Knights’ Love For Bacon And Bots

Courtesy of Exploding Bacon

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (May 10, 2017) – With a name like Exploding Bacon, it’s hard to believe that the moniker was the second choice for a local youth robotics team led by alumna Elise Cronin-Hurley ’90 ’94MPA.

Organized Chaos was voted as the winner – conceptualized by a random name generator – but when the mother of the lead mentor doodled a pig riding a rocket as a potential logo, the team knew it needed to reverse its decision.

Now, 12 years since that day, Exploding Bacon is coming off its largest win in team history as a Chairman’s Award finalist at the 2017 Houston FIRST World Championships.

FIRST was founded nearly 30 years ago to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology. The Chairman’s Award is FIRST’s most prestigious award and is given to the teams that best represent a model for others to emulate.

“We are very proud because it’s definitely not just this year’s Exploding Bacon team who won that award. It’s built on a lot of people’s sweat and tears and a lot of effort and just a passion and a heart for it,” Cronin-Hurley said. “We’re very close knit group. Once you’re bacon, you’re always bacon.”

Cronin-Hurley had never heard of Exploding Bacon when she drove her son, Zachary, to the team’s headquarters for the first time in 2011. Unsure of what her teenager was signing up for, she wanted to learn more about the program, so she stuck around that first practice and has been there ever since.

Zachary, now a mechanical engineering major, is one of three current UCF students who volunteer with the team and said he has incorporated lessons and textbook materials from his coursework at UCF into his role as a mentor for Exploding Bacon.

Over the years, Cronin-Hurley’s role has also changed. She worked her way from serving as a volunteer parent to the lead of the FIRST Robotics Club program.

The political science, organizational communication and public administration alumna owns a freelance graphic and web design business. She said she never envisioned working with students or becoming a teacher. Yet, the relationships she has built over the years has kept her coming back.

“You really care about their individual progression and what they’re able to accomplish, and you want to help them,” she said. “I work all day on a computer for 8-10 hours and then I come here for 2-5 hours a night. This is what feeds me. Working with them feeds me.”

Dominic Canora, who attends Lake Highland Prep, is co-president of the 30-member team this year and will attend UCF in the fall as a freshman, choosing the university over Georgia Tech.

His fellow team members hail from 12 different schools or home school. They span five different counties, and some drive one hour each way to attend a four-hour practice session weekdays during competition season.

In a six-week span, the 30-member team builds and programs an industrial-size robot to play a difficult field game against more than 15,000 students from around the world.

Exploding Bacon’s robot, which was built in a six-week span, at the FIRST World Championships | Courtesy of Exploding Bacon

In addition to its annual competition, Exploding Bacon established the #FIRSTLikeAGirl video campaign to share the stories of the women and girls on the team to inspire and encourage girls everywhere to pursue their interests in STEM.

Alexis Bishop is a UCF student and a mentor on the team who has eagerly helped develop the program.

“I take pride in being a role model for girls on the team,” she said. “It’s been a really great thing to be a part of. It’s really important to me that they know if I can do this, they can definitely do this.”

Exploding Bacon also participates in an average of 30-40 demonstrations and outreach events each year, and in this year alone has totaled 1,130 volunteer hours.

The team holds STEM summer camps and has created an international outreach program that provides Spark science kits with reusable experiments and instructions for students with few resources to help them develop problem solving skills in their own communities.

“We’re trying to figure out how to make the world be a better place,” Cronin-Hurley said. “Everybody needs to pitch in, so if we can help spark those problem solving skills in kids in their own countries, then maybe we can help build everything from the ground up.”

Life Below Zero

150404tracey-mertens-dsc_1736-2web

 

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (Nov. 4, 2016) — When Tracey Mertens ’92 was a hospitality management student at UCF in the early 1990s, she never envisioned a life where she would be professionally trained in night vision goggles usage. Or winter hazard protection.

Yet, today she lives in Kodiak, Alaska, well-educated in both thanks to her auxiliary public affairs specialist role with the U.S. Coast Guard. She has immersed herself within the team, learning anything she can, to better reflect the Coast Guard’s impact through her writing, photography and social media duties.

Merten credits UCF for giving her the foundation she needed to forge her own path to success that led her to opening her own seven-bedroom specialized rental property, managing a public relations and marketing firm and volunteering more than 4,500 volunteer hours over the last three years with the U.S. Coast Guard.

“It’s an exceptional school. You can tell the difference between someone who has had that good college foundation and who hasn’t,” said Mertens, one of the first recipients of the Harris Rosen Hospitality Management Scholarship. “Finding your place in the world has everything to do with using that experience at UCF to reach out, touch, talk to and traverse as many pieces as you can.”

Over the last two decades of her professional career, Mertens has accumulated an extensive list of varied experiences. She worked on a ranch in Wyoming. Trained with an equestrian center. Sampled many professional roles at Arabian Nights. Was part of the team that set up the dinner show attraction American Gladiators Orlando Live. Served as domestic violence counselor. Worked within child protective services. Owned a consulting company.

“I have a weirdo resume. It’s got parts and pieces on it that people go, ‘You did what?! How did you get there?’” she said.

Tracey Mertens '92 (photographer) on the job for the U.S. Coast Guard
Tracey Mertens ’92 (photographer) on the job for the U.S. Coast Guard

She did it by following her passions, and that’s the message she wants to make sure she passes on to other soon-to-be Rosen graduates. That’s why despite the 5,000-plus miles between Kodiak, Alaska, and Orlando, Mertens is a mentor with the college.

The mentor program launched in 2011 and has seen tremendous growth in recent years. Mertens and her mentee, Erinn Drury, are one of 165-and-counting matches within the program this year.

Their match seems dictated by fate. Drury can’t stop thinking about moving to Alaska after graduation.

Drury, a Satellite Beach native, was a freshman in 2013 when she attended a career fair for Rosen. There, she met a representative from Princess Cruises who served routes in Alaska. She was intrigued and proceeded to spend last May through October working at a lodge south of Denali.

She spent eight weeks of fall away from campus, juggling online classes with limited internet access and pulling off straight As by the end of the semester.

erinn-drury-her-mentee2
Like her mentor, Erinn Drury wants to live in Alaska after graduating Rosen College of Hospitality Management.

“Never seeing mountains, never seeing snow, never experiencing the 22 hours of daylight or darkness, it was completely life-changing for me. When I left, I never stopped thinking of Alaska,” she said. “When you test the limits and get outside your comfort zone, it’s when happiness happens.”

When Drury applied for a mentor, she wasn’t sure who she would end up with. So she was thrilled that Mertens was someone she could relate to so easily. Their first phone conversation lasted two hours.

“I could hear in her voice the passion that she has,” Drury said. “How you get from UCF business hospitality to the Coast Guard is incredible. [She showed me] you don’t have to keep yourself within the boundaries of what the norm is. You can push yourself.”

In addition to running her PR business and award winning rental property, Guardian Landing, Mertens has been designated as the Kodiak Air Station’s official photographer and social media spokesperson.

Her photos have been published in various publications and even on the national U.S. Coast Guard Instagram’s account.

Her work to provide community awareness has been well received. She claimed second place in the national 2014 JOC Alex Haley Awards for Outstanding Individual Achievement, the Coast Guard’s highest recognition in public affairs. Additionally, she earned the national Coast Guard History Foundation 2013 Heritage Award for Individual Achievement.

Photo by Tracey Mertens '92
Photo by Tracey Mertens ’92

“The search and rescue team’s mission is such a nice, clean line of positive intent to serve humanity. I’m very honored to be a part of that,” she said.

As for Drury, she can’t wait to move to Alaska and start her own professional adventure. And she hopes to meet Mertens in person one day.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know — Feb. 29, 2016

UCFastival

Here are five things you should know this week:

  1. Dr. Phillips Charities made the largest private gift to UCF Downtown on Tuesday, investing $3 million in the campus project.
  2. UCF Career Services and the UCF Alumni Association hosts a Meet Your Mentor networking event designed to motivate, inspire and empower young women to pursue leadership roles in various industry fields on Tuesday evening.
  3. Thinking about going back to school? Learn more about the UCF Professional MBA program during a special Lunch & Learn series at the UCF Executive Development Center (downtown Orlando) on Thursday from noon to 1 p.m.
  4. The spring football game is scheduled for April 16 at 7 p.m. Campus activities will begin at noon, and will feature tailgating, music and motocross.
  5. The UCF Arboretum is celebrating the completion of a new campus greenhouse that will support its educational and research efforts. The public is invited to a ribbon cutting and open house that will take place from 2-4 p.m. on Friday, March 25.

