Lasting Impact

 

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Aug. 17, 2016

Christal Peterson was an All-American sprinter and conference champion for the UCF track and field team before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in health sciences (pre-clinical) in Summer 2015. She also served as the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee President. This fall, Peterson will start the DeVos Sport Business Management Program at UCF.

Peterson recently returned from a week-long service-learning trip to Panama with the UCF Athletics-based group Knights Without Borders. Since 2013, KWOB has aimed to provide cross-culture experiences in developing a sense of world unity. In addition to this trip, Peterson has also served on KWOB journeys to Costa Rica and Ireland. The group of 30 who traveled to Panama built a multi-purpose sports court with Courts for Kids in the town of Tucuecito in the province of Coclé.

Below is a first-hand account of the experience.

“Knights Without Borders is something I look forward to every summer because it is almost like a reset button on my life. For a whole week I am forced to have no communication to the outside world, and I am okay with that. I think sometimes you need an experience that makes you evaluate your life and your priorities, not taking anything or anyone for granted.

My connection to UCF is even more important now as an alumna than it was as an undergrad. UCF is on the rise, and it’s important to continue to contribute to its legacy. I was not the only post-grad former student-athlete on the trip, and I honestly believe that helped because we are all in the same boat right now; some of us are going straight to grad school while others are taking some time off to figure out if grad school is the right fit for them. So it was kind of cool to connect with them and realize that I was not alone in my feelings of closing an important chapter on my life (sports) and taking on a new one – in my case, being an adult and graduate assistant for the student-athlete welfare and development office.

crop workIn terms of the day-to-day work, we did not have a cement mixer, so all of our cement for the court needed to be made by hand, which I thought was absolutely crazy. But after the first batch, I realized that it was something that could be done. Since I’m so used to being a helping hand, I just assumed that I could help mix the cement. That was a big fat NO with every shovel I tried to put into the mix. I slowly realized my place in the system.

Inauguration day for the court was a beautiful thing. Seeing the people of Tucuecito come together as a community to see the finished product was simply amazing. What really stuck out to me the most was that the townspeople all prayed over the court, almost like they were christening it. They prayed that the court stays around for generations to come, and that it also brings the community together as one. Then they prayed for the hands that built the court. It was really an honor.IMG_7146

What I’ve learned on these trips is that you just appreciate the value of time because it is not promised for anybody. It is truly a blessing to be able to connect with people on a deeper level, beyond the basic information.

Our individual journeys are unique, and there are reasons for everything at the end of the day. I learned that my life is no longer my own anymore. It is to serve others, and I will continue to do that. I want to thank UCF for all the opportunities I have been granted. Never in my life did I think I would be traveling the world and helping people while doing it. I am extremely blessed to have participated on my third KWOB trip. The power of sports is such a universal language that can literally inspire and change the world. That’s why every day I live by the quote: ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world.’”

-Christal Peterson ’15

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Five Things Alumni Need to Know — June 15, 2015

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The UCF Alumni Association hosted the chairs of its college, regional and special interest chapters and clubs during the annual AlumKnights of the Roundtable: 2015 Chapter & Club Council meeting on Saturday.

Here are five things you should know this week:

  1. The UCF Jefferson Awards & Alumni Volunteer Reception took place Friday evening at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center, where nine Knights were honored, and many others recognized, for their countless acts of generosity and numerous volunteer hours to the alumni association.
  2. On Saturday, the UCF Alumni Association hosted its annual Chapter & Club Council meeting, where nearly 50 chapter and club alumni volunteers — from Central Florida and across the nation — gathered to discuss the alumni association’s strategic plan, as well as many other important topics.
  3. The next UCF MedTalk takes place this Wednesday at the Downtown PourHouse, where Dr. Griffith Parks will discuss “The Upshot on Viruses and Vaccines.” The MedTalk series allows participants to learn about current and innovative issues in medicine in a casual setting. This informative and interesting evening is open to everyone.
  4. Sonya Baumstein, ’09, the UCF alumna who was attempting to row solo across the Pacific Ocean was rescued over the weekend due to mechanical issues and bad weather.
  5. UCF students will attempt another Guinness World Record on Thursday — this time, for the World’s Largest Swim Lesson. The attempt is part of a worldwide campaign to promote swimming lessons to save lives.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know — June 8, 2015

Here are five things you should know this week:

  1. UCF has a unique opportunity to hear from Heather Gill-Frerking, director of science and education for the Mummies of the World traveling exhibit, on Wednesday, June 10. The exhibit — one of the largest of its kind — opens at the Orlando Science Center on June 13. (See video above.)
  2. The alumni association hosts its eighth annual UCF Jefferson Awards & Alumni Volunteer Reception on Friday, June 12. The evening recognizes some of the university’s most active volunteers for their countless acts of generosity and numerous volunteer hours with the association.
  3. The UCF College of Medicine and UCF Alumni Association host their third MedTalk on Wednesday, June 17. “The Upshot on Viruses and Vaccines” will be presented by Dr. Griffith Parks, whose research interests include developing novel vaccines for viral diseases and the use of viruses for the targeted killing of tumor cells.
  4. Nearly 200 women attended last Thursday’s annual UCF Ladies Football Clinic, hosted by the athletics department. In addition to getting tours of the team’s weight room and Wayne Densch Sports Center, throwing passes and trying on equipment, the lady Knights fans also got to meet players and coaches, and chat with Coach George O’Leary.
  5. Check out some of the new expansions and renovations making their way to campus.

UCF Students Provide Linens for the Homeless

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(Photo: Central Florida Future/Courtesy of Shakera Quince)

By Shanae Hardy
Central Florida Future

Blanketing the city with compassion and comfort, the White Linen Project at UCF is leaving its mark around Central Florida in the form of sheets.

Students at UCF formed the White Linen Project, a volunteer initiative that provides linen to homeless families, to leave an imprint on their community.

Shakera Quince, a junior management major, was influenced to begin the nonprofit organization when she began volunteering for the Orlando Union Rescue Mission, one of the largest homeless shelters in Central Florida. After volunteering twice a week and witnessing several families that slept in the cold, Quince said she felt a deep connection with the children and families she served. She decided to challenge herself on what she could do to further provide resources to the families at the mission.

“I was able to find out that one of the major needs was linen, specifically white linen at the time,” she explains. “So, I stayed up late at night for a couple of weeks trying to figure out what can I do. Lo and behold, the White Linen Project was born.”

Quince paired with four other students who shared her passion for wanting to change some of the circumstances of the homeless, including her former roommate, Katrina Poggio, a senior journalism major.

Poggio said she is currently working on a photo project for the White Linen Project’s website to bring awareness to the homeless community.

“I got involved because Shakera and I have a mutual interest in making a difference,” she says. “My favorite part about the volunteer initiative is that I have an opportunity to give a voice to those who go unheard.”

After developing the program for almost a year, Quince and her team introduced the White Linen Project on campus in April. By partnering with several community-wide volunteer initiatives, such as Volunteer UCF, Straight Street Orlando and the Mustard Seed of Central Florida, the White Linen Project has beckoned attention for the immense demand for linen donations.

In order to provide students with opportunities to donate, members of the White Linen Project tabled outside the Student Union every Monday in April, allowing students to either drop off linen directly to them or at other designated areas around campus.

For the summer, Quince and the rest of the team have obtained two options for students to continue to donate to the White Linen Project: the UCF cubicle located on the second floor of the Student Union and the Knights Pantry.

After their first month on campus, Quince, Poggio and their team collected more than 150 pieces of linen.

Poggio and Quince are looking to expand the team with more volunteers so the organization can eventually grow into a registered student organization.

“We have so many ideas as we grow, and one of them is maybe even handing linens out downtown to people who sleep on the ground outside. Coming with a box of pizza and some linen and just saying, ‘Hey, have a nice night,'” Quince said.

In the future, Quince is hopeful that her initiative will expand beyond the UCF proximity.

“Hopefully one day we can go outside of Orlando,” she says. “One day, maybe we will collect enough linen to send over to other countries.”

