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. :)
You’ve turned in your last assignment, taken your last test and walked across the stage at graduation. But, there’s still one thing to do: Find a job.
Employers are planning to hire 9.6 percent more college graduates than they did last year, according to a recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
Sean Snaith, director of UCF’s Institute for Economic Competitiveness, said it seems to be a high percentage — even though Orlando is the fastest-growing metro area in the country, with more than 4 percent in terms of job growth. That’s well over the state’s rate of growth at around 3 percent and twice the national rate, which is just above 2 percent.
“We’re now in the seventh year of this economic recovery,” Snaith said. “I think hiring has been improving not rapidly, but improving steadily.”
Lynn Hansen, executive director of UCF Career Services, said it’s a combination of the economy and the university’s location that makes Orlando an advantageous area for graduates.
“I think we’re fortunate that we’re located where we’re located,” she said. “With the history of technology companies, transportation, health care and hospitality here, I think we have a lot going for us.”
Big-name corporations, such as Pepsi, Frito-Lay, Target, Lockheed Martin, Yelp, Yahoo and even the CIA, have all come to UCF to recruit students. Hansen said employer recruitment on campus has seen a significant increase. In spring, Career Services was actively working with 1,077 employers — an increase from 563.
“To me, that’s an indication that the demand is up for talent,” she said.
In a 2013-14 Career Services survey of 8,658 graduating students, 71 percent said they were seeking full-time or part-time employment. Of that number, 42 percent were already in the workforce or had accepted job offers, and 8 percent had been offered positions.
Students who were already employed or had received a full-time job were in the hospitality services and health care industries. Education and engineering were other popular choices.
Also in 2013, the Florida Department of Education found that out of the 12,047 UCF fall graduates, 68 percent of those who found jobs in Florida were still employed a year after graduation.
But, these statistics aren’t the whole picture, Hansen said.
There are plenty of students who get jobs out of state or in other countries who aren’t counted as part of these totals.
Hansen said students who do fall in the employment statistics can improve their chances of being hired by joining campus organizations, volunteering with clubs, conducting undergraduate research, finding internships or getting part-time jobs.
“Those things help build that student into a person … that the working world is looking for,” she added.
For graduating students looking for work, it all comes down to planning.
“It’s never too early to begin the process,” Hansen said. “Finding that great job after graduation isn’t like picking up your cap and gown on the way to the commencement ceremony.”
Six Rosen College grads working at Florida’s most luxurious resorts share what it really takes to make dream vacations come true
By Kathy Dorf
Rosen College Public Relations
Ever wondered what it takes to keep the world’s most luxurious resorts running smoothly? The answer is a lot of hard work, dedication and very special people. Because they work where everyone wants to vacation, these individuals are charged with a unique yet challenging mission: to make vacation dreams come true.
Six Rosen College graduates working at the Four Seasons Resort Orlando and The Breakers, two world-renowned luxury brands, offer an inside perspective on how the hospitality industry’s finest resorts create unforgettable and unparalleled guest experiences every day.
Kristina Rosar, ’08, Ravello restaurant and lounge assistant manager
Kathryn Shook, ’09, reservations manager
Hetul Patel, ’10, guest services manager
What attracted you to joining Four Seasons Resort Orlando/The Breakers and becoming part of their team?
Rivera-Florez: What really attracted me the most was the fact that I get to be a part of history in Orlando with the first Four Seasons in the area. In the future, I want to be able to open hotels and be a part of new teams and experiences and this job has given me that opportunity. Strout: I always wanted to be a part of Four Seasons and an opening team, and it was a bonus that this hotel was in Orlando – an area that was not only familiar to me, but also in the hospitality mecca. Orlando is such an amazing city because you are surrounded by the most amazing talent and have the opportunity to experience guests from all around the world. I knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity! Staub: I wanted to be a part of the best hotel and team in Orlando, and I wanted to learn from the best! Rosar: Whether things are positive or negative, an organization finds its destiny with the attitude and drive of its leadership. In this case, the passion and love for the industry from the leadership, along with their positive attitudes keep associates happy and motivated! Shook: From the age of 16, I recognized what The Breakers had was truly special. The team’s passion for what they do and the family culture they’ve created exudes from each employee. Patel: Our General Manager Tricia Taylor came to speak at Rosen College in the fall of 2010. During her presentation, she really stressed the family culture at The Breakers. Company culture was always the most important thing for me when I was looking for a job. It was The Breakers’ culture, history and brand reputation that influenced my decision to choose the team.
How do you think the luxury travel segment is different from others from the perspective of a hospitality professional? Does it require different skills or strengths?
Rivera-Florez: Guests in this segment of travel really expect a level of service that has to be perfectly executed and that is definitely a skill by itself. Employees have to be extremely knowledgeable about their job and property. Patel: The luxury segment is all about creating lasting memories for our guests through personalized, proactive service and focusing on the small details. The segment is always leading the way, introducing new and innovative ideas to serve guests. In order to succeed, you need a team that is familiar with all industry segments and can demonstrate high attention to detail, exhibit creativity and adapt to constant change. Strout: Any hotel can make a bed properly or have clean dishes, a nice pool and more, but what sets apart the luxury segment from the rest of the industry are the driven, passionate, empathetic individuals that make up the team and work tirelessly every day to create unforgettable experiences for our guests. Our guests not only expect to have a clean room, a delicious meal and a flawless experience from check-in to check-out, but also expect to feel an emotional connection with the hotel, which comes from experiencing warm, genuine and anticipatory service from our employees. Rosar: I believe that those who work for luxury hotels have a “sense of pride” to ensure their guests stay is the best one they’ve ever had. The passion and compassion these associates have for making someone’s day better is incomparable. To get up and go to work every day, knowing you can and will make a difference in someone’s life by allowing them to fully relax is worth the hours that we put in.
What’s your favorite thing you’ve been able to do in your job?
Strout: I was lucky enough to be one of the first employees on property, back when the hotel was still under construction and I had to wear a hard hat and construction boots to work every day. The best part of being one of the first team members is that there really aren’t procedures in place. I had the opportunity to create policies and procedures, train new employees, design collateral and play a big part in how the Sales Team operates every day. Shook: Being a member of our Community Relations team has been something that has been especially meaningful to me. We have been encouraging our 2,000 team members to volunteer in our community and give back in many ways. Last fiscal year, we recorded 13,058 hours! Rivera-Florez: Taking charge and ownership of the new golf store and retail business in the hotel. It has definitely shown me the business [aspect] of retail [as it relates] to the guest experience. We work closely with buyers and make sure that all the product that we have is the right product to deliver the best service that we can.
What are the key lessons you’ve learned so far from working in the luxury travel segment?
Shook: I’ve learned that every detail in making a guest’s experience special goes a long way, from a simple “Happy Birthday,” to arranging an extravagant excursion. Strout: It’s sometimes better ask a guest if you can take the time to investigate an issue and get all of the answers for them so you can come up with the best solution than to hastily give them an answer or compensation that doesn’t solve the problem. The key is to fully understand the problem so you can do everything possible to make sure it doesn’t happen in the future! Rivera-Florez:Smile. It is the most important lesson and advice you can learn and give. You can’t teach anyone to smile, but if they do it naturally, it’s the most rewarding thing you can give as part of the guest experience. Rosar: Always have multiple alternatives for the guest if you cannot complete their initial request. When people have choices, they feel as if they are in control.
How did your experience at Rosen College prepare you for working in the luxury travel segment and your current role?
Rivera-Florez: The best lesson that Rosen College gave us is that most of our professors are still working in the industry and keeping up with all the changes that hospitality is going through. It is a [constantly] changing industry and employees, as well as the company, need to keep everything updated as the market evolves. Professors really speak from real experience and not a book lesson. Shook: Rosen College prepared me for my career at The Breakers by giving me the opportunity to have hands-on, real-life experiences. The tools that I learned in each of my classes have carried through into every aspect of my job. I am better educated in several revenue management practices and am able to pick up new responsibilities quickly as a result of my time at Rosen College. Staub: My experience at Rosen prepared me for my role because of the opportunities that were available. From the career fairs to internships and planning real events…Rosen really put things into perspective.
What was your favorite part about attending Rosen College?
Patel: My favorite part about attending Rosen College was the ability to speak with professors for advice and guidance. Smaller class sizes and a separate campus made professors accessible and easy to meet with. Rivera-Florez: Being able to have such a big family in the industry. When you start working in hospitality, you notice how many people you know in all the hotels around the area and around the world. In the future, you are going to be able to network easier and be a part of a new generation of the hospitality industry.
What advice would you give to current and potential Rosen College students interesting in entering the luxury travel segment?
