Five Things Alumni Need to Know This Week – May 7, 2018

Photo of Jaha Dukureh
Jaha Dukureh (Photo by UCF Knight News)

1. More than 8,100 UCF graduates joined the UCF Alumni family over the weekend, including Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Jaha Dukureh. The renowned activist and United Nations goodwill ambassador earned her master’s degree through UCF’s online nonprofit management program. She studied the field to better understand how to run her own nonprofit organization, which she started to help put an end to female genital mutilation. Read her incredible story


2. Speaking of graduation, the spring class was the last for President John C. Hitt, who will be retiring from the presidency in June. Since its inception, the university has awarded 318,000 degrees, 82 percent of them while Hitt was president.

3. The 2018 ChargeOn Tour has its first stop scheduled for Tuesday, May 8, at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville for the Jumbo Shrimp’s game against the Tennessee Smokies. Head coaches Josh Heupel, Katie Abrahamson-Henderson and Johnny Dawkins along with Vice President and Director of Athletics Danny White will be all be part of the program, which starts at 6:15 p.m. at the Sea Best Shrimp Deck. Purchase your ticket, which also includes an all-you-can-eat picnic package.

4. The UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management Alumni Chapter is hosting a panel of five outstanding UCF alumni on May 15 at 6 p.m. In addition to sharing their personal stories, the panelists from organizations including Walt Disney Company, Universal and the Orlando Magic will discuss themes like leadership, career development and achieving professional success. Register Now

5. Just a friendly reminder that Teacher Appreciation Day is Wednesday, May 8. Did a UCF professor make an impact on your life? Consider taking a few moments out of your day to send them a note telling them what they mean to you!

P.S. Go buy your mom a card and some UCF gear from Barnes & Noble  — Mother’s Day is Sunday, May 13.

Once In A Generation

Samantha and mom Jodi_2
By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. — Samantha Ogden was sitting on a patio looking out at nature in her hometown of Sorrento, Florida, when she got the email. The email from UCF that stated she was graduating this summer with her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a minor in psychology.

“I closed my phone, and I cried,” she said. “Nobody in my family has gone on to higher education.”

Ogden is from a two-stoplight town on the outskirts of Mount Dora. The population from the 2010 Census was listed at 861.

“It’s the town everyone passes through to get gas,” she said.

Ogden came to UCF as a DirectConnect student from Lake-Sumter State College. Just before earning her associate’s degree, she was brought to UCF’s campus for the first time by a friend who was a Knight.

They walked from the education building to the Reflecting Pond, and Ogden thought they had covered campus and the tour was done.

“I was like, ‘This is it? Cool.’ He said, ‘Oh no. Come with me,’” she recalled. “We walked and we walked and we walked, and we stopped in front of COHPA (College of Health and Public Affairs). He said, ‘You see that down there? The Arena? There’s more. All of these are classrooms. And this is your college.’ I was so intimidated by it.”

Ogden had her heart set on a criminal justice degree ever since the fourth grade when her school held career week. She said it is an accomplishment in Sorrento to graduate from high school, let alone college.

Her mother, Jodi, was a driving force behind Ogden’s desire to achieve more.

Ogden took her mother to campus for the first time last week to pick up her gown and cap, which they decorated together with a ‘Country Bumpkin’ theme. It’s the nickname her co-workers gave her.

“She’s the only person I want going with me to do this,” Ogden said. “She has been so hard on me to complete it and do it. All she’s been talking about for the last year is me graduating. She should be here. She should get to enjoy it.”

Jodi was diagnosed with chronic Hepatitis C while Ogden was in school at UCF. She went through treatment for three months.

“I was stuck in bed, and she was always there. She continued school and we carried on,” Jodi said. “I’ve been a single mother for 18 years. I raised three kids. We all know how to pull together, work together.”

Ogden not only helped care for her mother and continued school, she started her own wallpaper company, Water Lilly Construction.

Ogden developed a deep interest in set design and carpentry in her spare time, which led to her professional endeavor. She plans to continue growing her business after graduation.

She said the biggest takeaway from her college experience was embracing the transformation that comes along with the journey.

“There’s a big world out there and this (college) is how you get there,” she said. “The purpose of the university is to expand your mind. Along with change comes friction and difficulty and dissonance in yourself. You’re going to feel discouraged or like it’s too much pressure. But every time things get really difficult, you have to remember that’s a sign that something is happening, something is changing, and you’re going to crest over that hill.”

Second Time Around

Kim Hardiman

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. — When Kim Hardiman first realized she needed to go back to school, she resisted. She already possessed bachelor’s and master’s degrees plus years of teaching experience on her resume.

Now with graduation day in sight and a second master’s degree under her belt, she views her decision to come to UCF as a blessing.

“As an older teacher, you think you know it all and you don’t,” she said. “The teachers here at UCF are the best I’ve ever had in my life. I value this master’s degree more than the first one I got.”

