UCF Alumni Association Aids Students with Scholarships

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By Isabelle D’Antonio
Contributing Writer, Central Florida Future

The UCF Alumni Association collects thousands of dollars each year to give right back to students through its many scholarships.

Senior Erica Chu received the alumni association’s UCF Alumni Legacy Scholarship — a $1,500 award for outstanding students with parents who graduated from UCF — to make her dreams of attending UCF possible.

“I was ecstatic when I found out I won the scholarship,” the biomedical sciences major says. “Every little thing counts when you’re paying for college.”

Chu says receiving the scholarship has not only helped her financially, but has also increased her networking with alumni, including those who selected her to win the scholarship.

“It’s great to meet people who graduated from UCF, and are now so successful and want to give back,” she says. “That’s something I want to do when I graduate.”

The alumni association awards 25 scholarships annually, including scholarships from alumni chapters and clubs.

“Last year, we had a good year in our endowments, and we were able to increase the majority of the scholarships by $500,” explains Carla Cordoba, associate director of alumni and student relations.

In fact, in 2015, the alumni association awarded more than $55,000 in scholarships to UCF students.

Heather Junod, director of the UCF Fund, says there are many ways the alumni association receives the money to fund these scholarships.

The UCF Fund utilizes e-solicitation, direct mail, phone campaigns, faculty/staff campaigns and a student philanthropy program to reach out to potential donors. Staffers prefer more face-to-face solicitation rather than phone calls because it often garners better results. For example, the average donation is $86 on the phone, $270 for e-solicitation and $130 by mail, but face-to-face gifts are much larger — sometimes in the millions.

Junod says the UCF Fund asks every alumnus and alumna with up-to-date information to donate, which is more than 226,000 Knights. Of this, about 7,000 donate, or a little more than 3 percent of alumni.

“At our call center, students like to talk to alumni about donating to scholarships because the student callers are often on scholarships,” Junod explains.

To apply for alumni scholarships, students must fill out the applications on their myUCF account. If a student is eligible for an alumni scholarship, it will automatically appear in his/her scholarship listing. Most scholarships also require an essay, recommendation letter and activities summary.

“Scholarships aren’t going to come to you — you have to look for them,” Chu says. “The alumni association does a great job advertising the scholarships. People just have to take the next step and actually apply.”

She also says it is important for students to be themselves when writing application essays.

“They can tell in your writing if you’re being fake or lying,” she says. “Stand out and have a personal story that they can connect to.”

In Chu’s application, she wrote a personal essay about how UCF has opened so many doors for her father. She also described how the university has already given her innumerable opportunities, such as research and networking.

After the applications are submitted, the four-month-long reviewing process begins.

“We want to make sure we are being diligent in reading everything and paying attention because students took the time to submit their applications,” Cordoba says.

A team of student assistants first checks the applicants’ eligibility to make sure they meet all of the necessary criteria for the scholarship, and then the applicants are scored using a point system.

“For example, if you’re a member of a club, you get so many points. If you’re an officer, you get more points,” Cordoba explains. “Everybody gets the same formula applied to them across the board.”

Once the applicants have been rated, a selection committee of alumni, faculty and staff reviews the top five to 10 students. The committee then gives its recommendations and a staff committee selects the final winners.

Reaching out through email, postcards and banner advertisements, there’s been an increase in students who have been applying for the alumni association’s scholarships.

“We had more than 500 applications in 2015, which is a third more than we had the year before,” Cordoba says. “Students are taking advantage of the scholarships!”

However, with more applicants comes more competition.

“The caliber of students who are applying is amazing,” Cordoba says. “We’re choosing from the top echelon of students who are extremely involved with their university and in their communities.”

Alumni who wish to contribute can name a scholarship for $10,000, or they can endow a scholarship for $25,000, which gets invested and earns appreciation.

“The idea is to keep building the endowment so it lives on in perpetuity,” Cordoba says.