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White Linen Project

This article appeared in a May 13, 2015, edition of the Central Florida Future online. It has been slightly edited for style. See original story.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know — April 27, 2015

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(Photo: UCF Today)

Here are five things you should know this week:

  1. Engineering students showed off their inventions and new technologies during the Senior Design Showcase on Friday. From a three-in-one ocean rescue trailer, to a detection-and-alert system for parents who travel with infants in their cars’ backseats, to a drone laser tag game, the projects gave students a chance to illustrate their readiness to work in the field of engineering.
  2. It’s finals week! Remember those days? Well, now, the UCF Student Government Association rewards dedicated students “caught” studying in the John C. Hitt Library. Tonight, as part of its annual Kram for the Exam event, SGA members will reward studiers with drawstring bookbags filled with note cards, Post-it Notes, pens, pencils and highlighters, as well as tummy satisfiers like mints, gummies, Cheez-Its and bottles of water.
  3. On April 22, FAIRWINDS Credit Union was presented with the UCF Partnership Award for its philanthropic support, service and commitment to the university. The award was accepted by the company’s president and CEO, Larry Tobin, ’83, during the President’s Partnership Reception at The Burnett House. In 2004, FAIRWINDS made a significant donation to construct the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center.
  4. Ever been to UCF’s Public History Center in Sanford? This weekend is a great time to check it out, as a new demonstration wildflower garden makes it debut for MayFest! Plants include blanketflower, southern beeblossom, meadow beauty and blazing star, which are part of two dozen Florida native wildflowers on display.
  5. Noteworthy alumni events:
    • Wednesday, April 29 — Rosen College alumni, faculty, staff and students commence for the college’s fourth annual Hospitality Knight. This networking and career development event features Tim Miles, an international marketing strategist, speaker and best-selling author, as the evening’s guest speaker.
    • Friday, May 1 — A group of selected College of Engineering and Computer Science alumni will participate in the college’s AlumKnights at Work series. This time, Knights will get a special, behind-the-scenes look at Kennedy Space Center.
    • Saturday, May 2 — The UCF Community Volunteers Alumni Chapter hosts a coastal cleanup at New Smyrna Beach. Family and friends are welcome!

4EVER KNIGHTS Ambassadors Receive Order of Pegasus

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While attending a 4EVER KNIGHTS meeting in March, two of this year’s Order of Pegasus awardees, seniors Gerald Richardson and Jill Dutmers, posed for a photo in front of the Knights for Life wall at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center.

Jill Dutmers and Gerald Richardson, two of the UCF Alumni Association’s 4EVER KNIGHTS Ambassadors, were awarded the 2015 Order of Pegasus — the university’s most prestigious and significant award a student can attain.

The Order of Pegasus recognizes exemplary performance by UCF bachelor’s degree students in the areas of academic achievement, outstanding university involvement, leadership and community service. Master’s degree students, doctoral, professional or M.D. students are selected separately based on academic achievement, professional or community service, leadership, and publication or research experiences.

  • Jill Dutmers is an undergraduate majoring in English literature in the College of Arts and Humanities, and is a student in The Burnett Honors College. She’s a member of the Honors Congress and President’s Leadership Council, and has participated in numerous service projects for the UCF community. Dutmers also serves as president of 4EK. She’s currently deciding which law school she’d like to attend. (She’s been accepted into seven.)

“My four years at UCF has afforded me incredible opportunities and experiences that have shaped not only how I view the world, but also how I view myself,” Dutmers says. “The education I received and leadership skills I gained have me a stronger, more polished, more confident Knight.”

  • Gerald Richardson is an undergraduate majoring in biomedical sciences in the College of Medicine. He’s a third-generation Knight. He’s involved with the Student Undergraduate Research Council and the President’s Leadership Council. Richardson also gives free, private tutoring, was a member of the 2014 UCF Homecoming Court, and participates in countless community service activities.

“At UCF, I have been afforded the unique opportunity to serve as a university ambassador, contribute to the well-being of the Central Florida community, and explore my passion for research, all while acquiring the scientific foundation necessary to pursue a career in medicine,” Richardson says. “I owe all of my success and professional maturity to the unwavering support that UCF and The Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences have displayed for my academic and extracurricular endeavors.”

The 4EVER KNIGHTS Ambassadors are a group of student leaders, chosen to serve as the liaisons between students and alumni. They operate as an extension of the UCF Alumni Association and oversee the programming and benefits for 4EK general membership. These student ambassadors uphold UCF traditions and leave a lasting legacy.

Two former 4EK Ambassadors have also been awarded Order of Pegasus: Todd Currie, who won it this year, and Jamie Gregor, ’13, who won it during her junior year, in 2012.

Congratulations to these exceptional Knights!

