Salute to Steven Sotloff

adam-manno
Adam Manno, the first scholarship recipient of the The Steven Sotloff Memorial Endowed Fund

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (Oct. 20, 2016) – Shirley and Art Sotloff believe that their son, Steven, found his true calling while he was a student at UCF from 2002-04.

It’s that connection that prompted them to help create a scholarship in his name when Steven was killed after being taken hostage as a freelance journalist by terrorist group ISIS in 2014.

Recently, the Sotloffs visited campus to commemorate the first awarded scholarship from The Steven Sotloff Memorial Endowed Fund to senior Adam Manno.

“Knowing that our son’s name lives on, and that the endowment will touch the lives of students with similar interests as his own, truly touches our entire family,” Shirley said.

Manno is expected to graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in political science. He was born in the Dominican Republic but attended high school in South Florida, where he got his first taste of journalism while working for his school newspaper.

He chose UCF because it encompassed everything he was looking for: a big school in an interesting and vibrant city, a well-renowned journalism department and a financial aid offer “thanks to UCF’s vision of education for all.”

“That’s one thing I really love about the school – it makes sure everyone who wants an education can get one,” he said. “It’s been very good to me.”

Manno was a sophomore at the time of Sotloff’s tragic death. He attended the vigil that was held on campus a day after the news broke worldwide. Manno said it both saddened and mobilized him.

“I just want to write and shed light on the stories that deserve to be told,” he said. “Like Steven did.”

Before Steven died, he managed to smuggle out a letter to his parents. They said that he wrote of his desire to give back.

After his death, the Sotloffs helped start the fund, which provides scholarship support to UCF students majoring in journalism as well as funding for symposia, lectures and other programming to advance journalism and journalism education.

Manno was honored to be chosen as the first recipient and understands the significance it carries.

“This is a scholarship directly tied to someone’s sacrifice for my profession. He was a former UCF student out there pursuing his life’s work. That’s all he was doing, and that’s what led to his death. It means more to me than just the money,” Manno said. “It means that I have to work hard to prove myself worthy of it. It’s an incentive that comes with a big responsibility.”

The fund still has room for growth. The Nicholson family, benefactors of the Nicholson School of Communication, pledged to match every dollar given up to $25,000.

Sonja and Tony Nicholson have spent time getting to know the Sotloffs and didn’t hesitate to extend their heartfelt support.

“They want their son’s name to live on. We felt that was a very small gesture on our part. We can’t ease that pain for them, but we can help carry his name on,” she said. “We just feel like [giving back is] so important because it touches so many lives, and we care about the students.”

sotloffs
Art (left) and Shirley (middle) Sotloff along with College of Sciences Dean Michael D. Johnson

Those interested in donating can do so by visiting: https://www.ucffoundation.org/sotloff.

While on campus, the Sotloffs told Steven’s story to a room of College of Sciences scholarship recipients and their donors. There were some tears and a nod to Steven’s presence, who they believed was looking down with gratitude.

“The years he spent here, he really enjoyed, especially the rugby team. That was his passion and his love,” Art said.

As the Sotloffs said their goodbyes, Shirley looked back and said quietly, “our hearts are here.”

Meet the New Face of the Alumni Association and Foundation

Morsberger-family
Mike Morsberger is the new vice president of alumni relations and development, and CEO of the foundation.
He, his wife, Marybeth, and their daughters, Courtney and Allison, are thrilled to be part of the UCF family!

On May 8, following an intensive national search, UCF and the UCF Foundation Inc., named Michael Morsberger UCF’s new vice president for alumni relations and development, and the foundation’s new CEO.

Morsberger begins working at UCF June 1, leading all fundraising activities for the university, as well as guiding the vitally important efforts of the UCF Alumni Association to foster and maintain mutually beneficial relationships between the university and its 250,000 alumni.

“I’d really like to commit the summer to meeting as many people as I can, internally and externally, and a particular focus on the alumni,” Morsberger says. “I want to understand their stories — what makes UCF special to them. It’ll take everybody to help UCF get to that next level. It’s achieved so much, yet, I just have this feeling that it’s only scratched the surface on its full potential.”

An accomplished fundraising professional, Morsberger has achieved record-breaking successes at the George Washington University, Duke University, the University of Virginia and The Johns Hopkins University.

