1. Congrats to this year’s 30 Under 30 award winners, who were recognized in a special ceremony at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center over the weekend. View the gallery highlighting this outstanding group who is making its alma mater proud.
2. The countdown to college football is over! UCF Football is back in action this Thursday at 6 p.m. at home against FIU. Check out some new, exciting things the team has going on this year, and don’t forget to stop by UCF Alumni’s Indoor Tailgate, which kicks off at 3 p.m. Thursday at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center.
Out of town and in need of a watch party? Visit ucfalumni.com to find the most up-to-date information on locations for official watch parties nation-wide.
3. The UCF women’s soccer team knocked off No. 4 North Carolina on Friday in double overtime with a 2-1 win. To put it in the simplest terms: it’s a BIG deal. Read more about the historic win, and trust us, you’re going to want to watch this video:
4. The UCF College of Sciences Distinguished Speaker Series is back this September with six UCF faculty who are experts in topics relevant to the natural, computational, social or behavioral sciences and the developments in their respective fields. The 2017-18 series will be held monthly at Tuscawilla Country Club at 6 p.m., from September 2017 to April 2018 (excluding November and December).
5. Save the date for this year’s film fall showcase hosted by UCF School of Visual Arts and Design. Some of the finest examples from the previous year’s crop of student films will be brought together for a single night of celebration on Sept. 8 from 7-9:30 p.m.
ORLANDO, Fla. (Aug. 3, 2017) – At 15 years old, Stefanie Johnson ’06 ’08MA cleaned tables at a Miami bowling alley for $5.15 per hour and the extra perk of free games with a very clear goal in sight – to one day make it as a professional bowler.
Today, Johnson, now 33, is a 13-year veteran of Team USA Bowling and a five-time World Champion looking to add another accomplishment on her resume at the PWBA stepladder finals Aug. 6 in her new home base Plano, Texas.
‘My life has revolved around bowling for as long as I can remember,” Johnson said.
Johnson was drawn to UCF as a freshman in 2002 because of the university’s bowling program, which had started a year earlier. Johnson competed for her high school bowling team and wanted to continue honing her skills under UCF’s head coach, PWBA Hall of Famer Pat Costello.
“I knew if I wanted to get to the next level, she could take me there,” Johnson said.
As she pursued her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and master’s in communication, she chose classes that worked around her team practice schedule in addition to spending extra time at the lanes on her own. It paid off. She was selected as a two-time All-American and NCBCA MVP.
But during her sophomore year, the PWBA Tour folded leaving the ladies no professional tour to compete in.
“I was devastated,” she said.
So she set her sights on the only other option there was: Team USA. She made the team in 2005 and has competed every year since, traveling all over the world to represent her country. As the reigning world champions, Team USA will head to Las Vegas this December to defend its gold medal at this year’s competition.
In 2015, the PWBA Tour resurged and Johnson claimed the honor of PWBA Rookie of the Year. After taking some time away from the game for motherhood to 3-year-old Levi and 4-month-old Kenzie, she made her 2017 debut in Orlando right where she spent so many of her college days at Boardwalk Bowl.
In addition to a successful day at the Orlando Open, where she qualified for this week’s stepladder finals that will air on tape delay Aug. 15 on CBS Sports Network, she also had some time to visit Lazy Moon and return to campus.
“I recall spending many afternoons by the Reflecting Pond completing assignments while soaking up the college life experience and watching squirrels run around everywhere. I had the opportunity to drive around campus and it’s amazing what the campus has turned into,” she said. “Once a Knight, always a Knight!”
She said life balance and family have always been a priority along with her bowling career, and she’s learning that to be true now more than ever.
“It’s imperative to have an army of support in my corner otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do what I do,” she said. “It’s certainly a team effort every time I am on the lanes competing and they are all with me every step of the way.”
2. UCF and HCA Healthcare’s North Florida Division will start building a new hospital next to the College of Medicine in Lake Nona within 18 months. The state’s Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) gave the final certificate of need approval for a 100-bed medical and surgical hospital that officials hope will be open for patients by the end of 2020.
3. Save the date for a rare solar eclipse that will occur on the first day of fall classes, Aug. 21. The Planetary Sciences Group at UCF, the College of Sciences, and the student-run Astronomical Society will host a viewing party 2-3:30 p.m. in front of Millican Hall and the Reflecting Pond to mark the occasion.