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4EVER KNIGHTS Student Alumni Association
4EVER KNIGHTS Ambassadors

2015 Jefferson Awards — Call for Nominations!

Last year’s 4EVER KNIGHTS’ Shining Armor awardees (left to right): Bill Ford, ’79; Dianne Owen, ’93;  Ron Spangler, ’03; Sara Montuori, ’04; Allen Lane, ’97; Octavia Powell, ’09; and Tim O’Reilly, ’10
Last year’s 4EVER KNIGHTS’ Shining Armor awardees (left to right): Bill Ford, ’79; Dianne Owen, ’93;
Ron Spangler, ’03; Sara Montuori, ’04; Allen Lane, ’97; Octavia Powell, ’09; and Tim O’Reilly, ’10

Celebrating its eighth year, the UCF Jefferson Awards & Alumni Volunteer Reception recognizes the most active alumni volunteers for their countless acts of generosity and numerous volunteer hours with the association. This year’s festivities take place Friday, June 12, at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center.

Hosted by the UCF Alumni Community Volunteers Chapter, the awards focus on outstanding public service by honoring alumni who have given back to their alma mater and the community.

The alumni associaton will also recognize the 4EVER KNIGHTS’ Shining Armor Award winners for their dedicated time and talent given in assisting the 4EK Student Alumni Association.

Do you know someone who is deserving of a nomination?

Submit your nomination today!

Categories include:

  • Regional Chapter Volunteer of the Year
  • Regional Club Volunteer of the Year
  • College Chapter Volunteer of the Year
  • Constituent Chapter Volunteer of the Year
  • Association Committee Volunteer of the Year
  • Student Volunteer of the Year
  • Chapter Community Service Volunteer of the Year

The nomination deadline is March 8 at midnight.

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Palm Beach Chapter Provides Valentine’s Dinner with Love

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By Angie Lewis, ’03

On Feb. 11, the Palm Beach UCF Alumni Chapter made its second visit to the Quantum House, which lessens the burdens for families with children receiving treatment in Palm Beach County for serious medical conditions.

This time, chapter volunteers prepared a Valentine’s Day-themed meal, complete with heart-shaped grilled cheese sandwiches, organic tomato soup and a salad bar with heart-shaped tomatoes. After dinner, the kids got to decorate cupcakes, brownies and chocolate-covered strawberries with a variety of red and pink icing and candies. (The groceries were provided by Loggerhead Marina.)

“Our group left feeling inspired,” says Brittany Miller, ’07, chair of the Palm Beach UCF Alumni Chapter. “Many of our volunteers were asking how they can stay involved with the Quantum House on their own time.”

The chapter participates in many different volunteer projects throughout the year. It’s previously worked with Loggerhead Marinelife Center, Boys Town South Florida, Big Heart Basket Brigade and Paint Your Heart Out/United Way.

Miller adds, “It’s great being able to connect our UCF alumni with these organizations, broadening the impact we have in the Palm Beach community.”

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Surf’s Up!

Alumnus’ passion to hang 10 inspires him to keep an active lifestyle and pursue environmental change

Mitch Varnes, ’85 | President, Smooth Running

By Daniela Marin

The UCF Surf Club is one of the largest non-Greek organizations on campus today, but, nearly 30 years ago, it was the enthusiasm of eight young surfers who laid the foundation for what would become a hub for wave fanatics.

Mitch Varnes, ’85, was one of those students, and went on to co-found the club.

“I think co-founding the UCF Surf Team was probably my first entrepreneurial effort,” he says. “More than anything, it taught me to go out and make things happen.”

Since then, Varnes has additionally founded the Collegiate Surfing Association, the Sebastian Inlet Pro and the Ron Jon Beach ’N Boards Fest.

In efforts to engage his community in an active lifestyle, spur local economic growth and practice sustainability, Varnes currently holds a position as president of Smooth Running.

“I think people should only work at jobs that are fun and that they enjoy,” he says. “I know that sounds altruistic, but it can be done.”

Smooth Running is the producer of endurance events across East Central Florida. Some of these multi-sport events include the Publix Melbourne Music Marathon Weekend, the Ron Jon Cocoa Beach Triathlon and the Rocketman Florida Triathlon, the first privately coordinated sporting event to take place at the Kennedy Space Center.

“Creating events is something I really love to do, and I have formed this career so that I have the flexibility to travel when I want and to spend a lot of time with my children and my wife,” Varnes says.