How to apply for UCF Alumni Association scholarships:

  1. Visit ucfalumni.com/scholarships. (The application window opens Feb. 1 and closes Feb. 28 each year.)
  2. Read all scholarship criteria and complete all required supporting documents.
  3. Log on to myUCF.
  4. Select “Student Self Service.”
  5. Click on “Scholarship Application” > “Home Page” > “Add New Scholarship.”
  6. Complete and submit application(s).

Questions?

Read the Scholarship FAQ, or contact Carla Cordoba at 407.823.3453.

This story appeared Dec. 4, 2015, in the Central Florida Future online. It has been updated and edited in accordance with AP and alumni association style guidelines. See original article.

Battling PTSD at the UCF RESTORES Clinic

With an intensive new approach to exposure therapy, UCF clinicians and graduate students are finding remarkable success in helping veterans master traumatic memories. But the Department of Defense grant that funds their work runs out next year.

Just reading the labels on the rows of little jars seems like enough to trigger a traumatic memory: CORDITE, DIESEL FUEL, BURNING TRASH, BODY ODOR, GUNPOWDER, BURNT HAIR. And if it doesn’t, the carefully concocted scents inside — delivered to patients’ nostrils with precision fans while they “see” corresponding visuals inside high-tech headsets — almost certainly will.

But that’s exactly the idea behind this kind of exposure therapy — to deliberately return  patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, via virtual reality, to the scenes and situations that haunt them. “If we do this repeatedly,” says UCF psychology professor Deborah Beidel, “say, ‘okay, take me through what happened to you,’ while the memory may remain, it loses its ability to elicit anxiety and allows them to once again function in the world.”

It’s by no means an easy process though. With virtual reality headsets, audio equipment, scent machines and even a pad underfoot to simulate the vibration of explosions, Beidel and her colleagues and graduate students can recreate with almost disturbing fidelity the exact traumatic events that patients remember. On occasion, the responses have been intense enough that patients have vomited during therapy.

Still, it works, as it did for Marine First Sergeant Doug Hester, who came to UCF RESTORES — an on-campus clinic for active duty personnel and veterans who developed PTSD as a result of serving in the Iraq and/or Afghanistan conflicts — struggling with anxiety and hypervigilance and growing steadily more isolated from his former life and the people in it.

After a 17-week program of virtual reality exposure therapy to address anxiety, combined with carefully designed group therapy to address anger, social isolation and depression, Hester says he’s back to his old self. “We got in there and addressed the issue,” he says, which was exactly what he wanted to do, instead of more traditional talk therapy or medication.

In fact, that combination of intense exposure therapy with targeted group therapy works for a remarkable number of patients. At the end of the treatment — either the 17-week program Hester did or an intensive, three-week program — more than 60 percent of patients no longer meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD.

The problem, to put it very simply, is there are too many Hesters and not enough Beidels. The $5 million Department of Defense grant that allowed Beidel to establish the clinic in 2011 only covers treatment of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, not those from other conflicts. Nor does it allow Beidel and her colleagues to treat other groups, like first responders, who actually suffer from PTSD at a higher rate than the military. “We turn away a lot of people,” she says.

Even among the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans that UCF RESTORES is funded to treat, the clinic is hardly able to scratch the surface of the overwhelming need for care. Patients — who are referred from all over the country by Veterans Administration personnel, private clinicians and on-base psychologists — go through treatment in groups of four to six at a time, which doesn’t do much to defray the long waits — sometimes over a year — for PTSD treatment from the VA.

The only realistic answer, of course, lies in exponentially increasing the number of clinicians trained in this new kind of treatment. “A lot of clinicians are afraid to do exposure therapy with people with combat-related PTSD,” says Beidel. “They don’t know how to do it, and they believe the myths. We have data to show that even in this intensive program, people don’t increase alcohol use, don’t become more suicidal. None of those things that people think should happen, happen.”

So, alongside treating as many patients as possible, another of Beidel’s primary objectives is training as many clinicians as possible. The way she sees it, her graduate students will leave campus and establish their own practices or clinics, or join the faculty at other universities, where they’ll not only treat more patients but also train more clinicians, who in turn will train more, creating a ripple effect that has the potential to make a real difference.

