Five Things Alumni Need to Know This Week – Dec. 11, 2017

1. Headed to the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl? Start off the New Year celebrating with Knights fans of all ages at the UCF ChargeOn Tailgate in the heart of downtown Atlanta at the College Football Hall of Fame. You can expect special appearances by UCF fan favorites as well a drink ticket, breakfast buffet, fan giveaways and cash bar beverages. Register today!

2. As UCF’s presidential search committee aims to find the university’s fifth president, your opinion matters to them. UCF will host four opportunities for the campus and Central Florida communities to provide input at public forums. The university has also launched an online survey, available at

3. Kyle Dencker ’08 ’16MA, a computer science teacher at Timber Creek High School, is now in the running for Florida top teacher honors after being named Orange County’s Teacher of the Year last week.

4. About 3,980 UCF students are expected to graduate in three ceremonies Dec. 15-16 at the CFE Arena. Former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is among this semester’s commencement speakers.

5. In case you missed it, UCF Football announced Josh Heupel as the Knights’ 11th head coach. He quickly named Randy Shannon as the new defensive coordinator. Read what they’re saying about this dynamic duo.

Colleges of Business, Engineering and Sciences Host Joint Networking Knight


Nearly 70 UCF alumni gathered for an evening of professional networking on Jan. 21. Alumni chapter volunteers from the College of Business Administration, College of Engineering and Computer Science, and College of Sciences partnered to host the event, which took place at the law offices of GrayRobinson in downtown Orlando.

While guests mingled with other professionals from a multitude of diverse fields, Dean Paul Jarley (business), Dean Michael Georgiopoulos (engineering) and Dean Michael Johnson (sciences) each addressed the group of Knights, speaking on the importance of networking, mentorship and advancement.

It was a great Networking Knight to kick off 2016!


Charles Gray, founding director of GrayRobinson, played an instrumental role in the history of the University of Central Florida. Gray was honored by the UCF Alumni Association in October with the 2015 Champions Award for his continuous support and advocacy for the university.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know — Nov. 23, 2015


Here are five things you should know this week:

  1. On Friday evening, the UCF Alumni Association honored 30 young alumni (see photo above), for their outstanding achievements, during its inaugural 30 under 30 awards dinner.
  2. C-SPAN network’s Campaign 2016 mobile newsroom visited the UCF campus on Wednesday to broadcast an interview with psychology Professor Deborah Beidel about her studies of anxiety, trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder, and provided an opportunity for students and others to board the bus and learn about the public affairs’ network’s political coverage and other programs.
  3. Last Monday, UCF journalism students got to hear from the parents of Steven Sotloff, a former UCF journalism student who lost his life at the hands of ISIS. In his honor, his family has established the Steven Sotloff Memorial Endowed Fund. (Plus, his legacy lives on in UCF students.)
  4. UCF hired The State University of New York at Buffalo’s Danny White as its new athletics director. “Danny is one of the nation’s rising stars in college athletics, and his talent, determination, energy and creativity will guide our program to a bright future,” UCF President John C. Hitt says.
  5. UCF’s Programming Team won its fourth-consecutive “Battle of the Brains” competition, a super-contest of computer programming. Three UCF computer science students dominated over their competitors from universities in the Southeast, advancing them to the World Finals, representing the best of 10,000 computer programming teams from 90 countries.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know — Sept. 14, 2015


Here are five things you should know this week:

  1. Those interested in UCF doctoral, master’s, specialist or certificate programs can attend Tuesday’s Grad Fair, which will guide prospective students through admission options and the transition to graduate school.
  2. On Wednesday, the College of Engineering and Computer Science will host its 3rd Annual Career Kick-Off Workshop, which helps CECS alumni connect with CECS students, to provide guidance on career paths, resumes and interviews.
  3. The “The Understudy,” an exploration of the existential vagaries (and comedy) of show business and life, opens at the UCF Theatre on Thursday evening.
  4. This Saturday’s football game against Furman is UCF’s Family Weekend! There’s much to see and do over the weekend, including the alumni association’s 4EVER KNIGHTS’ Family Weekend Tailgate on Saturday, so be sure to plan ahead!
  5. UCF’s Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy celebrates its 10-year anniversary this year, and has a series of commemorative events planned for FIEA alumni and students.

