Five Things Alumni Need to Know This Week – March 5, 2018

1. On March 29, the UCF community — alumni, parents, students and friends — will come together and give generously to the academic or athletic programs most meaningful to them. UCF Day of Giving is the day to support what YOU love about UCF, too.

At UCF we dream BIG, so we’ve set a goal to reach 1,000 donors in 24 hours. Whether you’re a first-time donor or a loyal annual donor, we need your support to achieve this ambitious goal that will help to ensure a strong future for UCF.

2. If you’ve been keeping tabs on Shaquem Griffin ’16 at the NFL Combine, then you’ll know the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Defensive MVP ran away the competition — quite literally. Here’s a recap of Griffin’s record-breaking performance.

3. It’s March, so bring on the madness! Post-season basketball is already in full swing with the women’s basketball team set to face USF in the American Athletic Conference semifinals at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut today at 4:30 p.m. on ESPNU. The winner of the matchup will advance to face either UConn or Cincinnati on Tuesday for the league title and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Meanwhile, the UCF men’s basketball team clinched the sixth seed in its conference tournament, which will be held in Orlando at the Amway Center starting Thursday, March 8. The Knights will tip off against ECU at 9 p.m.

If you’re planning on heading to Amway to cheer for the Knights, stop by Ember for a reception from 4:30-7 p.m., hosted by alumni organizations from the American Athletic Conference. This event will offer drink specials, first-come-first-serve appetizers and best of all, is free to attend! UCF fans should register online and  check in on site with UCF Alumni for an opportunity to win a special prize pack, including two tickets to the Knights’ opening round game against the Pirates later that night. You can also buy game tickets through UCF.

4. The UCF College of Nursing is accepting nominations for its Outstanding Alumni Awards Program. Through this program, five distinguished alumni and one student will be presented an award at the 2018 UCF Alumni All-Class Nursing Reunion on April 14. Applicants and recipients of these awards have demonstrated remarkable work in the field of nursing in one of six categories: Community Service, Education, Innovation, Mentorship, and/or as an outstanding UCF College of Nursing faculty member, or Senior Noble Knight.The deadline for nominations is Friday, March 16.

5. The UCF Board of Trustees aims to select the university’s president-elect this Friday. Three of the four finalists are on campus this week for their interviews – Matthew Wilson, JD, president of Akron University, was the first to complete his visit on Friday, March 2. Once the trustees makes their selection on March 9, the Florida Board of Governors will vote on the decision March 28 or 29.

BONUS:  Make your Monday more fun with this career quiz!

Five Things Alumni Need to Know This Week – Feb. 26, 2018

Blake Bortles will suit up for the Jacksonville Jaguars through 2020

1. UCF’s Presidential Search Committee selected four finalists for UCF’s next transformational leader, and each finalist will visit UCF to meet with students, faculty, alumni, donors and community partners and also will give a presentation at an open forum. The campus community and public are invited to attend presentations by each of the candidates scheduled for March 2 and March 6-8. Attendees will be able to provide feedback. Visit to learn more about the finalists and their soon-to-be scheduled visits.

2. DUUUVAL! Former UCF football great Blake Bortles signed a contract extension over the weekend with the Jacksonville Jaguars to lead the team through the 2020 season. “This is definitely the place I wanted to be,” the quarterback said, also citing personal reasons such as Jacksonville being close to his hometown of Oviedo, Florida.

3. Radio-TV alumna and former Order of Pegasus recipient Kaitlyn Chana ’13 overcame three eating disorders from the time she was in middle school until she was ready to get help in college. Now, she’s using her experience to help others and raise awareness for mental health. Check out this National Eating Disorders Week spotlight

4. UCF has brought in 1,575 new football season ticket accounts since Jan. 1, its highest amount since the stadium first opened in 2007. Season ticket renewals are also around 90 percent sold. Shannon Green breaks down all the rewards from the best football season in school history in this Orlando Sentinel article.

5. FAIRWINDS Credit Union will fund a new $1.1 million endowed professorship for a proposed UCF FinTech program, the first of its kind in the State University System. The gift to benefit financial-technology education, to be fulfilled over the next eight years, was announced Feb. 20.