Rosar: I would ensure they understand that hospitality is not only a career, but a lifestyle. It is fun, exciting and ever-changing. There are many opportunities that will allow you to travel around the world, grow within organizations very quickly and meet incredible people that could potentially turn into lifelong friends. I would also encourage all students to delve deep into the things they find interesting while they have time before they enter their career role, i.e. if you are interested in working in restaurants, work on enhancing your knowledge of wine and food. Staub: I would advise them to intern at a luxury property or to look into a Management Training program. Don’t burn bridges! The person sitting next to you could help you get the job or be your future employer. Patel: Gain as much experience as possible prior to graduation. The luxury segment requires you to have knowledge of all areas of hospitality and having experience in a variety of positions will give you the competitive advantage. Shook: My advice would be to not be afraid to work your way up through the business and to step outside of your comfort zone. By limiting yourself to only accepting management roles right out of college, there are key components to your growth and development that are missed. You never know what is going to end up being your niche until you open yourself up to all opportunities. Strout: A colleague of mine sent out this great quote that I think sums it up: Your smile is your logo. Your personality is your business card. How you leave others feeling after having an experience with you becomes yourtrademark.
Graduate. Get a job. Get promoted. Climb the ladder. Succeed. That’s what most students think life after college is all about. Three alumnae recently spoke to Wilfried Iskat’s Introduction to Lodging class at Rosen College about the unexpected curves and swerves that come after graduation and how to make the most of the journey.
Jamie Realander, ’11, Kate Thomas, ’05, and Jennifer Garcia, ’09, all traveled unconventional paths to their current jobs, but found that their experiences helped them realize their true potential and discover their professional passions.
Realander is a conference center sales manager for the Rosen Plaza Hotel in Orlando, and, although she just graduated in 2011, is already a veteran employee of the company. Realander started working for Rosen Hotels & Resorts in February 2006 and rotated through multiple positions learning hotel operations. Then, in June 2011, she took an opportunity to work for the new JW Marriott in Indianapolis. Personal matters led her to return to Orlando and the company she refers to as “family.”
Realander hopes the future holds the opportunity to open her own boutique hotel and credits Rosen College for guiding her in the right direction to someday realize that goal. She encourages students to make the most of their time before graduation.
“Life after Rosen has drastically changed and I am not quite sure how I juggled school and a full-time career before,” Realander said. “Take advantage of every opportunity and be sure to get your name out there. There is something to be learned in every experience. You may not realize it at the time, but hindsight is 20/20.”
Thomas, a marketing manager for the Hyatt Regency Orlando, found herself doing work she never expected on her way to her current position, including human resources, revenue management, digital media and email marketing. Thomas stressed the importance of volunteering for projects and trying new things, despite lacking prior education and training, in order to continuously learn and provide value to your employer.
“My life after Rosen has been unpredictable as far as a career path goes,” Thomas said. “What was predictable is that I graduated with the skills and work ethic to make a go of anything I pursued. Every experience counts, no matter what the job, volunteer experience or interaction — it will teach you something.”
Garcia says Rosen College taught her to dream big and reminded students to believe they can achieve their goals even if they can’t see a straight path to success. Garcia currently works for the Florida Panthers hockey team as a client management specialist, but infiltrating the sports industry proved difficult despite her persistence. With aspirations to become the senior vice president of events for the NFL and produce the Super Bowl, she encourages students to prepare for professional rejection, no matter how focused or accomplished they are while pursuing their degrees.
“Life after Rosen was eye opening,” Garcia said. “No matter how strategic your internships or how many hands you shake in college, there comes a time where you lose the ‘help me and hire me because I’m a student’ umbrella. My advice would be to prepare yourself for rejection because it makes it easier to power through. You learn the true value of resiliency and you become hungrier and hungrier to land the next interview.”
Internships with the Vans Warped Tour, the Starbucks VIA Taste Tour, and Super Bowl XVIII appeared to place former event management and hospitality management double major Jennifer Garcia’s, ’09, career trajectory on a crash course with success after college. However, after Garcia initially graduated from the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management, the alumna couldn’t even find employment as a hostess due to the economic recession in the United States.
Fast forward nearly four years later, when Garcia returned to her alma mater to inspire current hospitality students with her story of resiliency, as she went from unemployed college grad to assisting with multi-million dollar celebrity weddings and now a new career in professional sports.
“After I graduated, I wanted to work in the event industry,” Garcia said. “I was applying everywhere, but, at the time, everyone was cutting back and I literally couldn’t even get hired as a hostess. It was extremely discouraging, considering that I just graduated from a prestigious hospitality college and had such great internship experience. But, I refused to give up on my career. When you give up, you’re giving your opportunity away to someone else.”
