Five Things Alumni Need to Know — Jan. 4, 2016

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(From No. 5 below:) Palmer Vorkapich, a 6-year-old patient at Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando, lights up during a visit from Ion, a therapy dog owned by UCF College of Medicine student Christa Zino.

Here are five things you should know this week:

  1. Knights had much to be proud of last year! Check out just a few of them in this list from UCF Today of the “15 Moments that Made Your Heart Burst with Knight Pride in 2015.”
  2. With $20 million needed in community support for the UCF Downtown campus, alumnus and CEO Alex Martins, ’01, and the Orlando Magic stepped up, contributing $1.5 million toward the project. And, just this morning, it was announced that the CFE Federal Credit Union has committed its own $1.5 million. Keep up with all the latest developments on the UCF Downtown campus at ucf.edu/downtown.
  3. UCF economist Sean Snaith says Florida’s economic future is merry and bright, with the state’s housing market continuing to improve, and job growth forecasted to continue to outperform the U.S. labor market.
  4. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency selected a UCF team to receive a P3 Award — a first in UCF history — which recognizes student projects that benefit people, promote prosperity and protect the planet by using environmental solutions that move the nation toward a sustainable future. The winning project focuses on ways to make algae biofuel easier and less expensive to produce.
  5. To help cheer up patients at Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando, UCF second-year medical student Christa Zino regularly brings her therapy dog, a 2-year-old boxer named Ion, for visits.

Strumming in the Spotlight

Alumnus brings six characters to life with just his voice and a guitar

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Chase Padgett, ’07 | Actor and Musician

By Angie Lewis, ’03

While it may appear he’s having an identity crisis during his 90 minutes on stage, Chase Padgett, ’07, is actually just doing what he loves: performing.

For more than five years, from Orlando to British Columbia, and Scotland to South Korea, he’s been bringing six distinct characters to life in his one-man show, titled “6 Guitars.”

Each of his six characters play songs from their genres — blues, jazz, rock, classical, folk and country — while telling the stories of how they fell in love with their music, what they think of other styles of music and what music means to us all. Padgett also incorporates his improv comedy background into the act.

The show premiered in 2010 at the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival, where it became a breakout hit, winning multiple awards including Best in Venue, Best Musician and Best Solo Show, among several others. It also won awards at fringe festivals in Canada and Scotland.

Before his successful solo career, he performed various roles at Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and the SAK Comedy Lab in downtown Orlando, as an actor, improviser and musician.

Padgett says his UCF degree gives him authority when he speaks about music, and sharpened his musicianship, which is a key component of his livelihood.

In 2014, Padgett became the artist-in-residence at the Curious Comedy Theatre in Portland, Ore., which is now the place he calls home — that is, when he’s not on the road, which is where he’ll remain for at least the next couple of years, as he’s touring Canada for “6 Guitars” through 2016. While that will take up much of his next two years, he’s already preparing for his next career move.

“[I want to] develop more material that would make sense as a TV special,” he says. “Also, [I want to have] a legitimate run with one of my solo shows. Over time, I want to transition into more film and television. I just wrapped my first role in a feature film and I’d love to keep doing that. It was a blast!”

Hitting the Notes Q&A

Q. Why do you do what you do?
A. Doing anything else would not nearly be as fulfilling.

Q. Favorite UCF memory?
A. I think the choir performances I did were my favorite memory. Singing in a group like that is a truly intoxicating experience.

Q. What advice would you give to current UCF music majors?
A. Being able to promote yourself in the artistic marketplace is crucial. Putting together a good online resume with videos and graphic design is so important. It could be the difference between really making it in your field and just scraping by. Also, talent has never been, nor will ever be, a substitute for character.

Q. Most memorable work experience so far?
A. Lots of highlights to choose from. I got to workshop a new musical improv show for Wayne Brady recently. Last fall, I did a sketch comedy showcase for the executives of NBC. But, honestly, the feeling I get during the final blackout of one of my live shows is probably the best thing. It’s the moment right after the performance and right before the audience’s applause. Therein lays an accomplished stillness that I still chase to this day.

