Pride Commons Connection Leads To UCF Love Story

Alumnae Nicole and Cecil Chik met at Pride Commons when it opened in 2013 and married on campus four years later.

By Jenna Marina Lee

ORLANDO, Fla. (Feb. 12, 2018) – The wedding ring popped out of the box, rolled onto the gazebo floor and continued rolling right on into the depths of Lake Baldwin during the middle of Nicole Dumbroff ’15 and Cecil Chik ’09 ’15MA’s wedding ceremony.

Thanks to a scuba diver from theringfinders.com, the ring is back on Nicole’s finger after spending two weeks in the lake, and she laughs now as she recalls this romantic-comedy-esque moment of the couple’s five-year love story.

The Chiks’ wedding day is something they weren’t sure would happen when they met at UCF in 2013. But when Florida legalized same-sex marriage in January 2015 and the U.S. Supreme Court declared it a right nationwide six months later, social norms changed things for the couple in the best way possible.

“The same way that my family members asked my sister when she was going to marry her husband, they were now asking me. And they had never asked before,” Cecil said. “We’re married, so now the next question people are asking is, so when are you going to have kids? So, in a way, this has normalized my relationship in a way I never would have thought possible.”

Cecil immigrated to Miami from Hong Kong with her family in 1989. She grew up on Calle Ocho, learning to speak Spanish before English, and at her parents’ insistence, she was destined for a college education.

A first-generation student, she chose UCF because her cousin attended the university and enjoyed his experience. She strengthened her connection to the university by getting involved with the Campus Activities Board through the Office of Student Involvement.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics education and taught for Osceola and Orange County Public Schools before returning to UCF in 2013 as a graduate assistant within UCF’s LGBTQ+ Services and Multicultural Student Center to pursue a master’s degree in counselor education.

Her decision ended up changing the trajectory of her life both personally and professionally.

How They Met
One of her role’s main responsibilities included managing UCF’s first LGBTQ safe space on campus, Pride Commons. The space opened its doors for a test run during 2013’s summer semester before officially opening in September.

“I loved being a part of that beginning because I was able to set up something that I didn’t have in my undergrad for every single student that came afterwards. You can come in and you can play card games with people, and you don’t have to talk about different identities, but the people surrounding you, you know will understand your experience,” Cecil said.

During one of Cecil’s shifts, an undergraduate statistics student from Coral Springs walked in and struck up a conversation with her.

“I knew she was interested in me, but the thing is, I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to because I was a graduate assistant at the time and she was in undergrad,” Cecil said. “So I kind of skirted around the situation. I didn’t really say anything. She friended me on Facebook and I left it untouched.”

Nicole interjected: “For two weeks! I knew there may have been an ethical dilemma. She’s older than I am. We have a 7-and-a-half-year age difference.”

Cecil quickly cracked: “It’s her favorite thing to bring up,” and laughed.

Nicole continued: “I was used to being rejected because of my age. So I thought, you know what – it’s ok. If it has to remain a crush, it will remain a crush. I was accepting of that. But then she finally did accept my friend request.”

For the record, Cecil pointed out that she asked permission first from her supervisor at the time under the guise of asking advice about the situation for a friend. With no ethical conflict to worry about, the two quickly became attached to each other.

Two Weddings and One Lost Ring
Not long after, they had their first date: lunch at Mills Market and a stop at Lake Baldwin, where they had their first kiss.

Three years later, they proposed to each other. Cecil popped the question on Feb. 29, 2016, by recreating their first date, and Nicole returned the gesture in a surprise proposal on April 1.

They wanted to get married at UCF where their relationship began. They started planning for a November 2017 wedding but also decided to hold an intimate ceremony beforehand on Dec. 28, 2016, at Lake Baldwin in front of their families – the same date as Cecil’s grandparents’ anniversary.

Nicole’s aunt performed the ceremony. Cecil’s sister jumped into the lake to go after the ring. The whole family had a nice meal together afterward.

Nearly a year later, they held a big bash with all of their friends at Live Oak Event Center, just around the corner from Pride Commons where they first met.

“We made it to UCF’s Snap (chat) story. We had some friends text us afterward, ‘Over 300 people watched your first dance!’” Cecil said.

After “I Do”
The two now live in DeLand, where Cecil is the director of diversity and inclusion at Stetson University.

“Opening Pride Commons and having the ability to stand up and fight for something I personally believe in, and also be able to do it on behalf of a community I belong to, is really what kickstarted my passion to do the diversity and inclusion work I do now,” Cecil said.

Nicole received a Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship to obtain her master’s degree at UCF and is guaranteed a job with the Department of Defense in California after she graduates this spring with her degree in statistical computing with a data mining track.

The two will move this summer to the West Coast but they will always have a special place in their hearts for Orlando and UCF.

“UCF always felt like a welcoming place. I never felt like I had to hide my identity. Because Orlando is a pretty gay-friendly city and the sheer size of the school, there’s so much diversity,” Nicole said.

Cecil added: “I am very grateful to UCF for dedicating a space to LGBTQ+ inclusivity because it didn’t just provide a safe space for queer-identified people – I found the love of my life there.”