Additionally, Beidel hopes to bring postdoctoral fellows, medical students, practicing clinicians and others to the clinic to train them in the same interventions. The demand is already there, she says, just not the funding, since current grants don’t cover training.

That crucial Department of Defense grant runs out soon, and at the point, absent some additional funding source, Beidel and her colleagues will essentially shut the doors. They’ll continue their research, of course, and continue training graduate students, but there won’t be any more money to pay for the costs of treatment — equipment, supplies, and the licensed clinicians required to keep the doors open. “You can’t run a project with people with this level of emotional distress with graduate students,” Beidel says, “because they can’t be available for emergencies, they can’t take on the number of participants that are in need of treatment, they can’t keep a clinic open 40 hours a week, which is what we need.”

More Info

UCF RESTORES

Strength in the Saddle

Alumna ensures disabled horseback riders get the therapy they need

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Lauren Parslow, ’14, shares a quiet moment with Whitey, one of the horses that provides therapy,
through Freedom Ride, to physically/mentally disabled children and adults.
Lauren Parslow, ’14 | Volunteer Coordinator, Freedom Ride

By Angie Lewis, ’03

“Horses mirror our emotions,” Lauren Parslow, ’14, says. “What we feel, they will feel.”

And, that’s what makes them especially well suited as animal partners in helping children and adults cope with physical and mental disabilities, and post-traumatic stress, while improving their interaction skills and building their confidence.

Parslow, who’s been riding and working with horses since she was 5 years old, works as the volunteer coordinator for Freedom Ride, a therapeutic horseback riding center in Orlando. She loves everything about her job, because it allows her to make a difference in the lives of others every day.

“I can see the changes in the riders, their physical and mental health improving, and their overall quality of life improving,” she explains. “I also love that I get to work with the things I am most passionate about: children and horses.”

Freedom Ride is a PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship)-accredited riding center, which provides therapeutic riding lessons that help its mentally and physically disabled participants gain core strength, posture and balance.

In addition, the non-profit organization also provides hippotherapy, a form of occupational therapy in which a therapist uses the movements of a horse to engage sensorimotor and neuromotor systems to create functional change in a patient. It also offers a military program to help veterans increase self-awareness, enhance coping skills and learn more effective ways to interact and move forward within the community and with loved ones.

Parslow originally majored in forensic science at UCF — until she took chemistry, which was extremely difficult for her. During her struggle, she was also working at the YMCA, which led her down her new path.

“I realized how much I enjoyed working with children,” she explains. “I did my research and knew I didn’t want to become a teacher, so I took the early childhood development track. I loved every class and gave 100 percent every day.”

While pursuing her degree in early childhood development and education, Parslow interned with Freedom Ride for four months to gain the hands-on experience required for her major. Now employed with the organization for almost one year, she ensures they have enough quality volunteers to care for the horses, facility, and work the classes alongside the riders.

“I think my education degree helps me offer my expertise on our riders and their behaviors that the other staff may not understand,” she says. “I’m able to offer insight into why children do certain things and not others, or what they respond to best.”

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Jasper & Lauren

Horsin’ Around Q&A

Q. What advice do you have for current education students at UCF?
A. Enjoy what you’re studying! You’re going to be guiding future generations. A degree in this field is EXTREMELY important. I wish more people would understand that. The first eight years of life are most important. So many milestones are reached in that time frame. PLEASE enjoy what you are doing. There has to be passion for what you want to do or it will affect future generations.

Q. Describe a typical day at work.
A. The first thing I do when I arrive at work is greet all of my staff members and volunteers. We have a small staff, and we always ensure our volunteers have a great time. We’re a family, and I want to make sure that they feel that way. Throughout the day, I enter the volunteer hours into our database, work on the monthly volunteer newsletter, ensure that we have enough volunteers each day, visit the horses and riders, and am thankful that I have a job I enjoy. There are days where we may not have enough volunteers, so I’ll need to work a class, which I thoroughly enjoy! I’m always asking the other staff members if they need anything done, and I will do it if they need the help. My days go by quickly, but I always come to work with a smile on my face and leave with a smile!