Q. Who/what inspires your music?
A. Ray Charles is my single greatest inspiration both musically and entrepreneurially. Also, the guitar player Tommy Emmanuel is an enormous inspiration.

Q. First concert you attended?
A. B.B. King at the Naples Philharmonic

Q. Do you play any other instruments besides guitar?
A. Piano. I also beatbox a fair bit.

Q. What instrument do you wish you could play?
A. Chapman Stick!

Q. Who/what inspires your comedy?
A. There’s no better source for comedy than the truth in one’s own life.

Q. Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” in terms of a career in entertainment. Also, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” It’s easy to get down on one’s self for not being where you’d like to be, but you’ve got to combat that with gratitude. I’m a successful full-time performing artist making a living doing the material I created for myself. That’s certainly good enough to be grateful for.

More Info

“Six Guitars”

The Gregg Hale Project

Film alumnus continues to follow his passion for the big (and small) screen

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Gregg Hale, ’95 | Partner, Haxan Films

By Angie Lewis, ’03

If you were a teenager in 1999, chances are you sat in a dark theater with your friends, peeking at the screen through your hands, while watching the “found footage” of three student documentary filmmakers who disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Md.

“The Blair Witch Project,” by Haxan Films, celebrates its 15th anniversary this year, after grossing more than $248 million worldwide and receiving critical acclaim, which included winning the Award of the Youth for Foreign Film at the Cannes Film Festival and the Golden Orange Award at the Florida Film Critics Circle Awards.

The highly successful indie horror film was the creation of five UCF alumni: Michael Monello, ’92; Robin Cowie, ’93; Daniel Myrick, ’93; Eduardo Sanchez, ’94; and Gregg Hale, ’95.

We caught up with Hale, one of the movie’s producers, in Portland, Ore., where he currently lives with his wife, Adrian (Steinbach), ’00, and their two kids, Amelia, 8, and Decker, 6.

Hale and Sanchez still own Haxan Films and continue to make indie movies, as well as television shows, games and comic books, and also do some creative consulting. Most recently, the pair produced a show for ABC called “The Quest,” a fantasy-based reality competition, which began airing at the end of July and wrapped up in September. In addition, their Bigfoot horror film, “Exist,” comes out Oct. 24.

“It’s a cycle of developing and then producing,” Hale explains. “When we do the indie thing, we have to sell them. So, we’re trying to transition more into television, which is steadier. There’s more money in it now than there is in indie films, and we don’t have that cycle of taking a long time to create something, then make something, then sell something. We can get in and do it and not worry about the sales aspect.”

Hale and fellow “Blair Witch” producer and UCF alumnus, Monello, are also the the founders of Campfire, a marketing agency that shapes perceptions and enhances brand preference through social storytelling, digital content and physical experiences — just like the promotional campaign they did for “Blair Witch,” which had many people believing the movie was real. Hale remains with the company as an advisor, while Monello serves as its full-time chief creative officer.

“I like the work that we did for Campfire,” Hale says. “We did a lot of cool stuff, like the first season of ‘True Blood’ and the first season of ‘Game of Thrones,’ and we did some cool movies and a lot of video games. It’s good work, but I don’t get passionate about that. I’ve still managed to stay somewhat passionate about TV and film. So, I just opted to do the thing that gets me going.”

In 2013, Hale and Sanchez directed a point-of-view zombie segment called “A Ride in the Park” for the horror sequel “V/H/S 2.”

“Being a filmmaker is the only thing I ever really wanted to do,” Hale says. “I’ve known since I was 11 that that’s what I wanted to do, when I saw ‘Star Wars’ (A New Hope). I was young enough to be totally amazed by the movie in that kid way, but old enough to realize somebody made it — there was a camera, and people behind a camera, and somebody decided what the set was going to look like and what Darth Vader looked like. When Darth Vader walks through the door at the very beginning of the movie, it blew my mind — the visuals, the music, everything. That’s the moment I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker.”