Hardiman was born in Hong Kong and was an orphan for the first five years of her life until a couple from New York adopted her. She said she was lucky that her parents wanted an older child.

“Most children in the orphanage, they end up working in the factories,” she said. “I was very blessed. Every adversity [I faced], there was a twist or a turn that something good happened over it.”

Her upbringing in New York introduced her to people from all cultures and backgrounds. As she got older and started traveling overseas to places like the Middle East, Thailand, South America and Europe, she grew to love those cultures even more.

“I just realized there is so much to learn. It’s not just from the textbook,” she said. “When you’re in another country and speaking to someone in another language, it comes alive.”

She studied art at Stony Brook University and earned her master’s in fine arts from Hunter College in the 1980s. She remained in New York, living as an artist and a dancer. She picked up traditional Chinese ribbon dancing to reconnect with her heritage.

Sept. 11, 2001, changed things for her. She used to ride the subway into the World Trade Center frequently and said she was supposed to perform a dance there the day of the attack. She didn’t feel well that morning and decided not to go.

The galleries that displayed her artwork shut down while the city began rebuilding. She felt she needed a change and eventually moved to Florida.

Her passion for interacting with the international community prompted her to return to school to pursue teaching. She completed her Teaching English as a Foreign Language graduate certificate at UCF in 2005 before spending the next decade at Embry Riddle Language Institute. She also served as Embry Riddle’s Asian Student Union advisor.

When teaching requirements changed, Hardiman needed to earn a second master’s degree if she wanted to continue her career. So she returned to UCF 11 years after earning her original certificate.

She juggled three classes a semester while also teaching two courses as a graduate assistant. Although she said it was a lot to handle, she excelled and was selected as the 2016 Sunshine State Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) of Florida Outstanding Educator Award.

“I value what I do with my education because now I can help other people. I want to ignite the passion [in them] to go back to school. Don’t ever say no to education,” she said. “That’s my message as an alumni. Take the risk. Try something new. Try a class you don’t know. Even work with teachers you hate because you learn the most from the teachers you had the hardest time with.”

Summer Graduate Makes It Count

Consuelo and daugter Yuri
Consuelo Rodriguez ’16 and daughter Yuridia

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. — Seven-year-old Yuridia Rodriguez sat next to her mother, Consuelo, and watched as her nickname Yuri was spelled out in gold stickers on a black graduation cap.

Her brother’s name, Alex, age 2, was placed down next.

“I just figured that since they’ve had to sacrifice also, I’m going to put my kids on here,” said Consuelo Rodriguez, an accounting graduate. “I’m going to put the Mexican and American flags. I’m going to put something UCF. A little bit of everything just to show what we’ve been through.”

Rodriguez, a resident of Lake County, started at UCF in 2005. When she had her daughter, she took time off but made it a priority to go back to school, even if it took her years to finish her degree.

She said she has taken one class a semester while still juggling a full-time job and taking care of her family. Rodriguez said there were times she was on campus until 3 a.m. studying or working on assignments and would then have to drive an hour home.

“I’ve been doing it more for them to show them that it’s possible and they can do it,” she said as she looked at Yuridia. “When they grow up and it’s their turn, they can see that I did it. They need to go above what I did.”

She hopes to attend graduate school to pursue a master’s degree in accounting. Her parents, husband, children and three siblings will all be in attendance to watch her cross the stage at CFE Arena on graduation day.

“It just feels awesome. I thought it was never going to finish,” she said. “Our family doesn’t have a lot of graduates. It means a lot to everybody.”

Dog Days of Summer Graduation

Amanda and Ridley
Amanda Overend ’16 and dog-in-training Ridley

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. — Amanda Overend takes pride in propagating what has become a life motto: “Help is a four-legged word.”

The Orlando native associates her college experience with volunteering – a passion she found five years ago.

Her most recent philanthropic endeavor has been helping raise puppies for Canine Companions for Independence, a non-profit organization that enhances the lives of people with disabilities by providing highly trained assistance dogs.

UCF is the first public university in Florida to have an agreement with the organization and allow dogs to be raised on campus. Overend has trained three dogs: Deacon, Asland and her current golden-lab mix, Ridley.

“It’s had a huge impact on me,” she said.

So much so that she included the dogs’ names on her cap and will have Ridley in the audience on graduation day along with her parents and best friend since middle school.

Overend said it took her 11 years to earn her bachelor’s degree in psychology. In finding her way, she moved across the country and back, and changed degree paths several times from web design to biology to marketing and nursing before finally landing on psychology.

“When I switched to psychology, I fell in love once I found classes that I actually enjoyed,” she said. “UCF is home. My aunt went here, and I actually felt a part of the school of psychology.”

Although she calls it a long journey, she values her experience at UCF and encourages others to use their time in college to explore who they are and what is important to them.

“It’s really not a race,” she said. “Just go at your own speed and find a degree that you truly feel passionate about. Not just one that is going to be easy.”

