UCF Alumni Building A More Sustainable Orlando

Alumni Chris Castro and Brittany Sellers
UCF alumni Chris Castro and Brittany Sellers lead the Green Works initiatives for City of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. Photo courtesy of City of Orlando

By Jenna Marina Lee

ORLANDO, Fla. (April 19, 2018) — The sounds of construction can be heard on the third floor of Orlando City Hall. The building is being retrofitted with energy efficient technology as part of the City of Orlando’s sustainability initiatives.

It’s one of the many projects currently underway and supervised by sustainability director Chris Castro ’10 and sustainability project manager Brittany Sellers ’13MA ’16PhD. From the moment the UCF alumni step in their offices, they are literally surrounded by the results of their labor of love.

Their daily mission, especially on April 22’s Earth Day, is to transform Orlando into one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the country. That’s not exactly easy to do when one of the world’s top tourist destinations is also Forbes’ fourth-fastest growing city in America for 2018.

“When you look at Orlando from a long-term sustainability standpoint, 30-40-50-plus years from now, the amount of energy, the amount of water we’re consuming, the amount of waste that we are generating, is unsustainable,” Castro says. “At a certain point, our economy could become impacted negatively if we don’t start proactively paying attention to that.”

Easy Being Green
Castro and Sellers have been paying attention for quite a while.

Castro, the son of palm tree farmers in Miami, arrived at UCF in 2007 as an undeclared major. In his first year, he enrolled in a class taught by Penelope Canan, a nationally recognized professor for her environmental and sociology research. After taking her environmental sociology course, he knew he wanted to dedicate his life and career to sustainability.

He jumped in immediately by starting IDEAS for UCF, a sustainability-focused student organization. The group welcomes students of all majors and interests, and it focuses on originating solutions to make UCF’s campus more sustainable.

One of its first major achievements was receiving a commitment from President John C. Hitt and UCF to become a carbon neutral campus by 2050. IDEAS worked on programming and policies to help make strides toward that goal.

“I saw UCF as this unbelievable opportunity. For me, it was the best Petri dish that any student could ever imagine,” Castro says. “Everything I was doing through campus, I’ve now tried to expand it and take it to real life and the municipal government.”

One of the group’s programs, the Kill-A-Watt energy conservation competition, challenged students living in dorms to compete against each other in energy consumption reduction.

Sellers heard about the project as a human factors psychology doctoral student and wanted to study the challenge Castro helped implement as part of her dissertation.

She examined the project with a behavioral lens. How were students living in older dorms competing against students in newly constructed dorms? What if students couldn’t easily access sockets to unplug electronics? Did they know what the challenge on campus meant in the bigger picture of impacting climate change globally?

“Information does not equal action. People can know to do the right thing but there are all these other factors, and we need to look at what that means. What are the elements that can make it more possible?” Sellers says. “My transition to the department of sustainability at the city was pretty seamless even though I had come in as a psychology researcher. It might not seem like the most logical jump. But from the interdisciplinary approach I had in my education, it all made sense. A lot of that was fostered at UCF.”

People, Planet and Prosperity
Castro joined City of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer’s sustainability department full time in 2014, and Sellers joined soon after in 2015 before graduating with her doctorate a year later.

The two have brought their expertise to Dyer’s Green Works initiative, which began in 2007. Every day, these Knights and their team – which includes energy project manager Ian LaHiff ’09, sustainability associate Joe England ’09 ’12MA and public outreach coordinator Daniel Friedline ’13 – are shaping the policies and actions that make Orlando and Central Florida a more livable, vibrant and sustainable place to live.

“Sustainability is about changing that mindset to get people looking at people, planet and prosperity. It’s about the triple-bottom line: social, economic and environment,” Castro says. “The fact is, we won’t have an economy if our people are dying and are sick. We won’t have an economy if the natural resources in our environment that we depend on aren’t there. So what cities are positioning to do in our office and our roles is to figure out how we can change our operations internally, and externally, how we can change our culture to embrace the triple-bottom line.”

The first phase of the Green Works program focused internally on city operations. The city knew it needed to buy in to what it was asking of its residents, so it began upgrading municipal building features to minimize energy consumption. It lowered water usage, diverted waste and transitioned its fleet vehicles to alternative fuels.

In 2013, Green Works took what it learned from its internal changes and applied its success outward to the community to foster a culture that embraced sustainability.

To keep from getting overwhelmed, Castro and Sellers focus on making progress in six key areas: energy and green buildings; local food systems; solid waste; livability (planting trees, pedestrian and bicycle trails, expanding parks); transportation; and water. Within each area are policies and actions needed to make their goals happen by 2040.