As a child, Hale used a Super 8 camera to make short films, stop-motion animation and zombie movies. And, in true young, male filmmaker fashion, he also blew up toy soldiers with fireworks and filmed it.

Before Hale was in the spotlight for “Blair Witch,” he worked as a set dresser for Disney’s “The All New Mickey Mouse Club” and on the swing gang in the art department for the HBO miniseries “From the Earth to the Moon,” both of which were produced in Orlando.

Hale grew up in Kentucky and was on his way to California to pursue his film education at UCLA or USC (“because those are the big, famous film schools”), when he got a call from a childhood friend who was working on “Superboy” in Orlando. That was right before Universal Studios Orlando opened and right after Steven Spielberg told the world via “The Today Show” that Central Florida would be Hollywood East. So, Hale, like all of the other film students who weren’t already working in L.A., decided to head south.

Before starting college, Hale served in the U.S. Army to earn money for school. He’d already been working in the industry when he started taking film classes at Valencia College, where he learned the technical skills necessary for filmmaking. When he got to UCF, he says he enjoyed the opportunity to make his own films in a structured environment, with access to resources and instructors.

His advice to current UCF film students? “There’s talent and intelligence and all of the other attributes that are part of being a successful filmmaker, but you need perseverance,” he says. “It’s a hard business. If you allow yourself to get discouraged, you’re not going to make it as a filmmaker. There have been a lot of ups and downs for me and Ed. Since ‘Blair Witch,’ we haven’t had that level of success we started out with, and that can be a downer at times. Things don’t always go the way you want them to go, but you have to stick with it. It’s a blessing and a curse.”

Let’s Get Reel Q&A

Q. Favorite UCF memory?
A. Going to class. I enjoy learning. The classes I enjoyed the most were film theory and film history. They were non-production classes, where you’re just learning for learning’s sake.

Q. If money was no object and you could make any movie, what story would you choose to depict?
A. We have a couple of properties that we’ve been developing that are “pie in the sky.” So, I’d like to make a big fantasy thing that my kids could go see. The TV show that was just on ABC [“The Quest”], my kids could watch, which I was super psyched about. It’s the first thing I’ve done that my kids could actually see.

Q. Most memorable work experience so far?
A. I feel super lucky to be doing what I’m doing, and to be able to have done it as long as I’ve done it. When “Blair Witch” got into Cannes, we all went, and got to go to some big parties — these crazy, over-the-top parties. And, we’re standing on this beach with drinks, dressed in jeans and T-shirts, and there were guys with Rottweilers on chains guarding the edges of the party. We’re just standing there like, “What in the hell are we doing here?” That was all such a whirlwind.

Q. Last movie you watched?
A. “Kelly & Cal”

Q. All-time favorite movie?
A. “Fellowship of the Ring”

Q. If someone made a movie about you, what would the title be?
A. “One Lucky Dude”

Q. What TV show are you embarrassed to admit watching?
A. “Naked and Afraid”

Q. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
A. Staying in the film business when I wanted to get out of it

Q. What subject do you wish you’d paid more attention to in school?
A. Typing

Q. Favorite place to visit?
A. It’s a tie between Japan and New Zealand. New Zealand is one of the most spectacular visual places I’ve ever been with maybe the nicest people on the planet. And, Japan is just a very foreign culture that I’m really drawn to. I really like the way the Japanese people do everything.

Q. Something you learned in the past week?
A. Salmon stay at sea three to four years before returning to spawn. I just went and watched the salmon run yesterday.

Q. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
A. Historian

Three Blades to the Wind

Engineering alumnus helps harvest natural energy

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Michael Hayman, ’03 | Professional Engineer/Project Manager, Moventas

By Angie Lewis, ’03

If you’ve ever driven through Texas, California or Iowa, you’ve probably passed a field of steel towers that look like giant fans. These wind turbines, situated on wind farms, capture the natural wind in our atmosphere and convert it into mechanical energy, then electricity.