Colleges of Business, Engineering and Sciences Host Joint Networking Knight

CBA-CECS-COS-Networking-Knight-Jan2016

Nearly 70 UCF alumni gathered for an evening of professional networking on Jan. 21. Alumni chapter volunteers from the College of Business Administration, College of Engineering and Computer Science, and College of Sciences partnered to host the event, which took place at the law offices of GrayRobinson in downtown Orlando.

While guests mingled with other professionals from a multitude of diverse fields, Dean Paul Jarley (business), Dean Michael Georgiopoulos (engineering) and Dean Michael Johnson (sciences) each addressed the group of Knights, speaking on the importance of networking, mentorship and advancement.

It was a great Networking Knight to kick off 2016!

SEE ORIGINAL POST + MORE PHOTOS

Charles Gray, founding director of GrayRobinson, played an instrumental role in the history of the University of Central Florida. Gray was honored by the UCF Alumni Association in October with the 2015 Champions Award for his continuous support and advocacy for the university.

UCF Helps Evans High School Students, Community

(PHOTO: Evans Community High School website)
(PHOTO: Evans Community High School website)

By Nada Hassanein
Digital Producer, Central Florida Future

Last October, Thomas Milbry set aside his marketing studies once or twice per week to mentor freshmen at Evans Community High School in Pine Hills. In this troubled, high-crime neighborhood, many students lack support at home to succeed in school. But with the help of UCF and volunteers like Milbry, ECS has been changing that.

Tucked away off Silver Star Road, ECS is the first “community school” in Florida, providing Pine Hills’ high school students with extra development initiatives, such as tutoring after normal school hours. ECS also aims to help students flourish during difficult home situations, whether that means donating a handicapped van to a disabled student whose parents couldn’t afford one, or providing a student’s mother, who was suddenly and tragically shot, with an at-home nurse aide.

In 2013, the U.S. Census reported that 23 percent of the town’s population was living below poverty level — compared with 19 percent in Orlando — and about 30 percent of the city’s residents were children.

The “community school” concept aims to address those issues by giving students holistic care. Along with extra academic services and mental health counseling, the school has its own wellness center with a physician, dentist and nurse on staff.

UCF is one of four partners that support ECS with mentoring through a Freshman Success class. Volunteers from campus also help organize focus groups with community members and families to analyze what other projects need to be implemented at the school.

“The main reason is because the needs of this community are great,” says Amy Ellis, assistant director of the UCF Center for Community Partnerships. The center, which is behind UCF’s involvement with ECS, has a goal of becoming a model for other areas in Florida to establish their own community schools.

“When we first began, the school was a D/F school,” Ellis says. “It was a struggling, inner-city high school.”

Nine years later, the Orange County school is rated a B/C, with 2,484 students enrolled last year, and more than 300 enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program.

According to data provided by the school, only 64 percent of seniors graduated in 2005, but now that statistic has increased to 78 percent.

“I’m a product of a great mentorship,” says Jarvis Wheeler, ECS director, remembering his own mentor in college at Florida State University, whom he is now naming his son Lawrence after. “He was a leader on campus. I didn’t even think that existed.”

Wheeler extended an invitation to UCF to begin a mentoring program at ECS last fall.

UCF molecular and microbiology alumnus Nathan Wooding, a volunteer coordinator last spring semester, dedicated six days per week to help ECS grow and sustain its programs. Along with recruiting other volunteers from UCF, Wooding managed the school’s food pantry, helped organize school events and spearheaded the freshmen mentoring program.

Wooding’s own mentee was a senior track runner who had to leave his dedication to the team to focus on grades in order to graduate.

“A lot of [students] at Evans High School may not have family who have gone to college,” Wooding says. “[My mentee] wasn’t aware of scholarships or how university admissions work. … He didn’t always have someone to talk to.”

Wooding says his former mentee, now a Valencia College student, is hoping to pursue a business degree.