Most recently, under Morsberger’s leadership, George Washington received the two largest gifts in its 190-year history — a total of $80 million to address public health challenges. The university also doubled the amount it raised for financial aid to more than $35 million last year.

“Mike’s leadership has produced transformational gifts that continue to change lives at some of our nation’s leading institutions and around the world,” UCF President John C. Hitt says. “He excels at motivating his staff members, donors, administrators and faculty members to dream big for the benefit of students and the community.”

Morsberger served for nearly five years as George Washington’s vice president for development and alumni relations, until he resigned in October 2014 for family reasons.

Previously, he was vice president for development and alumni affairs at Duke Medicine. Morsberger also worked as associate vice president of development and alumni relations for the University of Virginia’s Health System and executive director of the UVa Health Foundation and served at Johns Hopkins for nine years, starting as a major gifts officer and rising to chief development officer of the medical center’s renowned cancer center.

“I am of modest means, from a family in Baltimore,” he explains. “I’m the first in my family to go away to college. Higher ed changed my life, and I’m very grateful for that.”

Morsberger earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Radford University and a master’s degree in philanthropy and development from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota. He and his wife, Marybeth, were college sweethearts, and they have two grown children, Courtney and Allison.

“I am honored to accept this important role and serve the vast UCF community,” Morsberger said. “It is clear to me that the University of Central Florida at age 50 is at an inflection point in its remarkable history — and the next decade will surely prove to be very exciting.”

Morsberger joins the UCF Foundation at a pivotal moment, near the end of the leadership gifts phase of a carefully planned, multi-year campaign to raise $500 million to benefit UCF. During the leadership phase, foundation leaders work quietly to raise a significant portion of the goal before announcing off the campaign.

As state funding for public universities contracts across the country, the role of private philanthropy — and of the foundations that encourage it — grows more and more important. In the 2014 fiscal year, more than 17,500 donors made gifts and commitments totaling nearly $39 million to UCF. The university, foundation and alumni association are happy to welcome a new leader to build on that work.

—By Chad Binette, Zack Thomas and Angie Lewis, ’03

Learn more, as Mike discusses his new role at UCF:

Endowed Fund Created to Honor Life of Journalist and UCF Alumnus Steven Sotloff

By Marina Guerges
Central Florida Future

Nearly nine months after the Islamic State group beheading of former UCF student and journalist Steven Sotloff, UCF has established a fund to commemorate his life.

The Steven Sotloff Memorial Endowed Fund at UCF, created by Sotloff’s family, was made not only to honor his life, but to preserve his work.

“His family wanted to establish a legacy for Steven,” said College of Sciences’ Director of Development Ray Allen.

Allen said he interacted with Sotloff’s family at UCF, where they came up with a way to remember the former Knight.

Through donations, the fund aims to provide scholarship support to UCF students majoring in journalism. The fund was also established to advance journalism education, as well as endowments for lectures and programming.

“We have set up the memorial fund to invite other donors to support this fund in Steven’s honor,” Allen said.

Longtime UCF donors Tony and Sonja Nicholson — after whom the Nicholson School is named — have committed to match donation gifts to the fund.

“Every dollar will be matched, dollar for dollar, up to $25,000 matched,” Allen said.

Contributors can visit www.ucffoundation.org/sotloff, where they will be directed to fill in their donation amount, billing information and add whether they want this donation to be a one-time gift, recurring or a series of installments.

“While Steven was in captivity, he managed to smuggle out a letter to us stating he wanted to give back. We would like to continue Steven’s legacy for generations to come by working with UCF to establish a fund in Steven’s honor,” said his parents Shirley and Arthur Sotloff in a statement on the donation page.

Sotloff attended UCF from 2002 to 2004, where he studied journalism. He then left to focus on working as a Middle East correspondent, wanting to travel to war zones like Libya and Syria.

Sotloff was abducted by the Islamist extremist group and held in captivity.

In September 2014, in an attempt to send “A Message to America,” the Islamic State group beheaded Sotloff in a distributed video as a way to reach President Barack Obama.

UCF students from the athletics fan group “The Gauntlet,” UCF’s Syrian American Council and the UCF chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists joined together to host a vigil that same month to honor Sotloff.

Along with UCF’s contribution, Sotloff’s parents established a fund at his high school, Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire.

The Steven Sotloff ’02 Fund aims to inspire Kimball students to follow Sotloff’s passion: seeing the world through a different lens, while following global and cultural awareness.

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.


More Info

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.