Alumna Giving Back In Celebration Of Daughter’s Memory, Perfect Season

Alumna Sarah Dodson ’01 plans on honoring the memory of her daughter, Marlie, with a special volunteer project in Atlanta and Orlando on New Year’s Eve.

By Jenna Marina Lee

ORLANDO, Fla. (Dec. 24, 2017) – On Dec. 31, 2011, Sarah Dodson ’01 knew New Year’s Eve would never hold the same meaning to her again. After five years of treatment, her 8-year-old daughter Marlie, who dreamed of becoming a UCF cheerleader and nurse, died of a brain tumor (Pineoblastoma).

In 2012, Dodson and her family established a new tradition with the hope that they could re-channel their feelings about the day into a positive experience. As a tribute to Marlie’s life, the family has sponsored a Share-A-Meal each year at the Ronald McDonald House at Orlando’s Arnold Palmer Medical Center.

This year, they’re expanding their efforts to Atlanta where the family of Knights fans will be to support the undefeated UCF football team in its Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl appearance on Jan. 1 against Auburn.

“We were moved by memorializing Marlie for this event, but ultimately it was representing UCF in a community that we’ve been invited to be a part of with this bowl game,” Dodson said. “That was a big piece of it for me – how cool is it that we can represent UCF and give back to this community on something that we’re all so passionate about? What an honor it is to represent UCF in addition to Marlie’s memory.”

The idea to extend the Share-A-Meal to Atlanta was planted at the American Athletic Conference Championship Game on Dec. 2.

A longtime supporter of the football team, Dodson was sitting in the stands at Spectrum Stadium before the last play when her sister turned to her and said, “They’re going to win this game. What are you going to do? I guess you’re going to have to have the Share-A-Meal in Atlanta.”

Dodson said she laughed it off as an unrealistic possibility. She was already committed to their annual meal in Orlando, but the idea stuck with her.

She researched the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and learned of its reputation as college football’s most charitable bowl and its commitment to education and the community’s children. As an educator herself with Club Z! In-Home Tutoring Services, it struck a chord.

She also learned the bowl is celebrating its 50th year – it’s golden season. Gold also happens to be the color for childhood cancer awareness. And “forever golden” is how Dodson’s entire family refers to Marlie.

Dodson felt there were too many signs to ignore. Her friends and support system at home told her they would take over the Orlando meal this year and encouraged her to go to Atlanta.

“This has almost been like a movement for Team Marlie. Now we know we can do this anywhere,” she said. “We can have multiple groups travel to any city because we’re so supported. It’s so perfect that it worked out and our first city will be Atlanta, and we’ll be there because of UCF.”

Dodson connected with the Ronald McDonald Family Room at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorder Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta – Scottish Rite. They’ll be serving meals to the patients, families, nurses, doctors and hospital staff.

Although Dodson can only bring three helpers onto the floor with her to serve the meals, her entire regular tailgate crew of 12 will help in the preparation.

“Meals are very important for the families who visit the family room. Most families do not want to leave their child’s bedside even if that means going downstairs to the cafeteria, so having a place where they can eat as a family moments away from their hospital room and worry free of cost, is a special treat,” said April Smith, family support services manager for Atlanta Ronald McDonald House Charities. “Families have expressed how grateful and appreciative they are to have groups and individuals volunteer their time to provide and serve warm prepared meals. I was happy to hear Sarah wanted to continue her volunteer work while visiting in Atlanta.”

They also plan to distribute sparkling apple cider and champagne flutes to help create a festive New Year’s Eve atmosphere in the children’s rooms.

Dodson said experiences like these are always a balance of excitement and compassion. Inevitably there will be some tears, but she is looking forward to the opportunity to honor her daughter’s memory on a weekend she knows her little cheerleader would have been thrilled to be a part of.