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

graduation-fall2015

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. :)

Mom and Daughter Graduate on Same Day

Mother-Daughter-graduation
Debbie Tyson and daughter Raina Sims both received their UCF degrees
during graduation ceremonies on Friday, May 8.
(Photo: Richard Diaz)

By Charneisha Pates
UCF Today

Debbie Tyson had an early Mother’s Day celebration this week: Both she and one of her daughters graduated from UCF on the same day. Tyson picked up her psychology degree during the 9 a.m. Friday commencement ceremony at CFE Arena, and then watched daughter Raina Sims accept her elementary education degree during the 2:30 p.m. ceremony. Both graduated with honors.

For Tyson, a degree was something she always wanted to attain, but, for the stay-at-home mother, going back to school didn’t always seem to fit into the plans she had for her family. Then, in 2008, her family relocated to Florida and her dreams of obtaining a degree soon became a reality.

Tyson returned to the classroom after 30 years, initially enrolling as a business major at Seminole State College in Sanford. It wasn’t until she took an entry-level psychology class that she discovered a love for psychology and switched her major.

Sims also soon began studying at Seminole State.

“I showed her the ropes, how to get into the honor society, to select classes and professors because I had already taken those classes and professors,” Tyson says. The two spent much of their time at school together, even enrolling in one of the same classes.

“We sat together, did homework together, and ate lunch together,” Sims explains. “I would bring my friends over to the house for lunch, and mom would make soup.”

After graduating from Seminole State, Tyson went on to UCF through DirectConnect, where she studied psychology. Once again, Sims followed in her mom’s footsteps.

“I believe it has been a sense of competition for her to excel, and maintain her GPA,” Tyson says. “It makes me feel like I have showed my children that you can excel.”

Another daughter, Kirsten Sims, will graduate from Lake Mary High School at the end of this month.

After commencement, Tyson plans to continue higher education courses.

“Going to college, studying under well-known professors, and reading material for classes directed my education in many different ways,” Tyson says. “It opened up doors and helped me to realize different potential in myself.”

As for Sims, she hopes to land a job with the Seminole County Public School district.

Editor’s note: This story was slightly edited from its original version to reflect an event that has now taken place in the past. 

Scholarships Make Champions Shine Brighter

Thanks to his hard work — and first generation scholarship — No. 19 wide receiver, Josh Reese, '14, graduated with his bachelor's degree in summer 2014. Over the span of his UCF athletic career, he's helped the Knights win multiple conference championships and bowl games.
Thanks to his hard work — and First Generation Scholarship — No. 19 Wide Receiver Josh Reese, ’14, graduated with his bachelor’s degree in summer 2014. Over the span of his UCF athletic career, Reese has helped the Knights win multiple conference championships and bowl games.

By Angie Lewis, ’03

As UCF Football prepares for its final game of the season, facing the N.C. State Wolfpack in the 2014 Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl on Dec. 26, it also prepares to say goodbye to 21 seniors, who helped the team win back-to-back AAC championships and earn three consecutive bowl invitations.

While fans may know each player’s number and position, and be familiar with his performance on the field, what they may not know is how each got there.

One of those seniors is the Knights’ No. 19 wide receiver, Josh Reese, ’14, from Miami Central High School, whose energizing 30-yard reception, followed by Quarterback Justin Holman’s keeper, helped to briefly put UCF ahead of Penn State in the last two minutes of Ireland’s Croke Park Classic on Aug. 30.

“He’s really the one guy who sticks out as being the leader of the receiving group,” says UCF Wide Receivers Coach Sean Beckton, ’93. “He’s the one guy you can count on to go out and do everything right.”

In addition to his physical abilities, part of Reese’s success is also thanks to his First Generation Scholarship. He’s one of about 75 UCF student-athletes who receive financial assistance to help them succeed as the first person in their families to attend college.

“Having a First Generation Scholarship helped me get to college in general,” Reese says. “It also made it possible for me to go to a bigger and better college like UCF, and not only play football, but achieve a degree.”

Reese completed his bachelor’s degree in sport and exercise science this past summer.

“Everything that he’s gotten thus far, as far as the recognition here, he’s deserving of it, because he’s worked extremely hard,” Beckton says.

And, Reese isn’t the only UCF student-athlete who works hard on the field and off. The graduation rate of UCF’s student-athletes is 95 percent — the highest rate in the country among public institutions and fifth overall.

The graduate rate for UCF Football, specifically, is 90 percent, which is 10th overall among football programs and second among public institutions. The program has also won the Academic Excellence Award for having the highest GPA in the conference for the past three years.

“It’s always good to give back to people who may not have opportunities to go to college and beyond,” Reese says. “Never count out anyone.”

More Info

  • Get the numbers! JOSH REESE’S STATS
  • The Knights rank among the nation’s top bowl teams in the classroom. READ MORE
  • UCF recently celebrated the groundbreaking of The Wayne Densch Center for Student-Athlete Leadership. READ MORE
  • Want to make a difference in the life of a first generation college student? DONATE TODAY