Garcia’s relentless pursuit of employment eventually paid off after months of job hunting, when in January 2010, she was hired by a Miami-based event designer.
“I ended up getting hired by Nuage Designs, where I began working in luxury weddings,” Garcia recalled. “I didn’t realize the experience that I would be gaining from this job until one day, my boss put me on a plane to New York, where I found myself delivering table linens for Chelsea Clinton’s wedding.”
Over the course of her three and a half years of employment with Nuage Designs, Garcia opened an office in New York, created partnerships for destination weddings, and assisted with several celebrity nuptials, including Grammy Award-winner Carrie Underwood and reality TV star Kim Zolciak, whose wedding appeared on Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.”
“I learned a lot from this job opportunity, but I knew I needed to leave the wedding industry to chase my dream job,” Garcia said. “My goal is to one day become the events director for the NFL.”
Garcia again faced adversity in finding employment, as many professional sports recruiters refused to hire her, as she had no previous professional experience within the industry.
“It was extremely frustrating,” Garcia said. “How was I supposed to start gaining industry experience when no one was willing to hire a person without previous experience?”
But, again, Garcia refused to give up on her goal, as the alumna continued to submit her resume and attend networking functions.
Her resiliency paid off again, as the alumna ultimately received job offers from at least two professional sports teams, and recently accepted a position with the NHL’s Florida Panthers, as a group sales manager.
“I came back to Rosen to speak with students about facing adversity,” Garcia said. “I know that some of these students will face the same employment challenges that I did and I wanted to tell them what happens when you don’t give up.”
Students’ start-up company gets first taste of big success
UCF is one of 15 colleges and universities in the Blackstone LaunchPad network, a co-curricular, experiential campus program designed to introduce entrepreneurship as a viable career path and develop entrepreneurial skills and mindsets through individualized coaching, idea and venture-creation support.
At the end of October, the Blackstone Charitable Foundation held its inaugural Blackstone LaunchPad Conference and Demo Day in New York City, for which UCF students Jesse Wolfe and Ryan Atkins were chosen to participate and ultimately took home the $15,000, second-place award for their business venture, O’Dang Hummus.
A few months ago, Phil Santos, venture coach and community manager for UCF’s Blackstone LaunchPad, spoke to O’Dang’s founder for the UCF Starters blog (ucfstarters.org) to get the story behind Wolfe’s sensible, smooth snack. Here’s how the conversation went:
Q. Tell me a little bit about O’Dang Hummus.
A. With O’Dang Hummus, we’re really trying to revolutionize the hummus industry. Hummus has been such an ethnic dish that hasn’t changed in forever. The major players in the market right now are all doing the exact same flavors. We don’t want to do your classic, traditional hummus. Our idea is to be the rebels, the disruptive kids of hummus. We’re the guys who are coming out with the crazy color schemes, the funky logos and the fun ads. We’re making hummus fun and exciting. Our whole goal is to familiarize hummus across the United States, and then to go global.
Q. What’s your history with hummus?
A. I never really knew what hummus was until three years ago. I had my wisdom teeth pulled out, and I had my cheeks all swollen at home. I got tired of eating milkshakes and soups and that stuff, so I started eating Sabra [hummus]. And, that’s when it hit me that there are only four or five flavors of this stuff. So, I started going into the kitchen and whipping up my own hummus just to get me through the week.
My girlfriend at the time was taking it to work. She worked at a higher-end fashion store, and all those girls she worked with ate hummus regularly and said, “this is ridiculously good.”
Then, you know, its funny… Pam [Hoelzle, associate director for UCF’s Blackstone LaunchPad] substitute taught one of my classes here at UCF, and she gave us a pitch on joining the The Joust. I had 36 hours to submit an entry form. Fast-forward to the end of The Joust, and we end up placing third. We took home $4,000 in prize money, and it was validation. I thought, ‘Hey I’ve got nothing to lose. Let me run with this.’
Our idea is to be the rebels, the disruptive kids of hummus.
Q. How did your perception of O’Dang change over time?
A. The Joust was really what opened my eyes how big this really was. At first, I thought I could just do it as a hobby. You know, sell it to some people locally. But, I didn’t expect it to be the monster that we’re sitting on now. When you see something you’ve worked so hard at being picked up and people love it… We actually had one lady buy 18 tubs of hummus in one shot to give to co-workers, and friends and family.
Q. Have there been any struggles along the way?
A. Oh yeah. Struggle No. 1, just out of the gate, was actually getting into a farmer’s market. Lake Eola had a two-year waiting list. It’s crazy, and they’re very cut-throat. They should do a documentary on it — I’ll put it that way.
