More To Her Story

Former Order of Pegasus recipient Kaitlyn Chana ’13 is using her personal experience with eating disorders to create preventative care resources for mental health education.

By Jenna Marina Lee

ORLANDO, Fla. (Feb. 23, 2018) – On the surface, Kaitlyn Chana ’13 had it all together. In fact, she basically owned life.

The former straight-A student at Lake Brantley High School started her own non-profit as a teenager that sent cards of kindness to hospitalized children. She was a member of UCF’s President’s Leadership Council, LEAD Scholars and received UCF’s most prestigious student award, Order of Pegasus.

The radio-TV alumna was even selected as one of 20 people to carry the Olympic torch in 2010 for the Vancouver Winter Games through Calgary, Canada, because of her charity work.

Yet, underneath the surface, Chana battled through three different eating disorders over 10 years until the day she came to a very hard-hitting realization.

“With eating disorders, it’s life or death. If you don’t pick one, unfortunately one is going to overcome and dominate. I didn’t want to die,” she said. “I wanted to be a journalist. I wanted to be a reporter that’s telling meaningful stories.”

Today, she’s doing just that and recently returned to campus as part of LEAD Scholars’ Leadership Week to share her personal story and her mission to change the stigma around eating disorders and mental health.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, eating disorders are serious but treatable mental illnesses that can affect people of every age, sex, gender, race, ethnicity and socioeconomic group. No one knows exactly what causes them, but national surveys estimate that 20 million women and 10 million men in America will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives.

Chana said several factors contributed to her first eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, when she was in middle school. A perfectionist, Chana said society’s perception of beauty combined with desire to please someone in her life whose love and acceptance she craved warped her reality. To her, thinness equated to beauty, acceptance and success.

She began deteriorating until she weighed closed to 60 pounds. She aimed to trim to a 12-inch waist. She carried weights in her backpack and wore weights around her ankles to shed more calories all the while maintaining her perfect GPA and anchoring the school’s morning announcements.

“My bones were protruding. When I looked in the mirror, I thought I was morbidly obese,” she said. “I cut everything off. I couldn’t cry. I didn’t even know what happy was if you defined it to me. I couldn’t understand those feelings. When I had doctors, psychologist, a nutritionist trying to help me get healthier, I transferred eating disorders. I was feeling more, but I still wanted control, so I picked up another set of bad habits.”

She shifted to bulimia nervosa, a disorder marked by binging and purging to avoid weight gain. In college, she stopped purging but instead transitioned into a binge eating disorder. She would claim control by limiting her food intake for days and then gorge on 10,000 calories in one secret sitting.

As a student at the Nicholson School of Communication, she began to see the stamina journalists needed daily to be successful in the industry.

“I knew I couldn’t keep this pain and suffering all bottled up inside of me and be able to complete the task for just my basic classes, let alone an actual full time job as a reporter,” she said.

So she visited UCF’s Student Health Services and for the first time, truly wanted the help she was asking for. They helped her find Winter Park’s White Picket Fence, a counseling center specialized in eating disorders.

It took baby steps every day, but now after a decade-long journey, she says she is fully recovered. She doesn’t wake up in the morning and go to bed at night thinking about food and weight. When she is hungry, she eats, and when she feels full, she stops.

And if she is ever in a stressful point in her life, she thinks about the past and reminds herself that those methods didn’t work for years, and they certainly won’t solve problems now.

She also credits her family, specifically her mother, for helping her through her recovery.

“Together, we figured it out. My mom would read books about it, and she would help me through the process. It truly was an exhausting journey, and I can only imagine from her standpoint. There were days where doctors said, ‘Kailtyn, you’re not going to survive. You’re going to die.’ My mom would say, ‘You can’t die on me. We’re going to do this together. We’re going to figure it out together. Just hold on.”

Chana (left center) with her Reel Stories. Real People. team

So now Chana wants to help others through the best way she knows how – storytelling.