Q. What’s the last thing you Googled?
A. “Trucks for sale.” Living on a farm is tough without a truck!

Q. What one thing drives you absolutely crazy?
A. I’m a firm believer that if someone says they’re going to do something, they should do it. I don’t like seeing people, or myself, get their hopes up only to have them crushed.

Q. Last book you read?
A. PATH Instructor Manual. I’m going to become a riding instructor!

Q. If someone wrote a book about you, what would the title be?
A. Happy-Go-Lucky, or something along those lines. I’m always, always happy. I always have a smile on my face and enjoy life to the fullest.

Q. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
A. The hardest thing I’ve ever done was to beat depression and anxiety. Before attending UCF, I was a very anxious and depressed teenager. I sought help from a psychologist and her dog, and overcame my depression and anxiety. Those two things are very hard to beat and overcome, but I’m glad I did. I think that’s why I’m such a happy and thankful individual.

Q. Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A. Worrying never changes the outcome. How true is that?!

Q. What’s something you learned in the past week?
A. I’ve learned that sometimes you have to step up and take care of things when no one else is willing to help. It’s difficult, but it can be done!

Q. What’s something most people don’t know about you?
A. I’m easily intimidated, and I do NOT like confrontation.

More Info

See how Lauren and Freedom Ride are helping others:

Related

Equestrian Club at UCF Expands Outside of Stables

From Boots to Loafers

Alumnus helps fellow veteran Knights transition from military service to the business industry

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John Phillips, ’82 | Director of Finance, System of the Future, The Coca-Cola Company

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Joining the military was never a question for John Phillips, ’82. It’s been in his family’s blood for more than two centuries, tracing his heritage back to William Harper, a Scotch Irishman, who traveled from Belfast to Charleston, S.C., on the ship Earl of Donegal in the mid-1700s, settling in Lancaster County.

More recently, his uncle David Phillips served in the U.S. Navy during World War II; his aunt Marion Phillips Scherer served as U.S. Navy nurse stationed at Walter Reed Hospital and in Panama, also during World War II; another uncle, Charles Phillips, served in the U.S. Air Force; and his father, Steve Phillips Jr., served as an officer in the U.S. Army Infantry for 30 years, fighting in World War II and the Vietnam War.

“The tradition lives on with the newest addition, my nephew Steve Phillips IV, who currently serves in the U.S. Naval Reserve (and is an Orange County Deputy Sheriff),” he says. “My family has established a proud history of service and love of liberty, which is now simply a part of our DNA.”

Phillips began his military journey after graduating from Oviedo High School. He was in the field artillery and spent a year in Oklahoma and two years in Augsburg, Germany. After receiving an honorable discharge two weeks after returning home, he started college at Valencia, with a concentration in business administration.

When he transferred to UCF, he joined the Army ROTC program — eventually becoming its corps commander — and was commissioned into the U.S. Army as a field artillery officer. During his career, he was stationed in Oklahoma, Germany, Colorado, Kentucky, Georgia and Saudi Arabia.

Through his experiences, he says he learned he can endure hostile weather and conditions and still come out just fine on the other end.

Retired from the Army, Phillips works as director of finance for the System of the Future at The Coca-Cola Company — an organization that has a long-standing relationship with the Armed Forces, dating back to World War II.

He credits his UCF business degree as the reason he’s worked in corporate finance at Coca-Cola for the past 16 years, as well as the reason that allowed him to be selected as a U.S. Army comptroller.

Now, he’s sharing his military and business experiences in his first book, “Boots to Loafers: Finding Your True North.”

“I’ve had [the book] in my mind for more than a decade,” he explains. “[It] details how our veterans, who have fought the good fight, can now find a new ‘true north’ to help guide them through the journey toward their second life, or new normal, outside the gate.”

Phillips had the opportunity to speak with fellow veterans about his book and experiences during the UCF Book Festival in April.

“I’m an avid veterans’ advocate, and helping those who will follow in my tracks is what I love to do,” he says. “I didn’t have anyone doing that for me when I retired, and I wish I did.”