There are measures like developing plans for solar generation on rooftops in support of Orlando’s 100 percent renewable energy commitment – one of 50 cities in the country to undertake such a monumental task. Or transforming all downtown LYMMO buses into all electric zero-metric buses. Or adding electric motorcycles for the Orlando Police Department. Or addressing food insecurity with farmers markets that accept SNAP benefits. Or fleet farming, exactly like the food being grown in plant beds outside of UCF’s Student Union.

“We could be here all day,” Sellers says as Castro and she list one example after another.

Castro and Sellers estimate their office juggles 40-50 projects simultaneously at any given time, and even though the work is demanding, Sellers says she is excited to be part of the team and takes prides in the work they accomplish every day, especially in the city where her alma mater is located.

While some may say they’re ‘saving the world,’ she prefers to look at it from a slightly different perspective.

“I like when we go out and do good things, you see that light spark in other people. You ignite that desire to do the right thing, the good thing. So I like to frame that as ‘amplifying the good that already exists in the world,’” she says. “Sometimes we’re changing hearts and minds and there’s an evolution, but at the same time, for a lot of people, this already lies within them, and we’re just kind of empowering and enabling that in them.”

Power of One
While they are certainly leading the charge, they want everyone to understand the role each individual can play in helping the city’s progress toward a better future for Orlando.

Castro points to a phone call he received recently from a concerned citizen about an oak tree that was scheduled to be cut down because of development. The individual asked if something could be done to stop trees like the oak from being cut down in the future.

Now, Castro’s team along with the parks and planning teams will collaborate on exploring ways to improve tree ordinances and protect Orlando’s urban forest.

“That all happened because of one individual. That voice goes an extremely long way,” Castro says.

They’ve made it a priority to provide tools and information to the public on their website www.cityoforlando.net/greenworks as well as host community forums to encourage others to use their voices.

Castro and Sellers both agree that the single biggest aspect about sustainability that people do not realize is the effect one individual can have in making a difference.

“Changing out your light bulbs, changing one degree in your home [thermostat], unplugging appliances, changing your diet, carpooling or ride sharing or alternative modes of transit,” Castro says, “little by little, these actions in a collective sense, make a huge global impact.”

Spread Of Support

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By College of Sciences Communications

ORLANDO, Fla. (Sept. 14, 2016) – There are diehard Knights, and then there are Carol Lawrence, ’71, and her husband, Jim, ’70.

Their lives are so entwined with UCF that John T. Washington, UCF’s first African-American faculty member and for whom a campus building is named after, officiated their wedding in 1972.

Carol and her husband have remained active with UCF as philanthropists and proud Knight fans over the last four decades. In early August, the Lawrences established the Jim and Carol Lawrence Funds, making a generous donation to UCF.

“UCF is the reason we have been married almost 44 years so we wanted to acknowledge its contribution to our relationship,” Carol said. “Also, because we benefited greatly from our FTU educations, we felt it would be appropriate to give back to UCF by leaving it a portion of our estate.”

These funds will support departments, clubs and organizations across the university for which Jim and Carol maintain a passionate advocacy. Seventy percent of the gift will support six different academic departments and initiatives, with half of their gift allocated to the Department of Psychology and the Department of Political Science – Jim’s and Carol’s majors, respectively.

The fund will also create an endowed fund in sociology, coastal research, public administration and Africana studies. This support will be used for scholarships, resources, faculty salaries and grants. In addition, the funds will provide operational support for the UCF Equestrian Club and UCF Alumni Engagement and Annual Giving.

As unwavering Knight Fans, the Lawrences also designated 25 percent of the fund to support UCF Athletics to establish student-athlete scholarships.

Due in part to her continued partnership with UCF, her accomplishments as a professional and her extensive community engagement, Carol was honored by the College of Sciences this year with the Outstanding AlumKnight award.

“I am honored to count Carol Lawrence as our AlumKnight,” said Kerstin Hamann, Ph.D., Pegasus Professor and chair of the Department of Political Science. “Carol embodies UCF values through her professional success, community involvement, and her enduring dedication to UCF. She is a wonderful role model for our students and we are delighted to present her the award.”

The Lawrences attended UCF when it was still Florida Technological University, just a few years after FTU welcomed its inaugural class.

Jim graduated in 1970 with his undergraduate degree in psychology before earning his master’s degree in psychology from Middle Tennessee State University and doctoral degree in psychology and child development from the University of Kansas.

Carol graduated with her undergraduate degree in political science/public administration in 1971.

“That graduating class was so small, maybe 400 or less,” Carol recalled. “The graduation ceremony was held off campus.”