“What a lot of people call a fan is the rotor on a wind turbine,” explains Michael Hayman, ’03, professional engineer and project manager for Moventas in Portland, Ore. “These things turn about 14 to 20 rotations per minute, but, a generator, which makes electricity, needs to turn at about 1,000 rpm. So, we make a bunch of gears that turn this from high torque, low rotation to low torque, high rotation. It’s a transmission system, very similar to a car, but it’s just one speed.”

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Like most engineers, Hayman showed an inclination toward math and science in school. Working on cars with his dad during his childhood steered him toward an interest in mechanical systems. Although he set his sights on being a pilot for the Air Force or Army, his cataracts prevented him from serving in the military. Instead, he went back to his foundation and pursued a degree in mechanical engineering.

Hayman started his career at the Kennedy Space Center, where he was part of the Return to Flight program after the Columbia disaster, in which he was involved with getting Discovery back up and running. A few years later, knowing the shuttle program would eventually be coming to an end, he sent out his resume, and was contacted by Celerity, a company in Portland that makes machines that make microchips. After a few years working on the design side of engineering, he realized it wasn’t for him, so he once again sent out his resume, and then heard from Vestas, which makes wind turbines. That’s where he discovered a love for wind energy.

Wind technology is important to our future because there are no emissions, Hayman says. “I think that as far as all of the new renewable energies go, wind technology is the most viable right now. A couple of years ago, before fracking really started taking over, about 2008, the price of wind energy was actually less than oil. And, I think we’ll continue to go down that trend, because technology has come along where we’re getting into the megawatt class of electricity, and we can be considered more of a major provider in this niche field.”

Hayman says studies have shown that wind energy could provide about 20 percent of the national power need, whereas, now, it provides less than 1 percent.

So, where can you harvest wind energy? In the U.S., the middle of the country is perfect — the plains region, in particular — because of the constant, steady flow of wind from one direction, Hayman explains. There are many wind farms in the Northeast, but not so many in the Southeast, due to the region’s frequent afternoon thunderstorms, which produce turbulent airflow and would cause a lot of wear on the turbines — and that wouldn’t be profitable.

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Wind farms, like this one, typically use three-bladed turbines, which harvest wind and convert it into energy.

Although the Moventas factory produces gearboxes, as a project manager, Hayman spends most of his time dealing with customer service and problem solving. Compared to some of his previous positions, this position allows him to have a lot of latitude in making decisions and running his department the way he sees fit, which he really enjoys.

“I also take a lot of satisfaction when we implement a program and it works, and we get customer satisfaction out of that,” he says. “I like being able to set ourselves up for success.”

Power Up Q&A

Q. Favorite UCF memory?
A. I don’t know if those are fit to print! I was in the Greek system. I was a Pi Kappa Phi. I was also a senator for three years for the College of Engineering, and I was the finance chairman [for the Student Government Association]. Before I was 21, I had a $6.5 million budget (through SGA). It was all of those experiences, where, for as young as I was, I had a lot of influence for what happened on campus. It felt like I was making a difference on campus. I believe I was finance chairman when we approved George O’Leary’s contract. I was also there when we approved the budget to build the Rec Center, and for the expansion of the Student Union. So, it felt like, hey, we’re doing big things, and that was a point of pride while I was there.

Q. What advice would you give to current UCF engineering students?
A. Don’t be as concerned about your grades. Do as well as you can. There were so many people in that program who were just worried about doing well in class and not really seeking out internships and co-ops or any sort of practical experience. Engineering within school and within the profession are night and day different. While in school, I went out and found an internship for myself. I worked two summers at Tampa Electric Company. I feel like the classroom education is definitely your foundation, and you need to have that, and I got an excellent experience from UCF. But, you need actual, practical, day-to-day experience. Because we were working, our grades probably suffered a little bit, but all of us who did work left college with a job. And, I knew a lot of straight-A students in engineering — which is almost impossible to do — who were left on the bench. If you’re concerned about having a job when you graduate, internships are the way to go.

Q. Any hidden talents?
A. I play the guitar — poorly. When I moved to Portland, I started taking improv classes. I started performing improv and stand-up a few years ago. I haven’t done much recently due to a busy schedule, but it’s something I think I’ll do off and on for a long time.