Reporting for Q&A Duty

Q. What’s your least favorite word?
A. I have three off the top of my head. One is “dude.” I hate it. And, if anyone says it to me, I correct them quickly. I’d also say “no” is not one of my favorites either. It takes three “no”s to make me go away, and then there’s no guarantees. And last, “supposed to” or “should.” I hate it when people say this, because they are assuming something.

Q. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
A. Play the guitar like Stevie Ray Vaughn!

Q. What/who makes you laugh out loud?
A. Another 1982 UCF graduate and my best friend, Jim Lilly. We met on the practice football field at Oviedo High School trying to get the starting position on the team. We’ve been best friends for more than four decades, and he lives right down the road from me here in Georgia!

Q. What’s your favorite movie?
A. I have three: “Dirty Dozen,” “Jeremiah Johnson” and “The Great Escape.”

Q. What’s the best concert you ever attended?
A. Eagles, 1977, Munich Olympia Halle. An incredible concert.

Q. What’s your favorite place to visit?
A. Three places come to mind: British Virgin Islands, St. George Island, and the great state of Idaho.

Q. What’s something you learned in the past week?
A. Patience. Go on vacation with six children and you learn to exercise a tremendous amount of patience and understanding. What we take for granted, they are just learning. Coach, teach, and mentor — just like I learned in the U.S. Army — holds true with kids.

Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A. From my father: “Always take the harder right!”

Q. What or who inspires you?
A. I was inspired by my father. The things he did in his lifetime were incredible. He was one of the Greatest Generation… He was raised on a farm in rural South Carolina and went to Clemson College (was not a university back then) on a Sears & Roebuck scholarship, was in World War II and Vietnam, and retired from the U.S. Army as a Colonel. After his military career, he sold brick across the state of Florida, and much of UCF is his brick.

Q. What do you do for fun?
A. My wife and I love the British Virgin Islands. I also head west with my brother and close friends, and we either whitewater raft or canoe in remote locations through the western U.S. I’m an avid outdoorsman and love being in very remote and primitive locations.

More Info

www.bootstoloafers.com

Mission: Mental Health for Veterans

Workshop targets trauma issues experienced by members of the military

Col. Jeffrey Yarvis (center in uniform) with School of Social Work Director Bonnie Yegidis (left in front row) and veterans who participated in the workshop
Col. Jeffrey Yarvis (center in uniform) and School of Social Work Director Bonnie Yegidis (left in front row) gathered with veterans who participated in the Subtleties of Trauma Spectrum Disorders workshop at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center.
Veterans Reintegration Workshop | COHPA Alumni Chapter

By Karen Guin

United States Army Col. Jeffrey Yarvis drew from decades of experience in military social work to describe the challenges faced by returning veterans during an information-packed and deeply personnel presentation at UCF.

Yarvis is a decorated officer, a published scholar with a doctorate and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. He currently serves as chief of the Department of Social Work at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center in Fort Hood, Texas.

Approximately 75 military veterans, students, and social work alumni and practitioners gathered to hear him speak at the “Subtleties of Trauma Spectrum Disorders” workshop offered Nov. 6 by the School of Social Work and College of Health and Public Affairs Alumni Chapter.

Yarvis shared data and statistics on U.S. veteran populations, and he showed video clips to illustrate changes in attitudes toward soldiers who are traumatized or grieving. He spoke extensively about the impact of war-related stress on veterans and their families.

“About 80 percent of returning veterans will exhibit some changes in behavior,” Yarvis said. “Those who are deployed more than once have a greater chance of a clinical diagnosis.”

Some returning veterans experience symptoms commonly associated with traumatic stress, such as fear, anxiety, grief, depression and sleep disturbance. A smaller number exhibit Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which may include physical symptoms and always includes these symptoms: 1) re-experiencing trauma, such as nightmares and flashbacks; 2) avoidance, such as feelings of numbness and detachment; and 3) arousal, such as anger and hypervigilance.

“These are very complex issues for mental health care givers to negotiate,” Yarvis said. “It’s hard to quantitate these symptoms, and they manifest themselves differently in different people.”