After graduating from UCF, Carol earned her master’s degree in public administration from Florida Atlantic University and went on to work as a research associate at the FAU-FIU Joint Center for Environmental and Urban Problems. There, she worked with the late Dr. John M. DeGrove, the architect of Florida’s 1985 landmark growth management legislation.

Carol left the center in 1976 to work as a budget analyst and lobbyist for the Miami-Dade County State Legislature. The couple moved back to central Florida in 1980 where both found success as licensed real estate brokers. They remain active brokers of their 32-year old RE/MAX office.

However, after more than 25 years since leaving UCF, Carol decided in 1998 that being owner and manager of a company wasn’t her only end goal and enrolled in the University of Orlando School Of Law, now known as Barry University Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law.

“I was 56 years old when I enrolled,” Lawrence said. “That’s an age when most people are contemplating retirement, and I set out to fulfill the dream of being an attorney that I had since I was 14 years old.”

Upon passing the exam in 2002, Lawrence was sworn in as a member of the Florida Bar. After years of working only for herself, she described the move to start her own law firm as a natural progression.

She opened her law firm in 2003 and a title insurance agency in 2006, both of which she still owns and operates today in addition to her role as an owner and broker of her and Jim’s RE/MAX franchise.

Although she now works up to 13 hours per day at three different jobs and volunteers for numerous community activities, Carol has no intention of giving up her dynamic life.

“When someone asks me why I haven’t retired, I have a go-to reply,” she said. “‘Retire? Why, I’m just getting started.’”

College of Sciences Recognizes its Newest Group of Outstanding AlumKnights

COS_OA_2016

On March 3, the UCF College of Sciences and its alumni chapter hosted their second annual Outstanding AlumKnights awards ceremony. The college’s dean, Michael Johnson, hosted this year’s festivities, which took place in the Grand Ballroom of the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center, where guests enjoyed music, cocktails, heavy hors d’oeuvres and a photo booth, in addition to the award presentations.

Congratulations to all of this year’s Outstanding AlumKnights!

The 2016 awardees were:

  • Anthropology | Amanda Groff, Ph.D., ’03, ’05, ’07, lecturer, UCF Department of Anthropology
  • Biology | David Breininger, Ph.D., ’09, lead wildlife biologist, NASA Ecological Programs, Kennedy Space Center
  • Chemistry | Robert DeVor, Ph.D., ’03, ’08, scientist/principal investigator, Vencore Inc.
  • Communication | Marci Gonzalez, ’05, reporter, ABC affiliate, New York
  • Mathematics | Robert Muise, Ph.D., ’88, ’90, ’03, senior staff systems engineer, Lockheed Martin
  • Physics | Howard Bender III, Ph.D., ’97, ’98, R&D program manager, National Security Technologies LLC
  • Political Science | Carol Lawrence, ’71, attorney at law, Carolyn J.B. Lawrence P.A.
  • Psychology | Diane Robinson, Ph.D., ’06, ’10, program director, Cancer Support Community/Integrative Medicine Department, UF Health Cancer Center, Orlando Health
  • Sociology | Monica Mendez, Ph.D., ’02, ’08, executive director, Dress for Success Pittsburgh
  • Statistics | Tiffany Wills, ’06, assistant vice president/actuary, Hannover Life Reassurance Company of America

VIEW PHOTOS FROM THE EVENT

UCF Salutes Veterans

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In honor of Veterans Day, the UCF Alumni Association thanks all of the members of our U.S. Armed Forces — past and present —
for their service, dedication and sacrifice.

Since 2001, 2.7 million troops have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly one in 10 returns with post-traumatic stress disorder. Within a year of returning home, three in 10 will be diagnosed.

We’re proud to share some of the great things our alma mater is doing to assist our men and women in uniform, including:

UCF RESTORES Clinical Research Center

As part of the UCF Department of Psychology in the College of Sciences, UCF RESTORES is a clinical research center dedicated to the study of all facets of anxiety, trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder, including etiology, psychopathology, treatment, resilience and prevention.

The following video highlights the remarkable success that the UCF RESTORES clinic is finding in helping veterans master traumatic memories:

Veterans Academic Resource Center

The Veterans Academic Resource Center is a one-stop solution for the needs of student veterans.

The center ensures student veterans access to all available campus resources, provides study space and special tutoring, helps faculty and staff understand these students’ unique needs, and provides them the tools needed to stay on track and complete their degrees.

The VARC has been designated as a center for excellence for veteran-student success. And, since 2011, UCF has been named a “Military-Friendly School” by G.I. Jobs.


A Month of Honor and Remembrance

UCF is honoring veterans all month long, with a commemorative ceremony and other activities, which, so far, have included an open house and student-veteran appreciation lunch at the Veterans Academic Resource Center, a free screening of the documentary “Debt of Honor: Disabled Veterans in American History,” a flag display on Memory Mall, and a Veterans Day parade at Universal Studios.