Also involved with ECS is Hannah Nguyen, a UCF health services administration graduate student. Nguyen says her department is working on streamlining programs to train mentors, and is brainstorming for ways to bridge together prospective UCF volunteers with the school itself.

“The system would guide mentors if they don’t know how to mentor in a certain situation,” she says. “We’ve [also] identified a disconnect between UCF and Evans students. … There are still a lot of students not familiar with Evans.”

To help connect UCF and ECS students with one another, Nguyen said a weeklong “UCF Take-Over” event is planned for October. More than 30 campus organizations will showcase their services to ECS students.

This story was posted in a Sept. 13, 2015, edition of the Central Florida Future online. It has been slightly edited in accordance with AP and alumni association style guidelines. See original article. 

UCF Communication Alumni Launch Mentorship Program

Nicholson School of Communication student Vanessa Rodriguez (left) talks with Paula Machado, '12, a reporter for InfoMas.
Nicholson School of Communication student Vanessa Rodriguez (left) talks with Paula Machado, ’12, a reporter for InfoMas.

By Anne Shirley Lewis, UCF Knightly News
Co-authored by Julia Anderson, UCF College of Sciences

UCF Nicholson School of Communication students met with their mentors for the first time at the pilot mentorship program breakfast, which was held by the UCF NSC Alumni Chapter on Wednesday morning in the FAIRWINDS Alumni Center.

The purpose of the program is to connect students with alumni who share similar academic backgrounds, professional interests and career fields.

This is the first program of its kind, said Shaloni Prine, ’07, assistant director of the UCF College of Sciences Alumni Relations. If this pilot does well, it will be implemented throughout the entire college.

Mentors share experiences, provide new perspectives and insight into their specific industry, enhance the mentees’ skill sets and add knowledge about advancement, according the mentorship handbook.

Alumni working in the areas of radio-television, journalism and public relations were selected as mentors for the pilot program. The diverse selection of alumni represent companies including EA Sports, Hearst News Corp., News 13 and the Orlando Sentinel.

Students in the Nicholson School are nominated by their professors to be a part of this program. The nominated students are paired with alumni for a three-month mentorship program ending in July.

Each mentor and mentee is required to meet a minimum of three times — whether that be face to face, via phone or by email — and discuss career information, common interests, accomplishments and dos and don’ts of networking.

“It’s really your network, which is key to your development,” says Lauren Gustafson, ’08, chair-elect of the UCF NSC Alumni Chapter. “It’s the network that you build that is crucial to moving to the next step. Every job I’ve had, I’ve gotten from people I know.”

UCF faculty members Tim Brown and Rick Brunson attended the event on behalf of the Nicholson School of Communication.

If you’re interested in participating as a mentor in the Knights & Squires mentorship program, please email [email protected].

Read the original story.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know — March 30, 2015

CinemAbility-YouTube

Here are five things you need to know this week:

  1. College of Arts and Humanities alumna Jenni Gold, ’92, is helping UCF gain attention with a new documentary that will be shown in Regal Cinemas, titled, “CinemAbility.” The film focuses on how people with disabilities are portrayed on the big screen and on television. Actors include Ben Affleck, Jamie Foxx, Gary Sinise, Jane Seymour and others.
  2. The UCF Joust New Venture Challenge, hosted by the College of Business Administration, is getting visibility thanks to its earnings of up to $75,000 in cash and essential business services for the top four ventures. The college also has introduced a new master’s program in business analytics.
  3. Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center is in the spotlight, as the project is a partnership between UCF, Osceola County, the Florida High Tech Corridor Council, the University of Florida, the University of South Florida, Florida International University and the State of Florida. The center will be a future high-tech campus on 350 acres.
  4. The Nicholson School of Communication Alumni Chapter hosts its Knights & Squires Mentorship Breakfast on Wednesday, April 8. The chapter selected a group of 30 NSC alumni and students to participate in this new pilot mentorship program.
  5. The UCF Alumni Association’s Journey to Career Success Workshop takes place Tuesday, April 7, and will provide valuable information to help you get noticed and better position yourself against the workforce competition. Learn about the essentials of a successful cover letter, resume and more.

Other notable news:

Pegasus Magazine started hitting mailboxes last week, and includes a poignant story about homeless students, as well as the provost’s goal of hiring 200 new faculty members by fall 2015.