She achieved her professional goal and became a reporter for Action News Jax in 2015 after a brief stint at a news station in Bangor, Maine. On the side, she started another organization, Reel Stories. Real People., which tells stories that inspire, advocate, and educate the public on topics through digital media not typically showcased in traditional news media.

Through the organization, she also wants to shape curriculum about eating disorders and mental health for free distribution to public schools nationwide. She intends to produce a 30-40 minute film that high school teachers can use, along with a thought-out, written plan featuring common questions, a class activity, assessments and a list of resources.

“I went to a school the other day that had the same text book that I had over a decade ago, and it’s disheartening because there’s only two paragraphs on eating disorders. But if we were able to have that preventative care and talk about it when I was in the class, maybe I didn’t have to go through all this pain and suffering,” she said. “Our goal is to help teachers redirect the conversation on mental health by providing informative preventative care resources. Now, they will be able to instruct their class with a one-day lesson that’s engaging and dynamic, but also resourceful.”

Technology on Wheels

Alumnus’ invention earns nearly $1.4 million on Kickstarter

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Gaston Blanchet, ’09 | Co-founder, Trunkster

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Frequent flyers know the importance of a good suitcase. It needs to hold all of your stuff, roll smoothly along a variety of surfaces and fit into the coveted overhead bin space onboard.

But, no matter which ones he tried, avid traveler Gaston Blanchet, ’09, realized the perfect suitcase for his needs just didn’t exist — so he invented it.

Inspired by the roll-top doors for meal storage on airplanes, the Trunkster was born. It’s the world’s first and only zipperless, roll-top luggage that introduces a revolutionary industrial design. A durable and waterproof sliding door allows for quick access to belongings, even in the most constricted spaces. The bag also includes a removable power bank, built-in digital scale, and can be enabled with GPS.

Blanchet, who earned his UCF bachelor’s degree in business management, and his business partner Jesse Potash, used Facebook and Twitter to help build awareness of their product, and targeted travel and tech bloggers, as well as business travelers. The buzz created a network that led to thousands of pledges and preorders on Trunkster’s Kickstarter page. The support and demand was so great, in fact, their $50,000 goal soon multiplied more than 27 times in 59 days, with 3,566 backers pledging $1,395,370 by the Jan. 16 deadline.

“You can never take luck or good timing out of the equation,” Blanchet says. “I think we were fortunate to launch at a time when both smart products and crowdfunding became two of the year’s biggest trends. This, coupled with having a unique product in a stagnant industry, and months of media planning, let us claim the spot as the world’s most-crowdfunded travel campaign.”

While the guys have another idea they’d also like to take to crowdfunding, for now, they’re focused on manufacturing and delivering more than 5,000 Trunksters to anxious travelers.

Trunkster-carry-on
The Trunkster features zipperless entry, USB charging, a built-in digital scale and GPS.

Pack it Up Q&A

Q. How were you involved as a student?
A. I think some UCF staff thought I was probably over involved! When I begged my way into the Honors College and LEAD Scholars, I assumed that would largely be the extent of my involvement at UCF, but then I had the strange fortune of entering and winning the Mr. UCF scholarship competition my freshman year, which opened the doors to a pretty unique UCF experience! I had some of my best memories as a member of the President’s Leadership Council, where I was able to intimately partake in some unforgettable UCF moments, including the groundbreaking of the new arena, stadium and College of Medicine.

Q. Favorite UCF memory?
A. It was at Lake Nona while working on the President’s Leadership Council at the groundbreaking of College of Medicine — when the scheduled singer didn’t show up to sing the National Anthem for the opening ceremony, our PLC directors, Nancy Marshall and Ana Petkov, looked over at me and said, “Oh, Gaston sings! He can do it.” Well, it was about 6 a.m., and I never can remember the lyrics to that particular song. Ha! To everyone there that day, including President Hitt, I apologize to your ears.