Still to come:

  • Saturday, Nov. 14 | Several UCF organizations and departments will participate in the City of Orlando Veterans Day Parade, honoring the men and women of the armed forces. This year’s parade will also commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.
  • Monday, Nov. 16 | Student-veterans are invited to attend Light Up UCF’s Military Appreciation Night. Contact Joshua Johnson at 407.823.5874 for more info.
  • Thursday, Nov. 19 | In gratitude of active military, reserves, veterans and first responders, they can register for complimentary tickets to the UCF vs. East Carolina football game for Military Appreciation Knight, and will also be extended to the UCF vs. USF game on Thursday, Nov. 26. GET TICKETS (Click on the “TICKETS” tab on the top banner, search “UCF Football” and select your seats. GOVX members will receive a complimentary ticket. Up to four additional tickets will be available at $20.)

Anxious Students Strain College Mental Health Centers

A therapy dog named Sparky gives some love to Ashley Perez, 18, and Nik Keebler, 22, during an event at the University of Central Florida's Center for Counseling and Psychological Services.
A therapy dog named Sparky gives some love to Ashley Perez, 18, and Nik Keebler, 22,
during an event at UCF’s Center for Counseling and Psychological Services.
(Photo: Douglas Bovitt, New York Times)

By Jan Hoffman
New York Times

One morning recently, a dozen college students stepped out of the bright sunshine into a dimly lit room at the counseling center here at the University of Central Florida. They appeared to have little in common: undergraduates in flip-flops and nose rings, graduate students in interview-ready attire.

But all were drawn to this drop-in workshop: “Anxiety 101.”

As they sat in a circle, a therapist, Nicole Archer, asked: “When you’re anxious, how does it feel?”

“I have a faster heart rate,” whispered one young woman. “I feel panicky,” said another. Sweating. Ragged breathing. Insomnia.

Causes? Schoolwork, they all replied. Money. Relationships. The more they thought about what they had to do, the students said, the more paralyzed they became.

Anxiety has now surpassed depression as the most common mental health diagnosis among college students, though depression, too, is on the rise. More than half of students visiting campus clinics cite anxiety as a health concern, according to a recent study of more than 100,000 students nationwide by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State.

Nearly one in six college students has been diagnosed with or treated for anxiety within the last 12 months, according to the annual national survey by the American College Health Association.

The causes range widely, experts say, from mounting academic pressure at earlier ages to overprotective parents to compulsive engagement with social media. Anxiety has always played a role in the developmental drama of a student’s life, but now more students experience anxiety so intense and overwhelming that they are seeking professional counseling.

As students finish a college year during which these cases continued to spike, the consensus among therapists is that treating anxiety has become an enormous challenge for campus mental health centers.

Like many college clinics, the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services at the University of Central Florida — one of the country’s largest and fastest-growing universities, with roughly 60,000 students — has seen sharp increases in the number of clients: 15.2 percent over last year alone. The center has grown so rapidly that some supply closets have been converted to therapists’ offices.

More students are seeking help partly because the stigma around mental health issues is lessening, noted Stephanie Preston, a counselor at UCF.

Stress kits were distributed at an event at the University of Central Florida's Center for Counseling and Psychological Services. The kits included a stress ball, mints and crayons.
Stress kits were distributed at an event at UCF’s Center for Counseling and Psychological Services.
The kits included a stress ball, mints and crayons.
(Photo: Douglas Bovitt, New York Times)

Preston has seen the uptick in anxiety among her student clients. One gets panic attacks merely at the thought of being called upon in class. And anxiety was among a constellation of diagnoses that became life-threatening for another client, Nicholas Graves.

Two years ago, Graves, a stocky cinema studies major in jeans, a T-shirt and Converse sneakers, could scarcely get to class. That involved walking past groups of people and riding a bus — and Graves felt that everyone was staring at him.

He started cutting himself. He was hospitalized twice for psychiatric observation.

After some sessions with Preston, group therapy and medication, Graves, 21, who sat in an office at the center recently describing his harrowing journey, said he has made great progress.

“I’m more focused in school, and I’ve made more friends in my film courses — I found my tribe,” he said, smiling. “I’ve been open about my anxiety and depression. I’m not ashamed anymore.”

Anxiety has become emblematic of the current generation of college students, said Dan Jones, the director of counseling and psychological services at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C.

Because of escalating pressures during high school, he and other experts say, students arrive at college preloaded with stress. Accustomed to extreme parental oversight, many seem unable to steer themselves. And with parents so accessible, students have had less incentive to develop life skills.