Visual Artists Use Computers, Other Objects as Canvas

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

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

By Angie Lewis, ’03

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

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

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

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

Take a look:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Animated Q&A

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. Favorite website?

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

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

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

More Info
Demo reel:

More videos on YouTube

Five Things Alumni Need to Know — Sept. 7, 2015

(PHOTO: Gustavo Stahelin)
For the past 30 years, the Marine Turtle Research Group at UCF has been monitoring all turtle nests on the 13-mile stretch of beach at the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in Brevard County.
(PHOTO: Gustavo Stahelin)

Here are five things you should know this week:

  1. If you’re headed to the UCF at Stanford game on Friday, be sure to join the San Francisco UCF Alumni Club, which is hosting an AlumKnight Out the evening before the game!
  2. New research on “heat shock protein 90,” or HSP90, at UCF could have future implications for the treatment of cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.
  3. UCF students created an app to help their peers stay organized and motivated for classes. Schoolflow will sync assignments, remind users when they’re due, and more.
  4. Green sea turtles have broken a record this year, with more than 12,000 nests in the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, where UCF’s Marine Turtle Research Group is based.
  5. The university is hosting Campus Safety Awareness Month, featuring weekly sessions throughout September.

17-Year-Old UCF Graduate Lands Software Job

(Photo: Central Florida Future/Courtesy of Adrian Gilliam)

By Bridgette Norris
Central Florida Future

Most students graduate college in their early 20s, but Adrian Gilliam was ready a bit earlier.

At age 17, Adrian graduated from UCF this spring with a computer software job awaiting him at Optima Healthcare Solutions.

“Living in Orlando influenced my decision to attend UCF,” he says. “UCF has a really good engineering program — especially for computer science. I never was really trying to be the youngest graduate. But, being such a young graduate is something I’m proud of. I’m just a normal [alumnus].”

Adrian is one of UCF’s youngest graduates, in addition to a 16-year-old who graduated in 1998, according to a press release.

Michael Gilliam, ’93, Adrian’s father and College of Business Administration alumnus, says he was beaming ear to ear when he watched his son walk across the stage at graduation.

“I don’t think age had anything to do with [him] maintaining good grades and involvement,” Michael explains. “He just set his priorities and spent a lot of time making sure he had acceptable grades and high enough grades to get into graduate school if he decided to do that. I think it was just a matter of him setting his priorities.”

At the age of 4, Adrian started home schooling through Florida Virtual School. As he continued to learn online, taking honors and advanced placement courses, he was also learning martial arts and Mandarin, in which he is now fluent.

He enrolled at UCF at the age of 13.

“I think from the beginning, a lot of what encouraged me to take this route was my parents,” Adrian says. “As I started progressing, I definitely became more self-motivated. If I hadn’t of taken the route I did, I would be going into my senior year [of high school].”

His father accredits his patient and helpful personality to his involvement with martial arts.

In 2007, Adrian won his first of several national-level tournaments at the U.S. Open Karate Championships. At age 10, he earned his black belt.

“Growing up, people always said, ‘Don’t you miss normal school, or wish you went to normal school?’ Adrian says. “But, you can’t miss something you never had. I was very happy with the experience and opportunities I had. I felt like I was still able to get social interaction through things like martial arts while still being able to excel academically.”

He jokes about his biggest struggle at UCF being that he was not able to sign up for the Recreation and Wellness Center because he wasn’t 18.

During his time on campus, he served as president and vice president of the Asian Pacific American Coalition, senator for the College of Engineering and Computer Science in the Student Government Association, and an undergraduate teaching assistant for an introduction to programming course.

