osceola County Sheriff’s Office members and their families.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know — Jan. 25, 2016

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The UCF College of Nursing is one of just 60 nursing schools in 33 states to receive funding to participate in this year’s white coat ceremony, which promotes humanistic, patient-centered, compassionate care among future generations of registered nurses. (See No. 2 below.)

Here are five things you should know this week:

  1. Oviedo High School teachers Will Furiosi, ’13, MAT14, and Jessica Ortega, ’13, fell head-over-heels for each other — and education — at UCF. READ MORE
  2. On Jan. 10, nearly 200 students from the UCF College of Nursing ceremoniously began their clinical practice with an inaugural white coat ceremony and joined a nationwide initiative to promote compassionate care.
  3. UCF freshman Nick Drivas has been invited to perform with Grammy Award-nominated entertainer Michael Feinstein as part of the “Michael Feinstein: A Sinatra Centennial” concert Jan. 29 at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
  4. On a career break and thinking of returning to work? Unsure about what you want to do and where to start? Interested in changing career paths? Join UCF alumni and other returning professionals for an information-packed, half-day program that includes return-to-work strategies, and tactics on resumes, interviews and job searches.
  5. Running through Jan. 31, Theatre UCF, in collaboration with the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community, presents “Spunk and the Harlem Literati,” an adaption of the play “Spunk” by Zora Neale Hurston. The production is part of the 27th annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities.

Black & Gold Gala 2015 — Professional Achievement Award
College of Nursing

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College of Nursing Dean Mary Lou Sole presented the college’s 2015 Professional Achievement Award to Thomas Weichart, ’04, ’14.
Thomas Weichart, ’04, ’14 | Clinical Nursing Director, ONI Medical Associates

The UCF Alumni Association and College of Nursing presented their 2015 Professional Achievement Award to Tom Weichart at the annual Black & Gold Gala on Oct. 22.

Prior to his current career ventures, Tom held various nursing positions, including the role of presidential executive nurse with the White House Medical Unit. He also served in the U.S. Army, with stints at Womack Army Medical Center in Fort Bragg, N.C.; 86th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad, Iraq; and 240th Forward Surgical Team in Macedonia and Kosovo.

His education in the health-care field began in 1993 and continues to this day. He earned a BS in nursing from the University of Florida in 1995; an MS in health services administration from Central Michigan University in 1999; an MS in critical care nursing from UCF in 2004; a post-graduate health profession education certificate in 2004; an MA in theology/theological studies from Liberty University in 2010; post-graduate certificate as a family nurse practitioner from UCF in 2014; and is currently attending UCF for a nurse practitioner doctorate, scheduled to graduate next year.

Learn more about Tom:

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 — July 20, 2015

OrlandoCity-arm

Here are five things you should know this week:

  1. Congratulations to Mary Lou Sole, a longtime UCF professor and administrator, who was named as the new dean of the College of Nursing! (Also, see the Orlando Sentinel article.)
  2. The superheroes at Limbitless Solutions have done it again! This time, they partnered with the Orlando City Soccer Club to donate a 3-D printed arm to a 6-year-old Brazilian boy.
  3. Things may be a little quiet around UCF this time of year, but our regional alumni chapters and clubs — including Austin, Jacksonville and Boston — are keeping busy!
  4. Speaking of travel, did you know that the alumni association has partnered with many different companies to offer great benefits, including discounts on rental cars, hotels and even LEGOLAND? Visit our benefits page to check out all of the awesome discounts you can take advantage of as a UCF Knight!
  5. ICYMI: The Blackstone Launchpad at UCF is helping to propel students toward their entrepreneurial dreams. Read about three such Knights who have started their own unique companies.

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.