4. Although the full 2017-18 men’s basketball schedule has not been released yet, fans can scope out a few dates that have been set against teams from the SEC and Big Ten. With the return of big man Tacko Fall and under the leadership of Johnny Dawkins, UCF has high expectations for the upcoming year. Fans looking to purchase new tickets can call (407) 823-1000 or click here: www.ucfknights.com/jointhefamily to secure them today.
5. If you want to convince your boss it’s cool to play video games at work, a UCF alumnus has found the proof to back you up. Michael Rupp ’09BA ’09BS ’12MS, a UCF doctoral student in human factors and cognitive psychology, and his co-authors evaluated whether casual video game play during rest breaks is an effective way to combat workplace stress. This Newsweek article discusses the team’s findings.
ORLANDO, Fla. (May 26, 2017) – Years ago, when anyone asked biology alumna Anai Colyer ’14 what she wanted to be when she grew up, she dreamed of a life as a wildlife documentarist.
She didn’t view it as a practical choice – rather, a choice of the heart. A self-taught photographer, Colyer’s hobby has led to an Instagram portfolio filled of magical moments underwater in the springs outside of Gainesville; endangered Key deer in Key West; Wyoming moose and hugging monkeys.
“What I’ve learned from this experience is never underestimate yourself,” she said. “If you have a passion for something and really want to do something, do it. Don’t hold back. Just go for it.”
Colyer’s love of wildlife and the world began when she was 8 years old. Her father took her underwater for the first time, sharing his tank with her, when they two spotted a pack of dolphins.
Colyer still remembers trying to reach out to the pack as they clicked sounds to communicate. From that moment, she was hooked.
A few years later, she became fascinated with photography after picking up a camera spontaneously to photograph dolphins jumping in the wake of her aunt’s boat.
“I got addicted to capturing that moment,” she said. “I wanted to share that experience and what I was seeing and maybe get people to get outside themselves and witness it.”
After graduating in 2014, she struggled to find the first open door to a full-time job and a career. So she started working part time at a local dive shop and kept snapping photos.
This past February, a friend called her to suggest she enter herself in National Geographic’s WILD TO INSPIRE filmmaking contest. The grand prize was a trip to Africa to document wildlife for “Nat Geo WILD” viewers.
Disheartened about her struggle to find a job, she did not feel confident about entering the contest.
“I was reluctant. I told him, ‘You’re out of your mind. I’ve never done a film in my life. I don’t know what I’m doing. There’s only two weeks left to submit,’” she recalled. “He was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, you’re right. You don’t need to go to Africa. Just forget about it.’”
In those two weeks, a sleep-deprived Colyer filmed everything she could while she also learned how to edit audio and video and create a script for her short film.
As she considered storyline options, she connected with one friend’s piece of advice: “The only story you’re going to be able to tell well is the story that you know.”
“That really hit home,” she said. “I thought, well, the story I know is I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve never done this before.”
When she learned she was one of three finalists in the contest, her immediate reaction ranged from tears to pure joy to wondering if the message she received was a mistake.
Two weeks later at the 2017 Sun Valley Film Fest in Idaho, she heard her name called as the first female winner in the 4-year-old competition.
“My whole world opened up,” she said.
She won’t know where she is headed in Africa until two to four weeks ahead of her trip. She does know for sure she wants to extend her time there and take in as much as possible.
“I probably won’t come back,” Colyer somewhat joked of her first trip overseas.
Until then she is continuing to practice her film-making skills and still always dreaming of what lies ahead.
“I don’t want to go through my life, look back and say, ‘What if?’ At this stage of life, I just want to travel. I want to experience things,” she said. “It’s the beauty and the awe of nature that keeps me going.”
2. With wildlife photography, my No. 1 tip is to study the subject and learn to predict its behavior so you’re ready to capture the “wow moment” when it happens.
3. With underwater photography, my No. 1 rule is to get close to your subject. Rule No. 2: get closer. Rule No. 3: when you think you’re close enough, you’re not! Get closer! Water reduces color, contrast and sharpness. So to achieve a better photo reduce the space between you and your subject as much as possible.
4. Every photographer, no matter how good they are, still encounters missed shots and gear malfunctions. The key is to never give up.