The couple commemorated their wedding date with a brick on Knights Terrace at UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know — Oct. 12, 2015

Here are five things you should know this week:

  1. In honor of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, UCF is hosting several events this month to encourage people to talk about domestic violence and learn more about the impact this crime has not only on the victims, but the entire community.
  2. The UCF Communications Disorders Clinic opened its doors to the public on Friday, showcasing its new state-of-the-art facility in Central Florida Research Park.
  3. The UCF Alumni Association is giving Knights an inside look at ways to help your children prepare for one of the most important decisions of their lives — applying for college! Join us this Wednesday from 6:30-8 p.m. at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center for our Legacy Admissions Workshop.
  4. Thirteen UCF Alumni chapters and clubs participated in this year’s Knights Give Back, the university’s annual day of service.
  5. The UCF RESTORES clinic is helping veterans combat PTSD, but it needs your help to continue its vital work!

Battling PTSD at the UCF RESTORES Clinic

With an intensive new approach to exposure therapy, UCF clinicians and graduate students are finding remarkable success in helping veterans master traumatic memories. But the Department of Defense grant that funds their work runs out next year.

Just reading the labels on the rows of little jars seems like enough to trigger a traumatic memory: CORDITE, DIESEL FUEL, BURNING TRASH, BODY ODOR, GUNPOWDER, BURNT HAIR. And if it doesn’t, the carefully concocted scents inside — delivered to patients’ nostrils with precision fans while they “see” corresponding visuals inside high-tech headsets — almost certainly will.

But that’s exactly the idea behind this kind of exposure therapy — to deliberately return  patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, via virtual reality, to the scenes and situations that haunt them. “If we do this repeatedly,” says UCF psychology professor Deborah Beidel, “say, ‘okay, take me through what happened to you,’ while the memory may remain, it loses its ability to elicit anxiety and allows them to once again function in the world.”

It’s by no means an easy process though. With virtual reality headsets, audio equipment, scent machines and even a pad underfoot to simulate the vibration of explosions, Beidel and her colleagues and graduate students can recreate with almost disturbing fidelity the exact traumatic events that patients remember. On occasion, the responses have been intense enough that patients have vomited during therapy.

Still, it works, as it did for Marine First Sergeant Doug Hester, who came to UCF RESTORES — an on-campus clinic for active duty personnel and veterans who developed PTSD as a result of serving in the Iraq and/or Afghanistan conflicts — struggling with anxiety and hypervigilance and growing steadily more isolated from his former life and the people in it.

After a 17-week program of virtual reality exposure therapy to address anxiety, combined with carefully designed group therapy to address anger, social isolation and depression, Hester says he’s back to his old self. “We got in there and addressed the issue,” he says, which was exactly what he wanted to do, instead of more traditional talk therapy or medication.

In fact, that combination of intense exposure therapy with targeted group therapy works for a remarkable number of patients. At the end of the treatment — either the 17-week program Hester did or an intensive, three-week program — more than 60 percent of patients no longer meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD.

The problem, to put it very simply, is there are too many Hesters and not enough Beidels. The $5 million Department of Defense grant that allowed Beidel to establish the clinic in 2011 only covers treatment of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, not those from other conflicts. Nor does it allow Beidel and her colleagues to treat other groups, like first responders, who actually suffer from PTSD at a higher rate than the military. “We turn away a lot of people,” she says.

Even among the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans that UCF RESTORES is funded to treat, the clinic is hardly able to scratch the surface of the overwhelming need for care. Patients — who are referred from all over the country by Veterans Administration personnel, private clinicians and on-base psychologists — go through treatment in groups of four to six at a time, which doesn’t do much to defray the long waits — sometimes over a year — for PTSD treatment from the VA.

The only realistic answer, of course, lies in exponentially increasing the number of clinicians trained in this new kind of treatment. “A lot of clinicians are afraid to do exposure therapy with people with combat-related PTSD,” says Beidel. “They don’t know how to do it, and they believe the myths. We have data to show that even in this intensive program, people don’t increase alcohol use, don’t become more suicidal. None of those things that people think should happen, happen.”

So, alongside treating as many patients as possible, another of Beidel’s primary objectives is training as many clinicians as possible. The way she sees it, her graduate students will leave campus and establish their own practices or clinics, or join the faculty at other universities, where they’ll not only treat more patients but also train more clinicians, who in turn will train more, creating a ripple effect that has the potential to make a real difference.

Additionally, Beidel hopes to bring postdoctoral fellows, medical students, practicing clinicians and others to the clinic to train them in the same interventions. The demand is already there, she says, just not the funding, since current grants don’t cover training.

That crucial Department of Defense grant runs out soon, and at the point, absent some additional funding source, Beidel and her colleagues will essentially shut the doors. They’ll continue their research, of course, and continue training graduate students, but there won’t be any more money to pay for the costs of treatment — equipment, supplies, and the licensed clinicians required to keep the doors open. “You can’t run a project with people with this level of emotional distress with graduate students,” Beidel says, “because they can’t be available for emergencies, they can’t take on the number of participants that are in need of treatment, they can’t keep a clinic open 40 hours a week, which is what we need.”

More Info

UCF RESTORES