In 2010, Varnes received the Champion Award from the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce for the economic impact of the Melbourne Music Marathon Weekend.

He additionally received the Entrepreneur of the Year award from Space Coast Magazine, proving his entrepreneurial initiatives while at UCF the first of many.

“I was truly honored to receive that award,” Varnes says. “There are lots of business owners and entrepreneurs here on the space coast so it was a humbling moment for a guy who puts on races, triathlons and surfing events.”

Varnes has been able to incorporate both his passion for surfing and mission for sustainability in the planning and execution of events, such as the Melbourne and Beaches Music Marathon Weekend, which achieved its goal of zero waste in 2012.

“I surround myself with lots of vibrant people in their 20s and 30s, and they have molded our events into among the most sustainable anywhere in the country,” he says.

Varnes and his team recycle everything from water bottles to paper plates and cups, and compost food scraps like orange rinds, banana peels, pizza crust and all else. In 2013, he received the Sustainability Award from Keep Brevard Beautiful.

“I used to think it would be too much work and effort to make sustainability a focus, but it is actually an easy thing once you make it part of your model,” he says. “Now it’s just something we do second nature.”

Contributing to the implementation of sustainable practices is a team of UCF students, which Varnes employs for almost all events. He additionally offers internships to UCF students, and continually speaks at the Devos School of Sports Management.

“It is really inspirational for me to see these students so excited and dedicated to our cause,” he says. “I am very proud of our school and its students.”

Such pride is exemplified by Varnes’ previous involvement in the Space Coast Alumni Board of Directors, on which he served as president for three years, and the Golden Knight’s Board of Directors, the fundraising arm of UCF Athletics.

On Aug. 30, Varnes followed the UCF football team to Dublin, Ireland for its Croke Park Classic game against Penn State. Varnes says that although he is not of Irish heritage, he and his family highly admire the country, and he bought the tickets as soon as they became available.

“We lost that game in the final seconds, but college football does not get any better than that game,” he says. “I think my favorite memory from that game was talking to the Irish people who were just as enthralled with American football and knew all about it. I also enjoyed meeting a couple from Germany who had become UCF fans and traveled to the game with no other connection to UCF.”

Ridin’ the Wave Q&A

Q. Describe a typical day at work.
A. There are few typical days for me, but they usually begin with getting up before daylight and always taking my kids to school. I then usually go back home, read, fish, surf, run or bike for a couple of hours and then head into the office by 10:30 a.m. I work six or eight hours a day, but, in the weeks running up to an event, things intensify quite a bit. It’s not unusual for us to work 20 hours straight during an event.

Q. What’s your favorite thing about your job?
A.The best part of my job is putting on events that make people and their families happy. People circle the dates of our races and train for them for months. It’s also very satisfying to see the local economic impact of what we do. Our events fill hotel rooms and restaurants all over the Space Coast.

Q. Upon co-founding the UCF Surf Team, did you find that it was a struggle to find fellow surfers or was there already the beginning of a community?
A. There was a core group of six or eight of us who actually showed up at every surf contest. We basically would go surf all day at Playalinda [Beach] and come home with a trophy! It’s very cool to see the UCF Surf Team nowadays, and I support them when I can.

Q. How often do you surf? How do you incorporate that into your professional life?
A. I surf as I have time or when there are waves. It sounds kind of crazy, but I actually surf more outside of Florida than at home. With work and our kids, it’s actually easier to get away and surf than it is to surf at home.

Q. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
A. I think I want to be a travel photographer and writer when I grow up.

Q. What advice would you give to a large group of people?
A. Follow your passion and do what makes you happy.

Q. How do you hope your career will transition/grow over the next five years?
A. I plan to still have a few sizable events and to continually fine tune and evolve them. I’m actually pretty comfortable and happy where I am, and just looking to keep things rolling.

Q. How did your education in journalism help get you to where you are today?
A. I’ve written and published hundreds of article and photos. Journalism teaches one discipline and the requirement to meet deadlines.

Q. What’s your favorite memory from your time at UCF?
A. My favorite memories of UCF were being part of what was then a pretty tight-knit school. I am not exaggerating to say that I may have known more students that I didn’t know at the school. Now, it has a massive student population, which is OK too.


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Feeling inspired to volunteer your time for a worthy cause? Check out all of the alumni community service events happening during the eighth annual Knights Give Back on Saturday, Oct. 11.