1. Five alumni recently won regional Emmy awards of excellence for their work in television this past year. Among the accomplished group is Nicholson School of Communication Alumni Hall of Fame inductee Marla Weech ’79.
2. UCF partnered with Orange County Fire Rescue to launch two lifesaving apps, PulsePoint Respond and PulsePoint AED, late last week. The apps support first-responding agencies like Orange County Fire Rescue by encouraging CPR-trained citizens to respond to sudden cardiac arrest incidents as emergency crews are en route. Both applications are available as free downloads on mobile devices.
3. SAVE THE DATE for UCF Celebrates The Arts. The university’s annual showcase of student and faculty presentations will return April 7-14 to the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Orlando. The eight days of music, performances and visual displays are open to the public for free. For a sneak peek of the lineup of events, click here.
4. ICYMI, students from UCF’s College of Nursing delivered one-of-a-kind teddy bears to hospitalized children to make the week of Valentine’s Day a little sweeter. Although the college is finished taking orders for this year’s distribution of bears, it intends to make this an annual event. Take one look at this picture, and you’ll see why:
5. The College of Sciences Distinguished Speaker Series resumes this week with a talk on “2015 Homicide Rise and the ‘Ferguson Effect.’” The event, which is open to the public, begins at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Tuscawilla Country Club (1500 Winter Springs Blvd., Winter Springs, FL 32708).
ORLANDO, Fla. (Jan. 23, 2017) – In the past, the biggest threat from a data breach was to the individual. But now with the onset of Big Data, there are much bigger threats and even bigger opportunities.
Few people, however, understand what Big Data is or how it can be used, said Lee Odess ’99, vice president of UniKey and the keynote speaker for UCF’s Big Data Symposium on Jan. 26 at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center.
“The goal of my presentation is, more or less, to give real life examples of what Big Data is and the impact it can have,” Odess said. “Typically you are either super smart on Big Data and have a hard time communicating it, or you are a person who has heard of it but isn’t too sure how to get started. My goal is to bridge the two.”
Practical examples of Big Data are everywhere and can be implemented by both big and small companies. For instance, a company can analyze marketing impacts via its social media reach; predictive analytics can narrow in on customers’ shopping preferences; or it can help analyze where a business should open up its next retail location.
Big Data’s role in our society is one of the reasons UCF’s Colleges of Science, Business and Engineering and Computer Science came together to host the symposium. UCF business professors Robert Porter ’81 ’10PhD and Amit Joshi, PhD; statistics professor Shunpu Zhang, PhD; and Ivan Garibay ’00MS ’04PhD, director of UCF Research Information Systems and chief information officer at the UCF Office of Research and Commercialization, are among the speakers who will talk about practical ways companies, nonprofits and individuals can tap into Big Data to benefit their communities and society.
Odess was a natural choice for the talk because of his familiarity with the use of Big Data within his own profession.
“For UniKey we didn’t wake up one day and say, ‘Hey, we need Big Data.’ We did however say, ‘Hey, we need to start understanding exactly how, when, where our customers are using the locks and mobile applications powered by UniKey,” he said. “So we put the systems and tools in place to be able to collect every bit of data we could. Then once we had it, we spent the time to come up with the algorithms and dashboards to easily digest the information. Now, with a touch of a button we are no longer guessing how, when and where customers are using the product. We are 100 percent clear on it.“
In 2012, Odess was the director of sales operations for security company Brivo Systems when he was watching “Shark Tank” on television one night and saw fellow UCF alumnus Phil Dumas ’05 pitching his smart lock. It was the first time in Shark Tank history that all five investors wanted to buy into an idea.
Odess reached out to Dumas after the show and said that given their UCF roots and similar industries, they should get to know each other. Dumas agreed.
They kept in touch over the years, and when Brivo Systems was sold in 2015, Odess wanted to join with a startup that had growth opportunity. He saw UniKey as that opportunity.
His day-to-day responsibilities as vice president include business development, human resources, participation in the overall strategy for the company and its existing customer base.
Dumas and Odess aren’t the only Knights with UniKey. Odess said 80 percent of the company’s 50 employees are alumni.
“Initially people think we’re from Silicon Valley. When we tell them we’re from Orlando, we explain to them we have some hidden gems here, one of them being the university,” he said. “We look for people that want to be in this area. We think the school does a really good job preparing the students for work. It just makes sense. There isn’t a need for us to look outside what’s in front of our face.”
Odess speaks from experience.
Born in Cleveland, he grew up in South Florida before he moved to Pittsburgh, where he graduated from high school. He considered nearly two dozen universities and picked UCF because he said it just felt right.
“There seemed to be a lot of history to be written,” he said. “I liked that.”
The day after he graduated with his bachelor’s in business, he packed up his car and started driving toward Pennsylvania, where a job with Lutron Electronics awaited him.
After eight years with Lutron, he moved to Washington D.C. and worked for a variety of companies, including several startups of his own, Fresh Confections and energy + light + control llc.
In order to become more acclimated to a new city, he rekindled his relationship with UCF by joining the D.C. alumni chapter.
Now that he’s back in Orlando, he is happy to have an opportunity to further his relationship with his alma mater by lending his time to the symposium.
“I’m proud of the fact that I have an opportunity to make a difference,” Odess said. “There’s a true partnership with the university – it has aspirations and goals, and I feel like it realizes that the people that have come out of it are going to help carry it in that direction.”
The Symposium will be held Jan. 26 from 6-8 p.m. at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center. The event is free, but RSVP online is required. To learn more about the event, click here.
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.
1. At UCF, we know how awesome Limbitless Solutions is, so it was great to see the rest of the country learn more about the group during a feature on Sunday’s NBC Nightly News. Didn’t tune in? Don’t worry, you can watch the segment in its entirety ^above^.
2. Job hunting? UCF is hosting a career expo for students and alumni on Jan. 31 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in CFE Arena. Professional attire is required and up-to-date resumes are strongly recommended. Learn more about the expo, including a list of participating employers, by clicking here.
4. Sonya Dixon ’96 ’98MBA; Tony Moreno ’91 and Michael O’Donnell ’09MS have been selected as this year’s class for the College of Business Administration’s Hall of Fame. The group will be honored at the 18th annual banquet on Feb. 23 at Rosen Shingle Creek. Several other alumni will be recognized that evening with entrepreneurial awards and Noble Knight awards. For more information regarding the UCF College of Business Hall of Fame, visit cbahalloffame.com or email [email protected]
5. The UCF Colleges of Sciences, Business Administration and Engineering and Computer Science are hosting a Big Data Symposium on Jan. 26 from 6-8 p.m. in the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center. Attendees will hear from some of the top scholars and professionals skilled in analyzing large data sets to reveal patterns, trends and associations to help determine human behavior and interactions, and meet some of the graduate students who will soon be the pioneers of data analytics and data mining for tomorrow’s leading businesses. 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.
ORLANDO, Fla. (Dec. 8, 2016) – As a UCF Alumni board member, season ticket holder, Oviedo resident and occasional guest lecturer, Ryan Vescio ’02 visits UCF’s campus more than most. And when the assistant state attorney returns, his three children are frequently in tow.
Ella, 10, Sophia, 9, and Owen, 5, are big fans of tailgating. They debate the merits of their favorite basketball players. They recently got their wish granted to eat at Knightro’s with their dad. They periodically exchange hellos with President John C. Hitt and his wife, Martha, who know them by name thanks to Owen’s habit of running into their CFE Arena suite when he was 2.
To Ella, Sophia and Owen, the idea of college is nothing out of the ordinary – almost an expected path they will one day follow. The same cannot be said for Vescio, a first-generation college student.
“We never talked about college in my house. For my parents, it wasn’t a reality. You pick a job and you go and do your thing,” he said. “It’s incredible to watch that transition of how much one generation can really change the future of a family.”
The son of a hairdresser and auto mechanic, Vescio grew up in Melbourne in a double wide trailer on the grounds of an elementary school. His father was diagnosed with renal disease when Vescio was 10. The oldest of his siblings, he learned to grow up quickly.
He aspired to be a journalist, and thanks to a persistent teacher, he was granted access to cover his first NASA space shuttle launch at the age of 14 for a middle and high school newswire service he helped start. The news story he wrote landed on the front page of Florida Today’s Sunday edition, above the fold.
With the help of Florida Bright Futures Scholarship and Pell Grants, he made his dream of attending college a reality.
After a brief stint studying journalism at the University of South Carolina, he transferred to UCF to be closer to his ailing father. He also switched gears and took an interest in political science and law.
“I think about if I wasn’t as persistent as I was, if I didn’t want better, if I didn’t have the help of other people, I would have never had the experiences that I’ve been able to have,” he said. “Our university is a little different than the others around us, and I think that that’s nothing but positive. It’s exciting to watch traditions being built, but it’s equally as exciting to not have traditions hold us back. We can do anything, we can be anywhere, we can influence anything.”
He threw himself into college life, and his influence is still part of daily activity at UCF today. He was involved in the plans that led to the Recreation and Wellness Center being built. He also was there the day they came up with the idea to rope off the Pegasus on the floor of the Student Union.
“We never thought it would last,” he said with a laugh. “I get a kick around graduation when I see on social media the big deal about taking a graduation picture with the Pegasus. It really blows my mind.”
Vescio graduated with his bachelor’s in political science one year before his father passed away and says one of his proudest life moments is knowing that his father witnessed his son’s graduation day. He went on to law school at Nova Southeastern and is now director of modernization and assistant state attorney, Office of the State Attorney, 9th Judicial Circuit.
Vescio believes in his public service role and is fueled by fighting for the truth. Most of his work entails homicide and major crime cases. He believes it is an honor to serve as a voice for people who have suffered.
His life has come full circle now as a donor, supporting UCF Athletics, UCF Alumni and first-generation students.
“Being a Knight has given me the opportunity to go out and make a positive impact on our community,” he said. “The only limitation for Knights is our own self reservation.
Why I Give Back, by Ryan Vescio:
We owe it to future students to pay it forward and help them. To me, that’s everything from being involved on the alumni board, to showing up to events, to buying football tickets, to donating money that I have. Although I can’t write a $1 million check today, I know that my donation helps to fund a scholarship. To fund a program to go out and find students. It’s so important to be involved and engaged because there are so many high school students out there right now who think of college as this thing, but they can’t conceptualize it because it’s not a reality in their family or in their neighborhood or environment. That to me is the student that comes here and works even harder because it means so much to them. That’s the student who leaves here and becomes the research scientist, the filmmaker, the lawyer.
One in four students at UCF are the first in their family to attend college. To support first-generation students like Ryan Vescio, click here.
1. The 2016 30 Under 30 class gathered to be honored Saturday at FAIRWINDS Alumni Center during the Indoor Tailgate. They then were recognized on the field at Bright House Networks Stadium during the football game. This incredible group of individuals includes CEOs, researchers, an NBA referee, teachers, medical professionals and game developers. VIEW THE CLASS.
2. If you live in Central Florida and love UCF (who doesn’t?), then you don’t want to miss an unforgettable evening this Wednesday at the Country Club of Orlando. AlumKnights and friends of UCF are cordially invited to a social reception and a special conversation with President John C. Hitt that discusses the importance of IGNITE: The Campaign for UCF’s impact on the university’s future. For more information and to register, click here.
3. UCF Football is bowl bound! Thanks to a 24-3 victory over Cincinnati on Saturday, the Knights will be heading to a bowl game for the seventh time in the last 10 years. For more information and to secure bowl game tickets, click here or call 407-823-1000. The Knights’ bowl destination will likely be announced on Dec. 4.
A big thank you again to all our service members who were honored on Military Appreciation Day! The Marching Knights put on quite a #UCFSalutes halftime show.
4. UCF political science student Amber Mariano made headlines late last week after becoming the youngest person elected to Florida’s House of Representatives. The 21-year-old’s win was one of the biggest upsets of the Florida state races. She ran against incumbent Rep. Amanda Murphy, and defeated her in a squeaker by less than 750 votes. “It’s awesome that I get to fight for my community. “I’m ready to work,” she said. Spoken like a true Knight.
5. As we gear up for football’s final home game of the season, here are some Must Knows:
– UCF Alumni Indoor Tailgate will start at 5 p.m. Here’s a look back at last week’s fun: PHOTO GALLERY.
– Gameday attire is a little trickier this Saturday: Lower Level and Student Section #UCFansWear white, Upper Level #UCFansWear black
– If you aren’t in town and need a watch party, check out our official locations. The game will air on ESPNews.
– Traffic alert: Due to Light Up UCF, part of West Plaza Drive is closed until January. Speaking of Light Up UCF, it officially opens this Friday (Nov. 18).