Yarvis described his own behavioral changes when he returned home from deployment. He exhibited risky and aberrant behavior, became easily frustrated, and turned to alcohol to deal with his insomnia. Several participants said they found his candidness quite helpful.

“He spoke your language,” said UCF student Lyndon Ortiz, a senior in social work and U.S. Marines veteran who served in Iraq until he was injured.

Yarvis is encouraged to see military social work coming into its own as a profession. “I love that UCF has a military program,” he said, referring to UCF’s Graduate Certificate in Military Social Work program, which prepares master’s degree-level social workers to help veterans and their families.

Social work senior Kristopher Vite plans to enroll in the program while pursuing his master’s degree in social work at UCF. He is a U.S. Army veteran, and like Ortiz he served in Iraq until he was injured. Both Vite and Ortiz aim to become Licensed Clinical Social Workers so they can work with veterans like themselves.

U.S. Air Force veteran and UCF alumnus Charlie Antoni (B.S.W., ’95) is already on the front lines, working as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and palliative care coordinator for the Orlando VA Medical Center. He is educating local physicians and nurses, and he is developing networks of community support that he will help place at the new VA hospital in Lake Nona.

Also on the front lines is U.S. Army veteran Richard Whitten, who works as a peer-support specialist at the Daytona Beach Vet Center. “A lot of the homeless vets I meet have PTSD symptoms, but it’s hard to convince them to come in for help,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot today that I can take back with me.”

Yarvis concluded his nearly three-hour presentation by commending the participants. “What you are doing is incredibly important,” he said. “You are helping veterans grieve and return to their lives.”

College of Health & Public Affairs

College of Health and Public Affairs Dean Michael Frumkin (left) presents the college's 2014 Professional Achievement Award to Lt. Jean-Marc Chanoine, '07. (PHOTO: Brandon Chestnut)
College of Health and Public Affairs Dean Michael Frumkin (left) presents the college’s 2014 Professional Achievement Award to
Lt. Jean-Marc Chanoine, ’07.
(PHOTO: Brandon Chestnut)
Lt. Jean-Marc Chanoine, J.D., ’07 | Navy Judge Advocate Corps, U.S. Navy

Professional Achievement Award 2014

Growing up, Lt. Jean-Marc Chanoine was often described as argumentative, and, as the son of an attorney, he seemed to have been destined to study law. His current role as staff judge advocate for the Naval Nuclear Training Command, however, proves that his career extended well beyond law. Chanoine proudly wears his nation’s armed forces uniform while fulfilling his responsibilities in Charleston, S.C.

Learn more about Jean-Marc:

BOD Spotlight: Monica Thorsen

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Monica Thorsen, ’02 | Treasurer, UCF Alumni Board of Directors

By Angie Lewis, ’03

As a sales representative for Brenntag Mid-South, Monica (Smith) Thorsen, ’02, sells chemicals used to manufacture products such as personal care items, food, paints, drinking and waste water treatment, and many others. Since graduating, Monica has volunteered with and served as chair of the UCF College of Business Administration Alumni Chapter, helped create a mentorship program within the college, and has volunteered with the UCF Community Volunteers Alumni Chapter. In addition, she created a scholarship for military veterans with her husband, John “Jack” Thorsen, ’07. Working in sales means she knows her numbers, which makes her a perfect treasurer for the UCF Alumni Board of Directors.

10 Questions with Monica

Q. Why do you do what you do?
A. I like not being tied to a desk and getting to spend time with different customers every day.

Q. Most memorable experience on the job?
A. It’s a tie between my first time in a factory, seeing how my products were used, the production lines and packaging, and making it on the President’s Council (top sales people in the company) for 2013.

Q. What did you want to be when you grew up?
A. A pediatric dentist. I job shadowed my dentist in high school, but after seeing one tooth pulled, I had to rethink my career path.

Q. How has your UCF degree helped you in your career?
A. I learned so many great things in the professional selling class taught by Karl Sooder. It truly has helped me get where I am today. In sales, there is a fine balancing act where you want to gather information and close a sale, but not be too pushy. His class taught me how to focus on relationships and walk that line. Having a UCF degree has also opened doors to creating relationships with many of my customers who are alumni.