Q. What’s the wallpaper on your phone and/or computer?
A. The wallpaper on my personal computer is a night launch of the space shuttle. The wallpaper on my phone is my girlfriend and I wine tasting.

Q. What’s your No. 1-most-played song?
A. Comfortably Numb — Pink Floyd

Q. What TV show are you embarrassed to admit watching?
A. It used to be “Fashion Police.” RIP, Joan. I guess now it would be “Deadliest Catch.”

Q. Last book you read?
A. “American Fraternity Man” written by one of my fraternity brothers and UCF Professor, Nathan Holic, ’02

Q. Best thing about living in Portland?
A. So many things are so close. There are more breweries in Portland than anywhere else. An hour south is premium wine country. An hour to the west is the Pacific Ocean. An hour to the east is Mt Hood, great snowboarding in the winter and camping in the summer. An hour to the north is Mt. St. Helens, which is also great hiking. There are a number of farms in the area, so there’s great local produce. And, everyone up here is so friendly.

Q. Favorite childhood toy?
A. Transformers

Q. What/who makes you laugh out loud?
A. I like a number of comedians, but I have to give it to Daniel Tosh, ’96, a UCF alumnus.

Scene of the Crime

Forensic science alumnus’ work helps Oregon police catch the bad guys

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Corbett “Cory” Winar, ’97 | Forensic Lab Manager, Oregon State Police

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Shows like “CSI,” “Bones” and “NCIS” make the field of forensic science look exciting, and full of drama and intrigue. However, to the disappointment of crime show lovers everywhere, things don’t quite happen like they do on the small screen. Just ask Cory Winar, ’97, forensic lab manager for the Oregon State Police.

“We wear a lot more clothes, we work with the lights on, we don’t have people working in the lab 24 hours a day — and we stop to go to the bathroom,” Winar explains. “Also, there isn’t one person who stays in the basement with an 80-ounce Slurpee who knows how to do everything.”

But, there is some reality in the fictional plotlines. Forensic scientists can help to solve crimes by analyzing even the smallest pieces of evidence. And, those scenes that show a ballistic expert firing a gun into an object to see how the bullet expands actually happens in real life, too.

For the most part, though, Winar says the cases aren’t all that exciting. As a manager who has to supervise others, he often finds himself caught up in paperwork and politics. However, he does occasionally get to respond to crime scenes and perform tests in the lab, which are the parts he really enjoys.

It was a conversation with his mom that first piqued his interest in forensic science. During his third year at a college in Northern Virginia, Winar decided he wanted a change. Since he had a friend who was going to UCF at the time, he checked out the school and discovered its forensic science program.

“I looked at the curriculum, and I was thinking to myself, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do this,’” he says. “It was all this chemistry — physical chemistry, organic chemistry I and II, and calculus. But, I had some good instructors who got me interested in the material, and I was able to do well.”

About six months after graduating, Winar was offered a job in Norfolk, Va. Two years later, he had an opportunity to work in Richmond, Va., where he stayed for nearly three years before a position opened up in Eugene, Ore., and he decided to move west.

“The first time I saw Eugene was in a moving truck,” he says. He worked his way up from a forensic scientist, performing drug analysis, processing trace evidence and working crime scenes, to managing the city’s lab, where he’s been for more than 10 years.

Eugene’s forensic lab is one of five in the state and covers nine counties, for which Winar and his team processed more than 5,500 cases last year.

The most challenging case he’s had to process? A hit and run, where he had to try to match paint found on the victim to the suspect’s car. Although the arresting officers were sure they had the right guy, the evidence showed otherwise.

While Winar’s cases are always mentally challenging, some are also emotionally difficult to process — like one crime scene in which a young mother had been stabbed and her 5 ½-month-old baby had also been stabbed and had its throat slit.

“Having to try to focus on the scene and having two kids, it’s even more difficult to see that,” he explains. “That was probably the hardest one I’ll ever have to do, because I still remember faces with it.”

