Welcome, AlumKnights! (What New Graduates Need to Know)

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By Jeana Capra
UCF Alumni Association Student Intern

Congratulations, Class of 2015 fall graduates! You’re an official UCF AlumKnight, which means you’re now part of a family that’s more than 250,000 strong!

Your connection to UCF and your Knights pride don’t end just because your senior year did. The UCF Alumni Association connects all Knights with the university and each other through social, cultural and professional development events. Now that you’re a part of the family, you should know what it entails.

The UCF Alumni Association is a dues-free organization, which means there’s no annual membership fee to take advantage of all it has to offer. You’re already a part of the alumni association just by graduating!

Remember that key card you got when you picked up your cap and gown? Think of that as your golden ticket. It’s what identifies you as an AlumKnight. Show that card to participating benefit providers for alumni discounts, and use it as your pass into alumni-hosted events, like our annual Indoor Tailgate parties during football season.

The UCF Alumni Association hosts events across the nation, so you can keep connected no matter where life takes you after college. There are countless ways to stay involved, whether it’s on campus or in your new community, through our chapters and clubs program. College-based and regional chapters and clubs help you build of a network of new friends who share your UCF experience.

And, as a brand new graduate, you naturally fit into the Young Alumni Council, a network or more than 60,000 Knights under the age of 30. This community of alumni is a powerful way to help you stay connected to social, career and community events as you begin to conquer “the real world.”

Leaving campus doesn’t have to mean losing touch with your alma mater. Follow the UCF Alumni Association on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn to keep up with all of the latest and greatest UCF news and events, and be proud of the university that made you who you are!

Congratulations again, graduates! You’re the future of the UCF Knights Nation, and we look forward to seeing all of the amazing things you’re going to do!

Go Knights! Charge On!

P.S. Jazz up your Facebook profile: Show off your #UCFalumni pride and download one of 10 cover photos. We even made two for your proud parents. :)

Black & Gold Gala 2015 — Professional Achievement Award
College of Education and Human Performance

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College of Education and Human Performance Dean Pamela “Sissi” Carroll presented the college’s
2015 Professional Achievement Award to Gonzalo S. La Cava, ’97, ’01, ’09.
Gonzalo S. La Cava, ’97, ’01, ’09, Ph.D. | Area Superintendent,
Central Learning Community, Fulton County Schools

The UCF Alumni Association and College of Education and Human Performance presented their 2015 Professional Achievement Award to Gonzalo La Cava at the annual Black & Gold Gala on Oct. 22.

Prior to his current role as area superintendent for Fulton County Schools’ Central Learning Community, which is made up of more than 18,000 students attending 23 schools, he served Fulton County Schools as assistant superintendent of student support services, and executive director of services for exceptional children.

In 2014, Gonzalo was honored at the White House as one of several “Champions of Change,” individuals doing extraordinary work to educate the next generation of Americans by devoting their time and energy to creating opportunities for young people to succeed, particularly in low-income communities.

He holds his doctoral and master’s degrees in educational leadership, as well as a bachelor’s degree in exceptional education, all from UCF.

Learn more about Gonzalo:

UCF Alumni Hosts 2015 Chapter & Club Council

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During the annual AlumKnights of the Roundtable: 2015 Chapter & Club Council, chapter and club chairs were presented with
framed photos of the Reflecting Pond as a token of thanks for all of their hard work and dedication to the UCF Alumni Association.

On Saturday, June 13, following the previous evening’s 8th Annual UCF Jefferson Awards & Alumni Volunteer Reception, nearly 60 regional, college and special interest chapter and club alumni volunteers — from Central Florida and across the nation — attended the UCF Alumni Association’s AlumKnights of the Roundtable: 2015 Chapter & Club Council at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center.

The morning began with a keynote address and Q&A by Anthony Jenkins, Ph.D., UCF’s senior associate vice president and dean of students.