Q. Why do you serve on the UCF Alumni Association Board of Directors?
A. As a student, I worked full time to pay for school and rent, so I didn’t have time to participate in many events on campus. This is my chance to give back to the school that has done so much for me, and to be a voice for students and alumni.

Q. How do you hope your leadership will affect the future of the alumni association and the university?
A. I like to lead by example and hope that I can inspire others to become active and serve on any board within UCF. We can all make an impact in the lives of students and alumni by helping create better programming, creating greater recognition of our impact in the community and further increasing the value of our degrees.

Q. If you could have front-row seats to any concert, which would you choose?
A. Journey! I actually have this on a wish list hanging on my fridge.

Q. If you could eat only one food the rest of your life, what would it be?
A. I am obsessed with cookies — maybe even more so than the Cookie Monster.

Q. What/who makes you laugh out loud?
A. My husband, Jack. We’ve been married 11 years, and our house is always filled with laughter.

Q. Last thing you Googled?
A. Chemicals. I bet Homeland Security has me on its list. I am constantly looking up chemical names, data sheets and synonyms for what my customers are looking for.

‘Lions and Dolphins and Mines, Oh My!

Alumna trains marine mammals for classified missions

MelyssaAllen

Melyssa Allen, ’12 | Marine Mammal Assistant Trainer, SAIC

By Angie Lewis, ’03

She was just 4 years old when she made one of the biggest decisions of her life. It was a fateful trip to SeaWorld San Antonio, where she touched a dolphin and saw all of the park’s aquatic shows that sealed the deal. “I’m going to work with those animals when I grow up!” she declared to her parents. And, that’s exactly what Melyssa Allen, ’12, is doing.

As a marine mammal assistant trainer for Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), a civilian technology company contracted by the U.S. Navy, Allen trains Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions for the Navy Marine Mammal Program. The animals provide swimmer defense for the restricted waterway around the King’s Bay Naval Submarine Base in Georgia.

“Dolphins have a highly advanced biological sonar that they use for detection of objects, and sea lions have very well-developed, low-light visibility and highly sensitive hearing, which enable both animals to be extremely reliable to their tasked jobs,” Allen explains.

Because of their extraordinary senses, speed and agility in the water, the dolphins and sea lions are easily able to detect and “tag” enemy divers — who pose a threat to vessels, harbor facilities and people — with a special marker, so they can be tracked and apprehended by Naval authorities.

A typical day at work for Allen includes preparing the animals’ diets, performing maintenance on the program’s pens and boats, running practice drills with the animals, and patrolling the waterway.

At the program’s main base in San Diego, dolphins and sea lions are also trained to help the Navy detect sea mines, which are sophisticated weapons used in the ocean and designed to sink ships, destroy landing craft, and critically injure or kill personnel.

The Navy’s Marine Mammal Program has a breeding program for its dolphins, while its sea lions come from other facilities, like SeaWorld, Allen says. The program has also started taking in rescued sea lion pups deemed non-releasable by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, which are raised by the trainers for the program’s projects.

“The National Marine Mammal Foundation has played a very large role in the rescue and rehabilitation of the mass stranding of sea lion pups throughout the past year,” Allen says.

Although she’s been in her current position only since January 2013, Allen has had plenty of experience with animals. She’s been everything from a barn assistant at a horse farm, to a pet trainer at PetSmart, to an aquatic research intern with Disney’s Animal Programs.

While she was a student at UCF, Allen pursued her dream career by participating in Knights for Marine and Wildlife Conservation, Pre-Vet Society, Cognitive Sciences Lab, Applied Cognition and Technology Lab, and Physiological Ecology and Bioenergetics Lab.

She says earning both a B.S. in biology and psychology has allowed her to understand more about the animals with which she works — their physiology and anatomy through her biology background, and the different aspects of operant conditioning and behavior modification from her psychology background.