“This season was something that we’ve all been waiting for. The thing about Marlie was win or lose, she was a fan. I know her pride for this team would be through the roof,” she said. “If I was able to put to words what Marlie might feel, looking down on us, I think mostly she would be excited that we were living life and embracing another community and another group of children. She taught us to live life and to find happiness and love in everyone you come across. Continuing to be her voice and share that passion, I think she’d be excited we have smiles on our faces and are enjoying the experience.”

Marlie Dodson

Five Things Alumni Need to Know This Week – Dec. 4, 2017

1. A BIG thank you to everyone who contributed to make Giving Tuesday last week such a success at UCF. Nearly 700 donors gave $71,000 in support of scholarships, athletic and academic programs. It was a record-breaking year, and we couldn’t have done it without you.

2. To say there’s *a lot* happening in the world of UCF Athletics is an understatement. Let’s rewind the last 48 hours to catch you up:

> UCF won its third American Athletic Conference championship title after its double-overtime thriller against Memphis at Spectrum Stadium. Improving to 12-0, the Knights remain the only undefeated team in the FBS this season.

> Scott Frost announced he was resigning as UCF’s head coach to accept the head coaching position at his alma mater, Nebraska. While we’re sad to see him go, we wish him nothing but the best back at home. Director of Athletics and Vice President Danny White said a nationwide search has begun to find his replacement, and Troy Walters has been named the interim head coach.

> On Sunday, UCF accepted an invitation to compete in a New Year’s Six bowl game. The Knights will face Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl in Atlanta, Georgia, on Jan. 1 at 12:30 p.m. Full details about events and tickets can be found on and

> Sunday also saw the men’s basketball team knock off No. 24-ranked Alabama. It marked the squad’s first true road win over a ranked opponent in program history.

3. The most scenic feature on the UCF campus – the Reflecting Pond – is getting a facelift. Earlier this year, the pond’s aging underground pipes sprung several leaks. And heavy rains during Hurricane Irma caused runoff that damaged some its electrical controls. The renovation will correct those problems, as well as modernize the Reflecting Pond’s technology and features.

4. After nearly 41 years in law enforcement and almost 11 as the leader of the UCF Police Department, Chief Richard Beary announced that he will retire effective June 30, 2018. Beary graduated from UCF in 2004 with a master’s degree in criminal justice. Read his message to fellow UCFPD officers and staff members.

And in case you missed it, UCFPD made some friends on Monday morning when they handed out water to hundreds of students waiting in line – some for more than 10 hours – to purchase their bowl tickets.

5. The second UCF Presidential Search Committee meeting will be held Monday, Dec. 4, from 2-4 p.m. Those interested in the meeting can watch a livestream through UCF’s official YouTube page.

Five Funds Alumni Need to Know For Giving Tuesday

The countdown is on: Giving Tuesday is less than 24 hours away! Putting its own spin on days like Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, the global day of giving always falls on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving. So if you’re looking for ways to spread some positivity and embody the true meaning of the holiday season, consider making a gift to UCF.

Here are a few ways your generosity and passions can align to help Knights students and transform lives through the power of education:

1. UCF Athletics. Whether its big-time wins or setting the standard in the classroom among Division I FBS public institutions with a nation’s best 94-percent graduation rate, the Knights never cease to inspire us. To maintain their competitive excellence, they need our support in the areas of facilities, proper nutrition and scholarships.

2. First Generation Scholarships. Interested in really making an impact? Consider this: for every dollar you donate, the state of Florida offers a dollar-for-dollar match. One in four students at UCF is the first in his or her family to attend college, and they all could use a little help in ensuring the bright future they dream of.

3. College Excellence Funds. Did a certain professor make a difference for you? Did you love your time at UCF? Did your major  set you up for success in your professional life? This fund helps support scholarships and programs offered within each of UCF’s 13 colleges.

4. Study Abroad. Open up someone’s world. This fund is specifically designed to help make study abroad programs accessible to students with documented financial need.

5. Knights Helping Knights Pantry. It’s simple: This student-run organization’s No. 1 priority is to keep hungry Knights fed. It also offers other services like blazer rentals for job interviews, recipe inspiration, a partnership with the on campus arboretum and basic needs like toiletry products, clothing and blankets for any student.

This year, we hope to hit two major milestones on Giving Tuesday: 350 donors and $40,000. Please be one of the first to step up to join the mission and support something you believe in at UCF.


Five Things Alumni Need To Know This Week – Nov. 20, 2017

1. Black Friday is upon us, and all eyes will be on the War on I4. Fresh off its 10th-straight win, the No. 12 UCF football team and No. 19 USF will not only battle for bragging rights in the rivalry series, but the winner will also move on to face Memphis in the American Athletic Conference Championship game on Dec. 2. UCF Alumni’s Indoor Tailgate will open doors at 12:30 p.m., and the Future Knights Fun Zone will be held in the Dr. Hitt Library of the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center this week.

2. Speaking of football, senior linebacker Shaquem Griffin ’16 is up for the prestigious Senior CLASS Award, and you can help him become the first UCF male student-athlete to win it. Fan voting accounts for one-third of the total award process, and fans can vote once per day. Vote for Shaquem and while you’re at it, read this recent Sports Illustrated feature that is getting a lot of love.

3. For the sixth consecutive year, a computer programming team from UCF has advanced to compete in the top collegiate programming contest in the world, to be held next April in China. Out of the 40,000-plus students and 13,000-plus teams from more than 100 countries that began the competition this year, 128 teams are expected to meet in China to test their programming skills. Way to go, Knights!

4. In case you missed it, National Philanthropy Day took place last week, and we heard directly from Vice President for UCF Advancement and CEO of the UCF Foundation Mike Morsberger about what service and philanthropy means to UCF. You can make a difference again when Giving Tuesday rolls around on Nov. 28.

5. On Monday, the UCF Presidential Search Committee holds its first meeting at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center from 10 a.m.-noon. The search committee meeting is open to the public and will be broadcast live at the UCF Presidential Search website:

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—August 21

1. Today is the first day of school for Knights, and the university will welcome the largest and most diverse student body in its history, including a freshman class with a university-record GPA. Enrollment at UCF now tops 66,000 students, and the fall freshman class has an average incoming GPA of 4.05. Among the incoming freshman class are some of the nation’s top students, including 88 National Merit Scholars. A record 45 percent of current students are minorities, and 25 percent are the first in their families to attend college.

2. “I donate because we’re at a special moment in time. We’re making philanthropy part of our culture.” – Mike Morsberger, Vice President for Advancement and CEO of UCF Foundation, Inc.
Become one of the 70,000 donors moving UCF forward:

3. The UCF Marching Knights have a new home on the south side of campus following Saturday’s opening of a 3,500-square-foot building for offices and instrument storage. The facility is a welcome change for the 325-member band, which previously operated out of a trailer.

4. Alumnus Chris Sadowski ’99 was featured by for raising awareness and funds to combat hunger by logging 188 miles in two endurance races overseas. The Winter Park resident has completed more than 50 triathlons, including six IRONMAN races and two IRONMAN World Championship events, along with 20-plus marathons, eight ultramarathons, and numerous 5K and 10K running races. Charge On, Chris!

5. Several local and national UCF Alumni chapters and clubs are hosting events this week ranging from trivia to Painting with a Twist to baseball games. Find out if one is in your area to connect with other Knights.

Nurses First, Scholarships Follow for Alumnus-led Startup

Alvin Cortez ’08 (left) and Richard Manual (right) of Nurses First Solutions

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (June 22, 2017) – When long-time friends Alvin Cortez ’08 and Richard Manuel connected with the UCF Business Incubation Program to foster growth for their travel nurse staffing agency, they were asked a simple question: Why would somebody choose you rather than the company next to you?

They had a simple answer. They were in the business of making business personal.

Travel nurses typically work 13 week periods in one area, and move around the country depending on where they are needed. Nurses First Solutions provides those nurses to facilities in need of professional workforce. Manuel is a nurse. So is his wife. So is Cortez’s wife, Jessiccalou ’08 ’14BSN.

They knew about the job demands first-hand – the long hours, the life-saving work and the comfort that nurses provide to their patients. They also knew there were gaps in the industry, specifically for traveling nurses when it came to retirement plans, health care insurance, paid time off and life insurance.