Next, alumni staff presented this year’s Chapter & Club Awards, which included:

  • The College Chapter Challenge Award tasked college-based alumni chapters to engage in professional development activities within their chapters that add value to their degrees and make meaningful connections back to the university. This year’s winner hosted an evening to provide alumni with a tool that’s invaluable in the industry in which they work — customer service training, provided by best-selling author Tim Miles. Congratulations to the Rosen College of Hospitality Management Alumni Chapter!
  • The Regional Chapter/Club Challenge Award tasked regional chapters with executing events with a strong university connection — which isn’t always easy when you’re not in Orlando! However, this year’s winner impressed the selection committee by working on events with local businesses in their community, while also working with the UCF regional campus closest to them on their signature event, Starry Knights. Last year, Starry Knights raised more than $6,000 for scholarships and, after this year’s event in July, they will be one step closer to their goal of endowing their chapter’s scholarship. Congratulations to the Space Coast UCF Alumni Chapter!
  • The Constituent Chapter Challenge Award tasked special interest chapters with creating opportunities to create meaningful connections with our student population. Chapter volunteers participated as panelists for the 4EVER KNIGHTS Alumni Speaker Series and served as mentors in the 4EK Connect program. Their signature professional development conference, PRO CON, raised $8,000 this year and allowed the chapter to engage with students in various stages of the UCF experience. Congratulations to the UCF Young Alumni Chapter!
  • The Chapter or Club of the Year Award was presented to the overall chapter or club that covered all of the bases in not only event programming, but in communicating with alumni and building meaningful connections. The selection committee was impressed by the winning group, not only for their philanthropic events — participating in multiple events through the year in addition to UCF’s annual day of service, Knights Give Back — but also in the goals they set and how they reached them. They’ve grown their LinkedIn following from just 10 members to nearly 300, while becoming a chapter only two years ago. The judges were thoroughly impressed! Congratulations to the Denver UCF Alumni Chapter!

Chapter and club leaders then participated in breakout sessions on the alumni association’s strategic plan goals of communication, engagement, relevance and funding. After lunch, they continued with roundtable discussions on board management, social media, student engagement, professional development/career-focused events, and partnerships.

Before wrapping up the day-long conference with a catered happy hour and UCF Bookstore merchandise sales, attendees got to meet and participate in a Q&A with Mike Morsberger, the new vice president for alumni relations and development, and CEO of the foundation.

Thank you to all of our dedicated alumni volunteers! Go Knights! Charge On!

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Anxious Students Strain College Mental Health Centers

A therapy dog named Sparky gives some love to Ashley Perez, 18, and Nik Keebler, 22, during an event at the University of Central Florida's Center for Counseling and Psychological Services.
A therapy dog named Sparky gives some love to Ashley Perez, 18, and Nik Keebler, 22,
during an event at UCF’s Center for Counseling and Psychological Services.
(Photo: Douglas Bovitt, New York Times)

By Jan Hoffman
New York Times

One morning recently, a dozen college students stepped out of the bright sunshine into a dimly lit room at the counseling center here at the University of Central Florida. They appeared to have little in common: undergraduates in flip-flops and nose rings, graduate students in interview-ready attire.

But all were drawn to this drop-in workshop: “Anxiety 101.”

As they sat in a circle, a therapist, Nicole Archer, asked: “When you’re anxious, how does it feel?”

“I have a faster heart rate,” whispered one young woman. “I feel panicky,” said another. Sweating. Ragged breathing. Insomnia.

Causes? Schoolwork, they all replied. Money. Relationships. The more they thought about what they had to do, the students said, the more paralyzed they became.

Anxiety has now surpassed depression as the most common mental health diagnosis among college students, though depression, too, is on the rise. More than half of students visiting campus clinics cite anxiety as a health concern, according to a recent study of more than 100,000 students nationwide by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State.

Nearly one in six college students has been diagnosed with or treated for anxiety within the last 12 months, according to the annual national survey by the American College Health Association.

The causes range widely, experts say, from mounting academic pressure at earlier ages to overprotective parents to compulsive engagement with social media. Anxiety has always played a role in the developmental drama of a student’s life, but now more students experience anxiety so intense and overwhelming that they are seeking professional counseling.

As students finish a college year during which these cases continued to spike, the consensus among therapists is that treating anxiety has become an enormous challenge for campus mental health centers.

Like many college clinics, the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services at the University of Central Florida — one of the country’s largest and fastest-growing universities, with roughly 60,000 students — has seen sharp increases in the number of clients: 15.2 percent over last year alone. The center has grown so rapidly that some supply closets have been converted to therapists’ offices.

More students are seeking help partly because the stigma around mental health issues is lessening, noted Stephanie Preston, a counselor at UCF.

Stress kits were distributed at an event at the University of Central Florida's Center for Counseling and Psychological Services. The kits included a stress ball, mints and crayons.
Stress kits were distributed at an event at UCF’s Center for Counseling and Psychological Services.
The kits included a stress ball, mints and crayons.
(Photo: Douglas Bovitt, New York Times)

Preston has seen the uptick in anxiety among her student clients. One gets panic attacks merely at the thought of being called upon in class. And anxiety was among a constellation of diagnoses that became life-threatening for another client, Nicholas Graves.

Two years ago, Graves, a stocky cinema studies major in jeans, a T-shirt and Converse sneakers, could scarcely get to class. That involved walking past groups of people and riding a bus — and Graves felt that everyone was staring at him.

He started cutting himself. He was hospitalized twice for psychiatric observation.

After some sessions with Preston, group therapy and medication, Graves, 21, who sat in an office at the center recently describing his harrowing journey, said he has made great progress.

“I’m more focused in school, and I’ve made more friends in my film courses — I found my tribe,” he said, smiling. “I’ve been open about my anxiety and depression. I’m not ashamed anymore.”

Anxiety has become emblematic of the current generation of college students, said Dan Jones, the director of counseling and psychological services at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C.

Because of escalating pressures during high school, he and other experts say, students arrive at college preloaded with stress. Accustomed to extreme parental oversight, many seem unable to steer themselves. And with parents so accessible, students have had less incentive to develop life skills.

“A lot are coming to school who don’t have the resilience of previous generations,” Jones said. “They can’t tolerate discomfort or having to struggle. A primary symptom is worrying, and they don’t have the ability to soothe themselves.”

Social media is a gnawing, roiling constant. As students see posts about everyone else’s fabulous experiences, the inevitable comparisons erode their self-esteem. The popular term is “FOMO” — fear of missing out.

And so personal setbacks that might once have become “teachable moments” turn into triggers for a mental health diagnosis.

“Students are seeking treatment, saying, ‘I just got the first C in my life, my whole life just got shattered, I wanted to go to medical school and I can’t cope,’” said Micky Sharma, president of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors and head of Ohio State University’s counseling center.

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Stephanie Preston, a mental health counselor at UCF, says that more students are seeking help for mental health issues.
(Photo: Douglas Bovitt, New York Times)

Anxiety is an umbrella term for several disorders, including social anxiety disorder and agoraphobia. It can accompany many other diagnoses, such as depression, and it can be persistent and incapacitating.

Students who suffer from this acute manifestation can feel their very real struggles are shrugged off, because anxiety has become so ubiquitous, almost a cliché, on campus.

Alexa, 18, has been treated for an anxiety disorder since middle school, when she was still feeling terrorized by monsters under the bed. She has just finished her freshman year at Queens College in New York.

If she had a severe episode during a test, afterward she would try to explain to her professors what had happened but they would dismiss her. “They’d say, ‘Your mind isn’t focused,’ or ‘That’s just an excuse,’ ” said Alexa, who wrote her college application essay about grappling with the disorder. She asked not to be fully identified for privacy reasons.

More often, anxiety is mild, intermittent or temporary, the manifestation of a student in the grip of a normal developmental issue — learning time management, for example, or how to handle rejection from a sorority.

Mild anxiety is often treatable with early, modest interventions. But to care for rising numbers of severely troubled students, many counseling centers have moved to triage protocols. That means that students with less urgent needs may wait several weeks for first appointments.

“A month into the semester, a student is having panic attacks about coming to class, but the wait list at the counseling center is two to five weeks out. So something the student could recover from quickly might only get worse,” said Ben Locke, associate director of clinical services at Penn State University and the lead author of the Penn State report.

By necessity, most centers can only offer individual therapy on a short-term basis. Preston estimates that about 80 percent of clients at UCF need only limited therapy.

“Students are busting their butts academically, they’re financially strapped, working three jobs,” she said. “There’s nothing diagnosable, but sometimes they just need a place to express their distress.”

Even with 30 therapists, the center at UCF must find other ways to reach more students — especially the ones who suffer, smoldering, but don’t seek help.

Like many college counseling centers, UCF has designed a variety of daily workshops and therapy groups that implicitly and explicitly address anxiety, depression and their triggers. Next fall the center will test a new app for treating anxiety with a seven-module cognitive behavioral program, accessible through a student’s phone and augmented with brief video conferences with a therapist.

It also offers semester-long, 90-minute weekly therapy groups, such as “Keeping Calm and in Control,” “Mindfulness for Depression” and “Building Social Confidence” — for students struggling with social anxiety.

The therapists have to be prepared to manage students who present a wide array of challenges. “You never know who is going to walk in,” said Karen Hofmann, the center’s director. “Someone going through a divorce. Mourning the death of a parent. Managing a bipolar disorder. Or they’re transgender and need a letter for hormone therapy.”

Indeed, Locke and his colleagues at Penn State, who have tracked campus counseling centers nationwide for six years, have documented a trend that other studies have noted: Students are arriving with ever more severe mental-health issues.

Half of clients at mental health centers in their most recent report had already had some form of counseling before college. One-third have taken psychiatric medication. One quarter have self-injured.

The fundamental goal of campus counseling centers is to help students complete their education. According to federal statistics, just 59 percent of students who matriculated at four year colleges in 2006 graduated within six years.

Studies have repeatedly emphasized the nexus between mental health and academic success. In a survey this year at Ohio State’s center, just over half of the student clients said that counseling was instrumental in helping them remain in school.

Anxiety-ridden students list schoolwork as their chief stressor. UCF’s center and after-hours hotline are busiest when midterm and final exams loom. That’s when the center runs what has become its most popular event: “Paws-a-tively Stress Free.”

The other afternoon, just before finals week, students, tired and apprehensive, trickled into the center. The majority were not clients.

NYTimes-Bodhi
Students gathered around a therapy dog during an event at UCF.
(Photo: Douglas Bovitt, New York Times)

At a tent outside, their greeter was the center’s mascot and irresistible magnet: a 14-pound Havanese, a certified therapy dog whom many clients ask to hold during individual sessions, stroking his silky white coat to alleviate anxiety.

“Bodhi!” they called, as he trotted over, welcoming them to his turf with a friendly sniff.

For the next two hours, some 75 students visited the center, sitting on floors for a heavy petting session with therapy dogs.

They laughed at the dogs’ antics and rubbed their bellies. They remarked on how nice it was to get a study break.

On the way out, the students were handed a smoothie and a “stress kit,” which included a mandala, crayons, markers, stress balls and “Smarties” candy.

Also tucked into the kit was a card with information about how to contact the center, should they ever need something more.

This article appeared in a May 27, 2015, edition of the New York Times online. It has been slightly edited in accordance with UCF Alumni Association and AP style guidelines. See original story.

More Info

UCF Center for Counseling and Psychological Services

We’ve Got Money, Yes We Do! We’ve Got Money Just for You!

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UCF Alumni Scholarship Applications | Jan. 15 – March 31, 2015

Each year, the UCF Alumni Association awards more than $40,000 in scholarships. Scholarships are available for all class standings, and range from $500 to $2,000. With 20 different scholarships from which to choose, there’s something for everyone!

Applications open Jan. 15 and close March 31. Winners are announced over the summer, and the awards will be distributed at the beginning of the fall semester.

Get Started:

  1. Visit the Scholarships page on ucfalumni.com for detailed informaton about each scholarship, as well as application instructions.
  2. Log in to your myUCF account to see the scholarships for which you’re eligible.
  3. Apply!

Questions?

Email [email protected] or call 407.UCF.ALUM (823.2586).