Although Adrian is currently taking a break from school, his long-term goal is to continue his education and eventually become a professor.

This article appeared in a May 20, 2015, edition of the Central Florida Future online. It has been slightly edited for style. See original story.

UCF Alumni’s Polar Hop Hits App Stores

polarhopmain   polarhopjourney   polarhoppath

By Katrina Poggio

Polar Hop, created by two UCF alumni, hopped into the App Store and Google Play on Feb. 19, 2015.

Friends since 8 years old, Ryan Underwood, ’14, and Timothy O’Shea, ’13, grew up in the video game boom of the ’90s and frequently played computer and video games together.

The mobile game application is a combination of Doodle Jump and Flappy Bird mixed with the strategic challenge of Candy Crush. The player utilizes a one-touch style platform to travel up the screen with a penguin named Puck.

“Basically, I became very jealous of Flappy Birds’ success and believed I could make a better game if I really put my mind to it,” Underwood said. “So, I mulled over the idea for a couple weeks, then one pleasant Friday afternoon after happy hour at the local UCF watering hole, I decided to call Tim and suggest the idea of developing our own game for iPhone and Android. Thus, Polar Hop was born!”

After Underwood’s epiphany, he and O’Shea consulted a friend, Kirk Henf, to gain greater knowledge in computer science. From that point on, the duo self-taught themselves code for the game, Underwood said. Then, the journey of creating Polar Hop began.

“Developing and coding Polar Hop was kind of like a big game of tug-of-war,” Underwood said. “One side was the mechanical one, the actual process of coding, and the other side was our creative ambition, development. Whenever we would come up with a great idea or feature to the game, we would have to go back to the mechanical end and figure out if it was possible.”

Polar Hop’s 100 levels include a survival mode in which players can earn Polar Points to purchase additional lives and power-ups to assist them through the story mode and make their way to the Polar Palace.

“We originally planned on making a version of the old ‘Winterbells’ game from desktop computers that we would play when [we were] bored in high school, but then decided to expand off that by having the user actually be involved in having to make the character hop on his own by tapping the screen, and then we had the idea of bringing the whole level aspect of it as well,” O’Shea said.

During the process of creating Polar Hop, the duo found a passion for game design and decided to create their very own company, Tall Dwarves LLC.

“After Polar Hop, which if it’s successful we’ll be working full time on it, but we’d like to publish different games that are very unique and try to expand to new and upcoming ideas that people would love,” O’Shea said.

This article was republished with permission from the author. It appeared in a Feb. 20, 2015, edition of Knights News online, but has been slightly edited in accordance to alumni association style guidelines. See original article.

Master of the Brewniverse

Alumnus crafts unique flavors for passionate connoisseurs


Ron Raike, ’91 | Brewmaster/Certified Cicerone, Cask & Larder

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Most people wouldn’t associate computer engineering with beer, but for Ron Raike, ’91, the two went together like a burger and an IPA. As he earned his master’s degree at UCF, Raike says the College of Engineering and Computer Science’s core program contributed to many aspects of the mechanics and methods of brewing, as well as the research and formulation required for the process. (His math minor didn’t hurt either.)

“I couldn’t afford what I liked to drink, and got interested in beer history, brewing culture and brewing science,” he explains. “Interest became a passion to figure out what went into beers from around the world, and trying to brew them on a small scale. Then, I realized that I had to get into the beer business.”

After working more than a decade for Shipyard Brewing Company, which focused on flavored beers, Raike decided he wanted to get back into the roots of brewing classic styles and local production to help Central Florida grow a local beer scene. He found that opportunity at Winter Park’s Cask & Larder, where he works as brewmaster and a certified cicerone (the beer equivalent to a wine sommelier).