And, it was access to more opportunities to work with marine mammals in Florida (versus Texas) that drew Allen to UCF. Well, that and, she adds, “When I took the campus tour, I knew that I would be happiest spending my college career here.”

Fishing for More Q&A

Q. What’s the last thing you Googled?
A. My favorite guy from this season of “The Bachelorette,” Bryden Vukasin, who was in the Army during the Iraq war. I kind of have a thing for men in uniform — which works for me, since I work on a Navy base!

Q. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
A. I would like to pursue my doctorate degree and become a professor. (Looks like I might be coming back to UCF for grad school some day!)

Q. What profession would you not like to do?
A. Maintenance professional. I can’t stand having to unclog my shower drain.

Q. How do you manage stress?
A. Over the last year, I actually started to like running, so I began running more consistently and liking it more and more. When I found that racing in a 5K was getting easier and easier, I thought, why don’t I try a sprint triathlon? I like swimming a lot, and I’ve always liked spin class, so why not? Now, training for my races gives me a great outlet for stress! If you had told me this time last year that I would be a triathlete, I would have laughed out loud in your face, but I placed fourth in the novice division for my first race and third in the 20-24 female age group for my second race! And, I ended up placing second in my age group for the entire Jacksonville Triathlon Series that I participated in as well! 

Q. Do you have any special/hidden talents?
A. I played the violin for nine years during school and also took ballet for six years. 

Q. What or who inspires you?
A. Dawn Brancheau, whom I was lucky enough to work with during my internship at Shamu Stadium during the summer of 2009, has always been an inspiration to me in both my career and fitness. I always imagine how excited she would have been, just like the other trainers I know at SeaWorld, knowing that I finally made it to the field! 

Q. What’s your life’s philosophy?
A. When someone tells you, “You can’t,” turn around and tell them, “Watch me!”

Helping Heroes

LanceArmstrong-StandDown

Dr. Lance Armstrong, ’86 | Chiropractic Coordinator, Stand Down

By Angie Lewis, ’03

There are an estimated 200,000 homeless veterans living in the United States, and the population continues to grow every day. Many have made Florida’s forests and parks their “homes,” thanks to the warm weather.

Community-based intervention program Stand Down was formed to help these heroes “combat” life on the streets. In fact, the term “stand down” originated during the Vietnam War, when officers recognized overworked units and would pull them back for rest, supply them with needed services and new equipment, and get them ready for their return to battle.

Stand Down gives Florida’s homeless veterans a chance to come in from their camps in the trees to receive new clothing (everything from undergarments to boots), camping supplies, food, showers and general hygiene, dental care (when available) and chiropractic care.

You read that correctly — chiropractic care. After all, these veterans are literally sleeping on the ground. Imagine the effect that has on their bodies.

The program’s chiropractic coordinator is Dr. Lance Armstrong, ’86 (far right in photo above), who earned his UCF degree in physics. He also was the U.S. Air Force cadet commander at UCF, and flew B-52s until Congressional budget cuts in 1992.

“The cuts required I find a new career, so I came home as a chiropractic physician wanting to put the two careers together,” he explains.

In that effort, Armstrong was instrumental in creating a partnership between Stand Down and Palmer College’s Florida campus, allowing interns to adjust the veterans.

Thanks to his effort, Julie Clover, the director of membership and business development with Community Credit Union in Rockledge, FL, wanted to award the chiropractor the CCU Hometown Hero Award, which comes with a $200 gift. However, Armstrong insisted she give the money to the chiropractic student volunteers at Palmer College.

Instead of giving them the $200, the CCU Board of Trustees decided to donate $1,500. “I was in shock,” Armstrong says. “My appreciation was beyond belief.”

The donation is being used to purchase two portable adjusting tables and gas station gift cards to help with the cost of driving an hour away from campus to the site and back.

“I am proud to see the college taking the torch,” he says. “My dream is to see chiropractors volunteer at Stand Down in their states and nationwide. My dream is also to see chiropractic physicians work with Veterans Affairs.”

Armstrong has also assisted in the effort to provide chiropractic care to U.S. service men and women. Now, he says there are chiropractors on 50 military bases.

More Info

standown.org