“A lot are coming to school who don’t have the resilience of previous generations,” Jones said. “They can’t tolerate discomfort or having to struggle. A primary symptom is worrying, and they don’t have the ability to soothe themselves.”

Social media is a gnawing, roiling constant. As students see posts about everyone else’s fabulous experiences, the inevitable comparisons erode their self-esteem. The popular term is “FOMO” — fear of missing out.

And so personal setbacks that might once have become “teachable moments” turn into triggers for a mental health diagnosis.

“Students are seeking treatment, saying, ‘I just got the first C in my life, my whole life just got shattered, I wanted to go to medical school and I can’t cope,’” said Micky Sharma, president of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors and head of Ohio State University’s counseling center.

NYTimes-counselor
Stephanie Preston, a mental health counselor at UCF, says that more students are seeking help for mental health issues.
(Photo: Douglas Bovitt, New York Times)

Anxiety is an umbrella term for several disorders, including social anxiety disorder and agoraphobia. It can accompany many other diagnoses, such as depression, and it can be persistent and incapacitating.

Students who suffer from this acute manifestation can feel their very real struggles are shrugged off, because anxiety has become so ubiquitous, almost a cliché, on campus.

Alexa, 18, has been treated for an anxiety disorder since middle school, when she was still feeling terrorized by monsters under the bed. She has just finished her freshman year at Queens College in New York.

If she had a severe episode during a test, afterward she would try to explain to her professors what had happened but they would dismiss her. “They’d say, ‘Your mind isn’t focused,’ or ‘That’s just an excuse,’ ” said Alexa, who wrote her college application essay about grappling with the disorder. She asked not to be fully identified for privacy reasons.

More often, anxiety is mild, intermittent or temporary, the manifestation of a student in the grip of a normal developmental issue — learning time management, for example, or how to handle rejection from a sorority.

Mild anxiety is often treatable with early, modest interventions. But to care for rising numbers of severely troubled students, many counseling centers have moved to triage protocols. That means that students with less urgent needs may wait several weeks for first appointments.

“A month into the semester, a student is having panic attacks about coming to class, but the wait list at the counseling center is two to five weeks out. So something the student could recover from quickly might only get worse,” said Ben Locke, associate director of clinical services at Penn State University and the lead author of the Penn State report.

By necessity, most centers can only offer individual therapy on a short-term basis. Preston estimates that about 80 percent of clients at UCF need only limited therapy.

“Students are busting their butts academically, they’re financially strapped, working three jobs,” she said. “There’s nothing diagnosable, but sometimes they just need a place to express their distress.”

Even with 30 therapists, the center at UCF must find other ways to reach more students — especially the ones who suffer, smoldering, but don’t seek help.

Like many college counseling centers, UCF has designed a variety of daily workshops and therapy groups that implicitly and explicitly address anxiety, depression and their triggers. Next fall the center will test a new app for treating anxiety with a seven-module cognitive behavioral program, accessible through a student’s phone and augmented with brief video conferences with a therapist.

It also offers semester-long, 90-minute weekly therapy groups, such as “Keeping Calm and in Control,” “Mindfulness for Depression” and “Building Social Confidence” — for students struggling with social anxiety.

The therapists have to be prepared to manage students who present a wide array of challenges. “You never know who is going to walk in,” said Karen Hofmann, the center’s director. “Someone going through a divorce. Mourning the death of a parent. Managing a bipolar disorder. Or they’re transgender and need a letter for hormone therapy.”

Indeed, Locke and his colleagues at Penn State, who have tracked campus counseling centers nationwide for six years, have documented a trend that other studies have noted: Students are arriving with ever more severe mental-health issues.

Half of clients at mental health centers in their most recent report had already had some form of counseling before college. One-third have taken psychiatric medication. One quarter have self-injured.

The fundamental goal of campus counseling centers is to help students complete their education. According to federal statistics, just 59 percent of students who matriculated at four year colleges in 2006 graduated within six years.

Studies have repeatedly emphasized the nexus between mental health and academic success. In a survey this year at Ohio State’s center, just over half of the student clients said that counseling was instrumental in helping them remain in school.

Anxiety-ridden students list schoolwork as their chief stressor. UCF’s center and after-hours hotline are busiest when midterm and final exams loom. That’s when the center runs what has become its most popular event: “Paws-a-tively Stress Free.”

The other afternoon, just before finals week, students, tired and apprehensive, trickled into the center. The majority were not clients.