Raike describes a typical day as: “Get in early, make beer. Make sure everything is working and flowing at the bar. Send kegs to the distributor. Formulate and schedule future beers. Work with Cask & Larder chefs in creating food-friendly products. Enjoy fruits of labor. Repeat!”

Pint of History
Cask & Larder is one of more than 2,800 small and independent craft breweries across the nation, and one of more than 100 in Florida — with many more to come.

According to the Florida Brewers Guild, our state’s brewers comprise only 5 percent of the total beer sold in Florida, yet they provide approximately 85 to 90 percent of all beer-related jobs.

In fact, other UCF alumni brewers are helping to create jobs in the Sunshine State. Tampa’s Cigar City Brewery has more than 50 full-time employees, including its vice president, Justin Clark, ’03, and is currently considering an $8 million expansion. In addition, Oakland Park’s Funky Buddha Brewery employs nearly 30 workers, including co-owner and brewmaster, Ryan Sentz, ’99, and is in the midst of a $3 million expansion.

Both breweries, along with Cask & Larder, regularly appear on “best of” beer lists, which are helping to drive a new kind of tourist to our state: craft beer enthusiasts. These passionate connoisseurs specifically plan vacations to states and cities that host their favorite breweries and give them an opportunity to check out new breweries.

Liquid Bread 101
Raike brews and serves up his recipes to plenty of beer tourists and locals alike, but he also shares his knowledge and passion with fellow Knights, as a guest lecturer for HFT 4864 — Seminar in Quality Brewing and Fine Beer in the UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management. He describes the course as taking students “from stabbing a can with a pencil and shotgunning it to pinky-out sampling to find the finer, subtle nuances of beer styles and how well each works with food pairings.”

As he inspires future generations of brewers, Raike hasn’t forgotten the influence UCF Professor Robert Ashley had on him when he was a student. He credits Ashley with giving him the motivating push that made him think about what he was focused on and where he was going in his life. And, he’s never looked back.

“It’s a passion for me — not work,” he says. “There are days when the time flies by. Sometimes, I’m busy all day and worked through the day without stopping, and without realizing 10 hours just went by.

“[Then, it’s] time for a beer.”

Q&A On Tap

Q. Favorite beer you’ve ever brewed?
A. I love peanut butter, so brewing any of the peanut butter beers I’ve released over the years is always a great day.

Q. Favorite craft beer/brewery?
A. Big fan of Odell’s in Fort Collins, Colo. All of their beers are solid, and I appreciate the growth and production model they follow. I always get excited when someone shares one with me. (Hint hint.)

Q. Have you ever brewed a beer that didn’t turn out so well?
A. I’m my worst critic. I’m always critical of my beers and brewing techniques, always looking at ways to improve and make them better next time. There are some beer styles that I’m not a fan of, but I brew them to make sure the customer is always seeing unique and different products.

Q. How do you come up with your recipes?
A. Some are thought out way in advance. Some are spontaneous when something new comes available or chefs are working on a new dish. I’m always thinking and talking to the chefs to see what they’re thinking and what might work as a pairing or on its own as a potential beer.

Q. If you could eat only one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
A. I hope a Cuban sandwich qualifies as a food — that would be my choice. And, a side of black beans and rice. I never get tired of this one.

Q. And, with what beer would you pair that food?
A. I am a fan of the freshest beer available and usually gravitate to the most recently tapped tank here or keg at a bar. Lately, I have been a big fan of hop-forward, session-style pale ales and IPAs. These are lower in alcohol, but bigger in flavor and are quite nice.

Q. What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten at Cask & Larder?
A. Top picks for me are the Bama Burger paired with the 5 Points India Pale Ale, the Grilled Redfish paired with Larder Lager, Happy Hour Oysters with the Olde Southern Ginger Wit, House-made Ribeye Hotdog with Red Drum Ale… I could go on.

Editor’s note: Since this article was published, Ron Raike left Cask & Larder to become the brewmaster for Playalinda Brewing Co.