He does his best to keep his work life separate from his home life with his wife and two kids. Since moving to Oregon, he’s taken up running, which he says is a good release because it gives him a chance to process things in his mind. He enjoys running so much that he’s even run several marathons and ultramarathons [a longer distance than a traditional marathon’s 26.2 miles].

Although he lives more than 3,000 miles from his alma mater, Winar hasn’t forgotten the school that helped him get where he is today. He says UCF’s forensic science program really prepared him for the field, and that most of the people who call him for career advice are going to schools that have a forensic science program in criminal justice, which, he says, won’t teach them what a forensic scientist actually does.

“UCF and the program Dr. [William] McGee put together really prepares you to go into a forensic lab, because it has classes in the disciplines in which you can work, as opposed to a theory-based criminalistics class where you just sit and talk about theories,” he explains. “You actually get your hands in there.”

He advises current forensic science students to appreciate the amount of information and knowledge they’re going to get at UCF, because he says the other programs out there are not as good. Confidence is also very important, he adds.

“In this field, we’re looking for someone who has a knowledge base, but also good personal skills, because you’re going to have to communicate on the stand, in front of a jury, as well as with other scientists. Work on those interpersonal skills and how you want to present yourself, and don’t be afraid to be yourself.”

Under the Microscope Q&A

Q. Favorite UCF memory?
A. Graduating — the feeling of remembering back to that first semester, going there with the pessimism of “we’ll see what happens,” and graduating. Along the way, the biggest challenge that came was my second semester on spring break, when my dad died. Finishing up that semester and getting back on track was difficult. Getting through it at that point and finishing was a big thing. So, I remember standing outside of the old arena and thinking, “Wow, I’m done! I did it!”

Q. Favorite UCF professor?
A. Dr. Barry Fookes [who taught microscopy and trace evidence classes]. I thought he was a wealth of knowledge, and he shared it in a way that I was able to understand.

Q. Were you involved in any extracurricular activities at UCF?
A. I coached co-ed soccer, and refereed for co-ed volleyball and soccer.

Q. Favorite TV show based on forensic science?
A. “Dexter”

Q. Favorite piece of lab equipment to work with?
A. I’m kind of old school. I like the good old microscope. It’s amazing how much information you can get from one.

Q. Have you made any mistakes on the job that you can now look back at and laugh?
A. I went to a crime scene where the room smelled like decomposition because the deceased had been there for over a week. I got home about 3 or 4 a.m. and was so tired that I just changed my clothes and crashed on the bed. I woke up to an upset wife because I still stunk like a dead body. I did not make that mistake again.

Q. What’s the grossest thing you’ve ever had to process in the lab?
A. Bloody clothing with maggots and other bugs still moving around. I felt like bugs were on me for the next few days.

Q. Any hidden talents?
A. I’m a pretty good cook.

Q. Best thing about living in Eugene, Ore.?
A. The slower pace of life and being able to spend time with my family instead of commuting to and from work. Everything is outdoorsy, even in the rainy and gray winter. There are several great wineries and microbreweries here in the Eugene area, not to mention across the rest of the state.

Q. Tell us about your family.
A. I’ve been married for four years to Tina Tague, who is an editor for scientific papers and journals. I met her when she was in graduate school and I was one of the instructors (dating started after she was in my class, of course). We have two rockin’ kids, a 2-year-old son, Brooks, and an 8-month-old daughter, Cullen. My mom is a Realtor, and my father passed away during my second semester at UCF. I have a brother, Curtis, and a sister, Dina. I’m the only UCF alumnus in the Winar clan. We have two dogs, Sasha and Daisy, and two cats, Casper and Maggie.

Q. A giant meteor is hurling through the atmosphere toward Earth, and life as we know it will cease to exist by this time tomorrow. How will you spend your last 24 hours?
A. Building my spaceship to get my family and friends to space for a galactic party.

Q. If someone made a movie about you, what would the title be?
A. “Why Not?”

Q. Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A. Don’t underestimate yourself. You can do anything you want.

Q. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
A. Brewmaster

Q. What profession would you not like to do?
A. Middle school teacher