NYTimes-Bodhi
Students gathered around a therapy dog during an event at UCF.
(Photo: Douglas Bovitt, New York Times)

At a tent outside, their greeter was the center’s mascot and irresistible magnet: a 14-pound Havanese, a certified therapy dog whom many clients ask to hold during individual sessions, stroking his silky white coat to alleviate anxiety.

“Bodhi!” they called, as he trotted over, welcoming them to his turf with a friendly sniff.

For the next two hours, some 75 students visited the center, sitting on floors for a heavy petting session with therapy dogs.

They laughed at the dogs’ antics and rubbed their bellies. They remarked on how nice it was to get a study break.

On the way out, the students were handed a smoothie and a “stress kit,” which included a mandala, crayons, markers, stress balls and “Smarties” candy.

Also tucked into the kit was a card with information about how to contact the center, should they ever need something more.

This article appeared in a May 27, 2015, edition of the New York Times online. It has been slightly edited in accordance with UCF Alumni Association and AP style guidelines. See original story.

More Info

UCF Center for Counseling and Psychological Services

Mom and Daughter Graduate on Same Day

Mother-Daughter-graduation
Debbie Tyson and daughter Raina Sims both received their UCF degrees
during graduation ceremonies on Friday, May 8.
(Photo: Richard Diaz)

By Charneisha Pates
UCF Today

Debbie Tyson had an early Mother’s Day celebration this week: Both she and one of her daughters graduated from UCF on the same day. Tyson picked up her psychology degree during the 9 a.m. Friday commencement ceremony at CFE Arena, and then watched daughter Raina Sims accept her elementary education degree during the 2:30 p.m. ceremony. Both graduated with honors.

For Tyson, a degree was something she always wanted to attain, but, for the stay-at-home mother, going back to school didn’t always seem to fit into the plans she had for her family. Then, in 2008, her family relocated to Florida and her dreams of obtaining a degree soon became a reality.

Tyson returned to the classroom after 30 years, initially enrolling as a business major at Seminole State College in Sanford. It wasn’t until she took an entry-level psychology class that she discovered a love for psychology and switched her major.

Sims also soon began studying at Seminole State.

“I showed her the ropes, how to get into the honor society, to select classes and professors because I had already taken those classes and professors,” Tyson says. The two spent much of their time at school together, even enrolling in one of the same classes.

“We sat together, did homework together, and ate lunch together,” Sims explains. “I would bring my friends over to the house for lunch, and mom would make soup.”

After graduating from Seminole State, Tyson went on to UCF through DirectConnect, where she studied psychology. Once again, Sims followed in her mom’s footsteps.

“I believe it has been a sense of competition for her to excel, and maintain her GPA,” Tyson says. “It makes me feel like I have showed my children that you can excel.”

Another daughter, Kirsten Sims, will graduate from Lake Mary High School at the end of this month.

After commencement, Tyson plans to continue higher education courses.

“Going to college, studying under well-known professors, and reading material for classes directed my education in many different ways,” Tyson says. “It opened up doors and helped me to realize different potential in myself.”

As for Sims, she hopes to land a job with the Seminole County Public School district.

Editor’s note: This story was slightly edited from its original version to reflect an event that has now taken place in the past. 

College of Sciences Presents Inaugural Outstanding AlumKnights Awards

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On Feb. 5, the University of Central Florida College of Sciences and its alumni chapter hosted the inaugural Outstanding AlumKnights award reception at the Orlando Science Center.

COS Dean, Dr. Michael Johnson welcomed the crowd, and faculty representatives from each of the college’s 10 departments and school presented the awards to their respective recipients.

The 2015 awardees were:

  • Anthropology | Keith Edwards, ’10, ’11, president, Medstar Medical
  • Biology | Alice Bard, ’86, ’89, environmental specialist II, Florida Department of Environmental Protection Division of Recreation & Parks, Bureau of Parks, District 3
  • Chemistry | Jennifer McKinley, ’94, ’96, co-founder and chief operating officer, IRradiance Glass
  • Nicholson School of Communication | Clay McMillan, ’90, president, CMI Production Services
  • Mathematics | Aicha Elhor Gillespie, Ph.D., ’00, senior vice president of Citi Shared Services Global Re-engineering
  • Physics | Clara Rivero-Baleine, Ph.D., ’01, ’03, ’05, mechanical engineer, Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control
  • Political Science | Ybeth Bruzual, ’05, morning news/political coverage anchor/moderator, News 13
  • Psychology | Kristin Chase, ’03, director of organizational development department, Universal Orlando
  • Sociology | Nicholas Guittar, Ph.D., ’01, ’05, ’11, assistant professor of sociology, Valdosta State University
  • Statistics | Stephanie Urdahl, ’05, assistant vice president and actuary, Financial Solutions Pricing Department, Hannover Re

Not only did the event honor the college’s most outstanding alumni, but it also raised money for scholarships through a silent auction.