So they decided to do something about it.

“We treat them like family,” Manuel said. “They won’t be treated like a number. They can call the company president and speak to him directly. It’s more transparent in our company.”

Echoed Cortez: “We wanted to give back, so we started the company – hence the name Nurses First.”

After incorporating in 2014, Cortez and Manuel hooked up with their third partner Ronnie Elliott and the UCF Business Incubation Program, which Cortez learned about when he studied interpersonal communication at UCF.

For nearly 20 years, the Incubation Program has been helping early-stage companies develop into financially stable, high-impact enterprises by providing resources and services that facilitate smarter, faster growth.

The duo credit site manager Carol Ann Dykes as the instrumental force that has pushed their business forward since joining the incubator. After they started at the incubator in April 2016, their company expanded from three employees to a dozen and their revenue grew from $300,000 to $6 million.

“It takes grit on our part, but at the same time it’s good to have guidance along the way,” Cortez said. “They hold us accountable to having a structure. If you have questions, they’ll connect you to the right types of people.”

All the while, they have remained steadfast in their mission to put nurses first. They offer competitive benefits, paid time off, life insurance and retirement plans. They also follow through on personal touches like sending flowers when their contracted nurses’ family members are sick or welcome boxes for new hires.

“People ask, does that eat up your profit? For us, it just makes sense,” Cortez said. “We’d rather give it back to the nurses. It’s ingrained in us to want to give back and do a little bit better for the people around us.”

They recently took that philosophy one step further by establishing the Nurses First Solutions Endowed Scholarship in April to support the undergraduate members of the Student Nurses Association within the College of Nursing.

Their office is located next to the College of Nursing, and after sponsoring some events, they became interested in setting up a scholarship. That interest turned into action after they attended a scholarship luncheon and heard directly from nursing students about how scholarships impacted their lives.

“We wanted to plant the seed for these students – there are resources, there are opportunities out there. They have a wide array of opportunity ahead of them if they are truly passionate about nursing,” Manuel said. “The scholarship puts more back into the community and students that want to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Knight’s Legacy Lives On Through Scholarships

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (April 6, 2017) – Before her death, Kailyn Jones was on the path to becoming a second-generation UCF alumna. She wanted to help people, especially children, as a physical therapist someday.

Although her own dream will tragically remain unrealized, two other students will have help achieving theirs thanks to a scholarship established in Jones’ name.

“Kailyn was such a good person. She loved to do good. I think she would be absolutely honored to do this for someone else,” said Ricardo San Jose, Kailyn’s uncle, a UCF alumnus and a current student in UCF’s family nurse practitioner program. “She saved a couple lives with her organ donation. Her heart is still beating in another right now.”

A scholarship was set up in memory of Kailyn Jones, a student at UCF who died in a car accident in June 2016.

Jones was killed in a car accident on Jun. 12, 2016 — the same date as the Pulse nightclub shooting. She was on her way home from babysitting family members at her grandparents’ house when another car drove into on-coming traffic.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, the driver hit a concrete barrier near a traffic circle at Maitland Summit Boulevard and Pembrook Drive, flipped and landed on top of Jones’ Honda Civic, records show.

San Jose, who works as an emergency room nurse, awoke early the next morning to find at least a dozen missed calls from his sister Lillian San Jose, Kailyn’s stepmother.

San Jose’s partner, Chris Blackwell, who is an associate professor at UCF, had known Kailyn for seven years and was as heartbroken as the rest of her family.

“I’ve worked in the ER, trauma, I’ve seen everything. But when it happens to you, there’s nothing that can prepare you for that,” he said. “It’s this instant sense of loss.”

At her funeral everyone wore purple for lupus awareness, a condition she was diagnosed with. Person after person spoke about Jones’ impact on their life and what a light she was to them. Blackwell felt compelled to do something.

When it was mentioned in her eulogy that she was going to join fellow family members as an alumna of UCF, Blackwell said the idea to do a scholarship clicked for him. He made a $1,000 donation and his family’s foundation, the Gary L. Blackwell Family Foundation, also made a $1,000 donation. These funds were used to support two student scholarships during the spring semester.

“I thought it would be a nice honor for her family to create a scholarship. Not only because it’s their alma mater, but maybe it would give them some comfort to see that somebody is pursing the same steps that their daughter would have pursued, and will have a somewhat easier way to do that,” Blackwell said.

On April 4, Jessica Recio, a nursing student who was awarded one of the scholarships, met Jones’ parents at the College of Nursing’s annual scholarship luncheon where students are invited to meet their donors for the first time. Blackwell and San Jose felt it was appropriate for Jones’ parents to attend in their place.

Kailyn Jones’ family members, Maurice Jones (purple shirt) and Lillian San Jose (black and white dress), met one of the scholarship recipients, Jessica Recio (right of San Jose).

Recio is a part-time graduate student in the middle of her second semester in UCF’s family nurse practitioner program. She has worked full time as a nurse at Orlando Regional Medical Center for the last year. She hopes to pursue a career in pediatrics after she graduates in 2019.

Recio said when she first applied for the scholarship, she wasn’t aware of the meaning behind it but has learned more about Jones over the last few months.

“It makes me sad but at the same time I’m really honored. I hope that I can make their family happy and proud,” Recio said. “I still have student loans from getting my nursing degree in the first place, so I am grateful to have help with this degree.”

Cami Osier, a physical therapy student and the other scholarship recipient, earned her bachelor’s degree in sports and exercise science as a Burnett Honors Student in 2015. She is currently pursuing a doctorate at UCF and hopes to one day become a pediatric physical therapist, just like Jones.

Jones will be one of the 18 students whose lives will be honored on April 11 at the Eternal Knights Memorial Service, an annual day of remembrance for the UCF community, family and friends for the lives of those lost in the past 12 months.

San Jose and Blackwell both said that Jones was a connector for their family and her friends, and they acknowledged she is still finding ways to do that, even after her death.

“She could walk into a room and just brighten everyone’s life. Full of humor, could make the grumpiest person laugh,” her uncle said. “It’s still difficult knowing that she’s gone. And it always will be I think. I think our family is dealing with it in healthy ways, and she would be proud of us.”


To learn more about supporting student scholarships at UCF, please visit

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—Feb. 27

    1. In case you haven’t heard by now, Kenneth G. Dixon has made a gift commitment of more than $5 million to UCF Athletics. It is the largest cash pledge ever by an individual UCF alumnus. In recognition of this gift, a 95-acre section of campus will be named the Kenneth G. Dixon Athletics Village. Check out this gallery to see more of what UCF’s vice president and director of athletics Danny White envisions for the future.

2. “It was so special to walk off the court seeing fans rush the floor. It was a wonderful experience. And that’s what we want to see. We have always said we’re not going to get anything special done without all of us being committed. That’s our student body, our community, our players and staff. Tonight, I think it all came together where everyone was engaged. I thought the students were great. I thought our fans were amazing. It was electric in there again tonight.”

That’s UCF men’s basketball head coach Johnny Dawkins following Sunday’s big win over No. 15 Cincinnati, marking the fourth victory over a ranked opponent in program history.

3. President John C. Hitt will celebrate his 25th anniversary on March 1. At last count in  September 2016, President Hitt has conferred more than 240,000 degrees at UCF. Read more about UCF’s accomplishments under his leadership over the last 25 years.

4. UCF’s lead in the War on I4 series just got a boost from track and field’s title win at the American Athletic Conference Indoor Championships. Redshirt senior Anne-Marie Blaney was named the Most Outstanding Track Performer of the Meet. The NCAA Indoor Championships will take place in College Station, Texas, on March 10-11, one week before UCF opens the outdoor season at home with the UCF Black and Gold Challenge.

5. More than 200 faculty, staff and students from the UCF music and theatre departments are collaborating on Oklahoma! for Celebrate the Arts, which runs from April 7-14. All events are free but tickets are required for all performances and entrance into the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. Visit for more information.