Q. How has your UCF degree helped you in your career?
A. I’m grateful to be working in the field I studied. The business classes were instrumental in giving me a well-rounded toolkit to tackle all of the unique challenges that come up when running your own business. The classes that most helped me while at UCF were accounting, finance and business law, which exposed me early to everyday issues I deal with now.

Q. In what ways have you stayed connected to your alma mater since graduating?
A. I’m lucky my parents still live nearby and are involved with the Honors College as donors. And, of course, it’s been an amazing set of years as a UCF football fan. I’ve really cherished watching the team grow under Coach O’Leary and produce stars like Bortles. My fondest memory by far was watching my Knights win the Fiesta Bowl in the middle of the night while in Asia!

Q. What advice would you give to current UCF business students/aspiring entrepreneurs?
A. I’m not sure if all entrepreneurs say this, but I firmly believe there’s no better moment for aspiring entrepreneurs to take advantage of the incredible new tools available to our generation. To be specific, we’re entering a golden age of products. Crowdfunding lets you find the funds and create the community for your idea, while a fully globalized world has made component and manufacturing costs come way down. Furthermore, the Internet lets you easily find customers all over the world for your products and services. So, there’s really no deterrent but your will. The tools are out there. I encourage you to make the most of them, and take the steps to go through with the ideas you come up with. You’ll fail at a couple until the timing is right, then one of your ideas will take off.

Q. What are three things you never travel without?
A. Bose in-ear, noise-cancelling headphones; Canon C100 documentary camera; and Kindle

Q. Last vacation?
A. Vietnam — motorcycling the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Q. Dream vacation destination/itinerary?
A. Exploring mountain temples of Bhutan.

Q. Favorite way to pass the time while traveling?
A. Filming local stories for our interactive travel documentary series, “Humanity,” for iPad.

Q. What do you do for fun?
A. I’m a total adrenaline and adventure junkie. I love to sail, kitesurf, scuba, skydive, snowboard, any fun local excursions I can find …

Q. Pet peeve?
A. Delayed flights!

Q. Most embarrassing moment?
A. I left my $4,000 camera on top of a rental car and drove a mile before realizing. It miraculously stayed on!

Q. Hidden talent?
A. I can juggle.

Q. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
A. Hold my breath for five minutes.

Q. Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A. There’s no good time to launch a bad product, and there’s no bad time to launch a good product.

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See the Trunkster in action.
(Save 10 percent with code “UCF” at checkout.)

UCF Students Break Holiday Record in 48 Hours

KnightsPantry

By Zenaida Kotala

In between slurping coffee to stay awake, meeting with study groups and pulling all nighters to get ready for final exams, University of Central Florida students took time out to help one another and break a food-drive record.

In less than 48 hours students dropped off 1,050 pounds of food at the Student Union to be donated to the on-campus Knights Helping Knights Pantry. The drive began Dec. 1 and ends today.  So far, more than 1,300 pounds have been collected. Last year’s record was 1,000 pounds.

Students organized the food drive to help keep the food pantry stocked during the holiday break.  The pantry began as a class project in a first-year LEAD Scholars course in 2009. The organizers never wanted students to have to choose between a meal and a textbook, so they worked hard to get the pantry started.

The pantry’s first home was a closet space in the Student Union. Today it fills an entire suite in Ferrell Commons attached to the All Knight Study facility there. The Student Union, Student Government Association and generous community donors support the pantry.

Students have access to the pantry Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and can select up to five food items per day. For the past few years the Student Union has organized Study Union. During that time the union and other locations remain open 24/7 so students can get ready for finals. Union coordinators plan events and programming to reward diligent students and to promote happiness and healthy study habits. The food drive was added to help keep the shelves at the pantry stocked.

This year, students received a free Study Union T-shirt in exchange for their donation. More than 210 shirts were given away in 24 hours, and when coordinators ran out of shirts, they resorted to giving away union water bottles.

The Knights Pantry accepts donations year-round.

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