Guests had fun interacting with exhibits at the science center, including a hands-on liquid nitrogen demonstration that had everyone jumping at the explosion of an expanding balloon! They also enjoyed live music, while sipping drinks and snacking on hors d’oeuvres — including the crowd-favorite flaming donuts. To finish off the evening’s festivities, awardees and their families dressed up in UCF props and captured their Knight pride in the photo booth.

VIEW PHOTOS

Major Inspiration

An alumna’s traumatic past hasn’t kept her from pursuing her dreams

"Graduating with my bachelor's from UCF has been a dream of mine since high school," says Sarah Sacra, '13, who is currently pursuing her master's degree at UCF.
“Graduating with my bachelor’s from UCF has been a dream of mine since high school,” says Sarah Sacra, ’13,
who is currently pursuing her master’s degree at UCF.
Sarah Sacra, ’13 | Graduate Student, UCF

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Sarah Sacra, ’13, has always been intrigued by human behavior, so she didn’t have to give much thought to her undergraduate major: psychology.

“I enjoyed when friends came to me to tell me something — picking up on their body language and how they spoke, in combination with their personalities. It was very interesting,” she says.

At age 23, Sacra already has an impressive resume, which includes a 4.0 GPA, working as a teaching assistant for several UCF professors, participating in faculty research, being published, giving more than a half dozen presentations, racking up countless awards, being part of numerous honor societies and professional groups, and volunteering from the time she was a teen.

Her ambitions continue as she pursues her UCF master’s degree in applied sociology, with a criminology/deviance specialization. After graduating in August 2015, she plans to keep going, to earn her third UCF degree — a doctorate in sociology.

“My ultimate goal in my professional life is to create partnerships between research universities and law enforcement agencies to reduce crime — particularly murders,” she says. “To accomplish this, I would like to be a tenured university professor who researches crime with the intention of favorably changing public policies.”

Her interest in criminology stems from true-life crime shows, like “Forensic Files,” “Dr. G: Medical Examiner,” “Dateline NBC” and “America’s Most Wanted.” She remembers talking to her stepmother about how awesome it would be to do criminal investigations, but that interest was placed on the back burner since she had no idea how to get into the field.

“Now that I’m in sociology and study under advisors who specialize in crime, I can take my hidden passion, bring it to the forefront, and turn it into my career.”

Because her successes and goals are so impressive, it’s hard to imagine the trauma she had to overcome to achieve them all.

For nearly two years of her adolescent life, she was sexually and emotionally abused by her stepfather, and emotionally abused and neglected by her mother.

“While the abuse was going on, I had a feeling it wasn’t something ‘normal’ that others experienced,” she explains. “But, I didn’t know for sure because, other than going to school, I was barricaded from the social world. My stepfather confessed to my mother that he had sexually abused me after the first incident, however, even with this knowledge and my affirmation, my mother stayed with him and continued to live life as normal.

In November of seventh grade, my grandfather, whom I was very close with, passed away. My mother did not allow me to go to his funeral, and left me at home with my stepfather. After yet another incident with my stepfather, I decided that I was tired of living in fear. I sought peer counseling from school on the basis of my grandfather passing. After about two weeks, I confided in my peer counselor about the real truth, and the school and law enforcement took matters into their own hands from there.”

Sacra’s stepfather and mother were eventually arrested, and she went to live with her father and stepmother, to whom she attributes her “triumph.”

“She was the one who started the process of removing me from my mother’s custody after she found out my mother knew about the abuse, did nothing about it, and continued to have me under her care,” she explains. “She provided the loving and supportive environment that I needed to heal and grow into the person I am today.”

Q&A Timeout

Q. You sound like a very busy girl! What do you do for fun?
A. For fun, I like to go to UCF football games and watch NFL games on TV with my friends. Otherwise, I enjoy relaxing, listening to music, and catching up on sleep.

Q. What music do you listen to when you want to tune out the world?
A. I have a very eclectic taste in music, so it would depend on my mood. Typically, old hip hop/R&B or old-school rap with a good amount of bass will do it. Otherwise, upbeat stuff like Reggaeton and newer hip hop.

Q. Pet peeves?
A. When people drive and do not use their turning signals. It’s the WORST!

Q. Any hidden talents?
A. Something most people don’t know is that I’m a black belt in Taekwondo.

Q. Last book you read?
A. Excluding books for class, “I Am Malala” by Malala Yousafzai. GREAT book.

Q. Favorite reality TV show?
A. “Say Yes to the Dress!!!”

Q. What movie can you quote word for word?
A. When I was younger, I would watch “Home Alone 2,” “Dennis the Menace” (1993) and “Hook” on repeat, so I have those down pretty well. Otherwise, I love to quote “Stepbrothers,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “The Dark Knight.”

Q. If you could eat only one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
A. Bread in any form

Q. Most embarrassing moment?
A. One summer at Wet ’N Wild, I was with a group of my friends waiting to get on a ride. Everyone was picking on me for one reason or another. I tried to come back at them stating that I’m not that silly or clumsy. As I was talking, I walked right into a pole. It didn’t feel great, nor did it help prove my point.

Q. Do you have any regrets?
A. I really don’t have any regrets. Anything that could be regrettable, I view as learning points and therefore do not regret experiencing them.

Q. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
A. I would want to learn how to sing. Being a musician, I love music. I can play my heart out on my trombone or some steel drums, but if my life depended on me singing something that is remotely pleasant to the ear, you’ll probably never hear from me again!

Q. What’s the happiest/proudest moment of your life so far?
A. I feel most happy when my stepmother is proud of me and what I have accomplished. She knows every struggle that I’ve faced, so when she sees me conquer something meaningful, I can tell she’s proud of me, which is the greatest feeling.

Q. What advice would you give to others who are going through or who have gone through traumatic situations like yours?
A. For those who are currently going through something like this, speak up. It will probably be the most difficult thing you will do, but it’s the key to ending the nightmare. Additionally, during and after the abuse, I felt ashamed, like somehow it was my fault that the abuse occurred, or that it’s my fault my mother and stepfather went to jail. But, it wasn’t and never will be. I think that’s a very important piece of information. It’s not your fault. Although something like this is a very private and personal thing to most people, it’s nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about. We are not victims, we are survivors.

More Info

If you or someone you know is suffering from abuse, please seek help. Here are a few resources:

  • Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline | 800.4.A.CHILD
  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline | 800.799.7233
  • RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) | 800.656.HOPE

Proposal Knight

Alumnus pops the question to alumna at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center

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Knights Terrace | Rob Brunjes, ’11, and Michele McGlamory, ’10

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Michele McGlamory, ’10, thought she was going to spend the evening of Friday, Nov. 21, ice skating at Light Up UCF with her longtime boyfriend, Oviedo Police Officer Rob Brunjes, ’11, but he had other plans.

On the way to the rink, he casually suggested they stop by the Knights Terrace at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center, so they could look at the personalized bricks and possibly buy one as a Christmas gift to each other.

At first, Michele, a children’s behavior therapist, was weary of approaching the back of the building, which was fenced off for the SMU tailgate the following day, but Rob assured her it would be OK.

Lucky for him, she didn’t pay any attention to the curious lighting or GoPro camera mounted outside Ballroom B, nor did she notice the photographer hiding in the doorway of Ballroom A. In fact, Michele was so focused on looking at all of the other bricks, that Rob had to point out his favorite — and the one that would change their lives forever.

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As her eyes scanned the engraving, she saw their names and grad years, followed by a simple, two-word question: “Marry Me?” Taken by complete surprise, Michele immediately covered her face with her hands as Rob knelt beside her, held out the ring and asked her to spend the rest of her life with him. “Yes!” she exclaimed.

Michele kissed and hugged her new fiancé, looked down at the brick and then repeated everything a few more times, all while her hands trembled with excitement and tears of happiness streamed down her cheeks.

Little did she know that some of the alumni staff had been in on the surprise. As we revealed ourselves and our secret, she was thrilled that we captured the moment on camera and video, but promptly and politely asked, “Can I call my mom?”

After telling her mom about the unique proposal, we took some keepsake photos of the newly engaged couple, during which Michele kept stealing a look at the new sparkle on her left ring finger, remarking, “It’s perfect, I love it.”

She also had no idea about the other big surprise Rob had planned that night — his parents, her parents, her sister and her sister’s fiancé were waiting for them at home. Rob was able to get their families to come early for Thanksgiving from Tampa and South Florida to help them celebrate.

Congratulations, Rob and Michele! Thank you for letting the UCF Alumni Association and the Knights Terrace be a part of your legacy!

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See all of the photos and video from Rob and Michele’s Proposal Knight.


Want to commemorate a special occasion, show off your Knights pride or give an awesome holiday gift that will last a lifetime?

Buy your own brick on the Knights Terrace!

Best of all, now through May 1, 2015, alumni receive $50 off the purchase of a 4×8 brick!

Also valid through May 1, 2015, alumni receive $50 off new bookings of meeting/event space at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center, which is the perfect setting for holiday parties, birthday parties, bridal showers, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and more!

Contact [email protected] or 407.823.1978 for more info.