I’m a very persistent person. I was sending emails, sending emails — nothing back. So, I decided to be a little risky. I packed a lunchbox full of hummus, and I went down to the farmer’s market when they were doing it. I gave the guy changing trash $25 cash and said, “Take me to the person that’s in charge of this.” He took me over to this nice lady and I convinced her to try it. She was like, “Wow, this is really good.” That was Sunday. Monday at 3 p.m., I got the email from them saying I could start the following Sunday. And that was the biggest break we had, because in the farmer’s market world, Lake Eola is like the Superbowl.
Q. What’s your major? Have your UCF classes helped you out while going through this?
A. My major is business management with an entrepreneurship track. I found out early in college that I wanted to do entrepreneurship. I put so much of my major to use every day. Right now, I’m the head honcho — I do the marketing, the finance, the bookkeeping, I do all of the development, the packaging. I wear a lot of hats as a new start-up. I really can’t think of a class I haven’t utilized.
Q. What’s the outlook for O’Dang Hummus right now?
A. We’re in three farmer’s markets right now. I’ve got a crew of three employees. We’re in a huge commercial kitchen, which, I never thought I’d be in this size of a kitchen in a year, let alone four months. Going forth, I want to be in a showcase right next to Sabra. They’re so huge and corporate. We want to give them a run for their money because no one’s doing it.
Our goal is to get as many purchase orders as we can, with a main focus on Whole Foods, and to get investor money. We need to scale quickly to make an impact and to be the forerunners in this niche.
In the farmer’s market world, Lake Eola is like the Superbowl.
Q. Do you have any parting words for the starters reading this?
A. Network, network, network. I can’t express that enough. Just talk to people. Ask for advice. I’ve met so many people by just asking, “What’s your name? What do you do?” at events, and some of them are CEOs of major companies and you never would have guessed it.
Imagine finally getting that job offer that has seemed so far away for so long. Now imagine getting it on national television.
For Desiree Quinto, a 2012 UCF graduate, that was her reality on Oct. 13, when, after two long years of job hunting, she was offered a job as a discovery specialist for her dream company, Birchbox, on “Good Morning America” during a segment about college graduates struggling to find work.
“I love the transparency there and the culture of the office,” Quinto says of the company. “CEOs are walking around, sitting side by side with their employees and getting to know [them]. There’s so much inspiration and room for growth. Ever since I walked in, I knew it was where I wanted to work.”
While Quinto was sure of her desire to work for Birchbox, she had no idea about the outcome of that “Good Morning America” segment.
“I had no idea,” she explains. “Even [that] morning I had no idea that was happening. I got in there at 5 a.m. and couldn’t be near TVs or have my phone.”
Even before she graduated UCF with an interdisciplinary studies degree, Quinto says she had been applying to places in New York City in hopes of moving there after graduation.
During her time at Valencia College, and then UCF, Quinto immersed herself in volunteer and nonprofit work.
At Valencia, she became a member of the Model United Nations. Then at UCF, she made the dean’s list a handful of times and became a member of the Nonprofit Management Student Association and the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Through those organizations, Quinto was able to become a certified nonprofit professional.
It’s that nonprofit experience that Quinto says made her competitive in the job market.
Even with that competitive edge, Quinto says, she still had trouble landing a job, despite getting relatively far with several interviews. Since graduation in December 2012, Quinto had been in South Florida working at a Mexican restaurant, Baja Cafe Dos.
But that’s all about to change as she makes her journey to her dream city.
As a Birchbox discovery specialist, Quinto will work directly with customers either over the phone or online through social media and email.
“She really showed us that she cared about the customer experience and what it really means to work with a customer and give them a great experience,” says Melissa Enbar, director of recruiting and talent development for Birchbox. “She showed us she was curious and asked a lot of questions. She was interested about the job in the company.”
Aside from Quinto’s curiosity and people skills, Enbar also says she stood out thanks to the research she did about the company.
“She was really knowledgeable about Birchbox,” Enbar says. “She did her research on what we do and how we do it.”
Quinto is able to finally live her dream of living in New York City, moving to Queens in mid-October to start her position as a discovery specialist at her dream company.
Be sure to register and join us for our “Journey to Career Success” monthly beginner’s workshop on Nov. 4, and learn about resume and cover letter writing, utilizing LinkedIn, KnightLink and networking, bettering your interview skills, and maximizing UCF resources and the UCF alumni community.