More To Her Story

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

By Jenna Marina Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Things Alumni Need to Know — Jan. 25, 2016

The UCF College of Nursing is one of just 60 nursing schools in 33 states to receive funding to participate in this year’s white coat ceremony, which promotes humanistic, patient-centered, compassionate care among future generations of registered nurses. (See No. 2 below.)

Here are five things you should know this week:

  1. Oviedo High School teachers Will Furiosi, ’13, MAT14, and Jessica Ortega, ’13, fell head-over-heels for each other — and education — at UCF. READ MORE
  2. On Jan. 10, nearly 200 students from the UCF College of Nursing ceremoniously began their clinical practice with an inaugural white coat ceremony and joined a nationwide initiative to promote compassionate care.
  3. UCF freshman Nick Drivas has been invited to perform with Grammy Award-nominated entertainer Michael Feinstein as part of the “Michael Feinstein: A Sinatra Centennial” concert Jan. 29 at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
  4. On a career break and thinking of returning to work? Unsure about what you want to do and where to start? Interested in changing career paths? Join UCF alumni and other returning professionals for an information-packed, half-day program that includes return-to-work strategies, and tactics on resumes, interviews and job searches.
  5. Running through Jan. 31, Theatre UCF, in collaboration with the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community, presents “Spunk and the Harlem Literati,” an adaption of the play “Spunk” by Zora Neale Hurston. The production is part of the 27th annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities.

There’s No Place Like … a Classroom

A pair of Knights fall head-over-heels for education — and each other — at UCF


Will Furiosi II, ’13, ’14 & Jessica Ortega, ’13 | Teachers, Oviedo High School

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Fascinated with infectious disease and pathogenic bacteria, Will Furiosi, ’13, ’14, had dreams of working at the Centers for Disease Control. But, during his senior year of pre-med classes at UCF, he decided that teaching science might be more fun.

So, after completing his bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences (with a minor in business administration) in 2013, he continued his education at UCF, on a full scholarship, graduating with his master’s degree in teacher education in 2014. Now, instead of wearing head-to-toe protective garb in a lab every day, he only needs to slip on a pair of safety glasses when conducting experiments with his AP biology and chemistry students at Oviedo High School.

And, in case he has any accidents, his emergency contact, fellow Knight and bride-to-be Jessica Ortega, ’13, is just a few hallways away, teaching AP art history and honors humanities.

To call this couple of Knights ambitious is an understatement.

During their time at UCF, both were active members of The Burnett Honors College and the President’s Leadership Council.

In addition, Furiosi was a recipient of the 2013 Order of Pegasus (the most prestigious and significant award a student can attain at UCF) and graduated top of his class in the College of Medicine, as well as Summa Cum Laude from the university. And, to get in some physical exercise (and fun!), he also played four years on the university’s Ultimate Frisbee team.

When asked about the proudest moment of his life so far, he says it was the near flawless execution of his engagement plan that was six months in the making, but, he adds that a close second is a toss-up between finishing with perfect 4.0s as valedictorian of his high school and finishing top of his class at UCF.

“While there is more prestige accompanying the UCF distinction, completing the feat in high school showed that I could set my mind to something years in advance and achieve it,” he says.

Educating Q&A

Why did you choose to attend UCF?
JO: My family made an unexpected pit stop on the way to a ski trip on President’s Day weekend senior year and I applied to UCF that night. I felt just like Dorothy (in “The Wizard of Oz”) coming home the moment I stepped onto the campus. I knew I couldn’t go anywhere else after that moment.

Do you have any hidden talents?
WF: I can play multiple musical instruments — bassoon (it’s been a while for this one), flute and saxophone — and, I have a knack for taking musical tunes and making my own lyrical renditions.

If life were a song, what would the title be?
WF: I’m going to take a different spin on this and choose a good song for life: “Warning” by Incubus. It’s about a warning that you shouldn’t let life pass you by. Instead, you should live life to the fullest because everything could be gone in an instant.
JO: “I’m On Top of the World” by Imagine Dragons, because that’s how I try to feel every day, especially in front of 100-plus high school students!

Most embarrassing moment?
WF: I’m sure I’ve had more embarrassing moments, but … I ripped my pants, right in the center of my butt, right in the middle of the school day earlier this school year.

What were you most surprised to learn after becoming a teacher?
WF: I was most surprised to hear how much unsubstantiated or biased research is used to influence educational policy and how much time and money is wasted in constantly trying to reinvent the educational wheel.
JO: That kids (or anyone for that matter) never listen to you the first five times you say something. It drives me nuts having to repeat what I already have written on the board a million times a day. I seriously waste at least a few minutes a class period repeating myself and that adds up!

What kind of life advice do you give to your students?
WF: I encourage students to continue to learn as much as possible, get involved in activities to determine their interests, and become financially literate (something we should do more of in public school).
JO: Figure out your passions and pursue them regardless. These students have too many people telling them what they “should” do with their lives. They need more quiet time to just sit there and thing about what THEY want to do, not what their parents, counselors, friends or teachers think is best for them. They’re too afraid of making the “wrong” choice, but I tell them that if they learned something for the experience, it can never be a “wrong” choice.

Technology on Wheels

Alumnus’ invention earns nearly $1.4 million on Kickstarter


Gaston Blanchet, ’09 | Co-founder, Trunkster

By Angie Lewis, ’03

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pack it Up Q&A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. Pet peeve?
A. Delayed flights!

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

Q. Hidden talent?
A. I can juggle.

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

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

More Info

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

Distinguished Student 2014

Donna Perez, '83, '88 (left), the 1982 winner of the Distinguished Student Award, presented this year's award to Cynthia Florentino, '14. (PHOTO: Brandon Chestnut)
Donna Perez, ’83, ’88 (left), the 1982 winner of the Distinguished Student Award, presented this year’s award to Cynthia Florentino, ’14.
(PHOTO: Brandon Chestnut)
Cynthia Florentino, ’14 | Google Policy Fellow, U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Cynthia Florentino graduated from UCF with a political science degree after dedicating the majority of her time to professional development and extracurricular involvement. Florentino served in a cabinet position for the UCF Student Government Association and enrolled in a federal college program, where she became chair of the President’s Leadership Council her senior year. She currently attends graduate school in Washington, D.C., and continues to pursue her dream of transforming lives with the use of the Internet as a tool for empowerment.

Learn more about Cynthia: