1. The UCF baseball team earned the No. 5 seed in the 2018 American Athletic Conference Tournament at Spectrum Field in Clearwater. The Knights will play the first game of the tournament on Tuesday at 9 a.m. against the No. 4 seed ECU. (The game was originally schedule for 3 p.m. but due to the threat of inclement weather, the game was moved up) For more information about the tournament, including tickets, please visit The American’s championship central page.
2. Good news for UCF’s cutting edge RESTORES clinic, which helps people coping with post-traumatic stress disorder. The program has been awarded a $10 million grant to expand its work.
3. Professionals from Walt Disney World, the Orlando Magic and City of Orlando — all UCF alumni — shared some of their wisdom and experiences at a career enhancement panel, and we’re loving their five career tips. The panel was part of Hospitality Knight hosted by UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management Alumni Chapter. For more chapter and club events on the horizon, take a look at the alumni events calendar.
5. A former Air Force fighter pilot; a 4-foot-2 woman who refused to let a rare genetic disorder keep her from pursuing her dreams; a 27-year-old cancer survivor; and a couple who are both active duty Army officers were all part of the 2018 graduating class from the College of Medicine. Read about them all in this Orlando Sentinel feature article.
Thanks to donor support for more than three decades, UCF’s Marine Turtle Research Group has played an integral role in sea turtle recovery on Central Florida beaches. Last year, UCF’s section of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge – which was created in 1991 because of UCF research – counted a record 14,905 green turtle nests. In comparison, there were less than 50 nests when UCF first started monitoring the area in the early 1980s. And they are seeing growth in other turtle populations, too — this year saw 17,192 loggerhead nests (second highest since 1982) and 55 leatherback nests (highest since 1982).
History was made in July when UCF and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reached an agreement to establish a permanent conservation research facility along the Brevard County coastline. The new agreement allows UCF to build a new facility at the refuge that will not only protect research equipment and house workers overnight, but also foster collaborations with visiting scientists and international research partners.
UCF must raise $5 million within the next five years to construct the new buildings. Want to help? Here’s how.
2. Resources for Student-Athletes In order to achieve their level of success on the field and in the classroom, UCF’s teams need a team of their own to support them. This year, several members of their team stepped up to the plate in a big way.
Thanks to John Euliano’s $1.5 million gift, the baseball team is on its way to having a state-of-the-art facility. This facility will not only benefit the student-athletes, coaches and fan experience, it will also provide an edge in recruiting.
Of equal importance for the student-athletes is ensuring a quality education. Northwestern Mutual worked with UCF Athletics to develop the Northwestern Mutual Everyday Champions Scholarship Program, which will fund three student-athletes’ scholarships per year over the next three years. In total, this will provide nearly $150,000 in student-athlete scholarship support.
3. Experience Learning
Students and faculty from UCF’s medical, nursing, physical therapy and social work schools provided free care to nearly 200 Apopka-area farmworkers back in July. The team’s philanthropic spirit fueled their mission, allowing UCF students to render care to people who really needed it while learning invaluable experience along the way. Faculty helped by outfitting the clinic’s facilities while the College of Medicine held a bake sale to pay for medication and food they provided to the farmworkers on the day of care.
It’s just one of the many service contributions that Knights participate in worldwide every year, allowing them to apply lessons learned in the classroom and simultaneously fulfilling one of the university’s primary missions: Impacting our society positively. Here are a couple more service learning programs at UCF funded by donations:
—The Burnett Honors College
—Knights Without Borders
4. Giving Lives Back
This year, alumnus Jim Rosengren ’81 gave a generous gift of $1 million to UCF RESTORES, allowing the PTSD clinic to have a fighting chance of keeping its doors open and continuing to treat veterans with uniquely effective techniques (and train new therapists in those techniques).
“After three weeks of treatment, 67 percent of veterans no longer have PTSD — and more importantly, at follow-up six months later, we haven’t seen them relapse,” said Deborah Beidel, a UCF Pegasus Professor of psychology who leads the UCF RESTORES clinic.
The $5 million Department of Defense grant that allowed Beidel to establish the clinic in 2011 only covers treatment of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, not those from other conflicts. Nor does it allow Beidel and her colleagues to treat other groups, like first responders, who actually suffer from PTSD at a higher rate than the military.
To continue its mission and work, the clinic needs to rely on private philanthropy to fund the program’s annual costs. You can be the difference: Donate Now. (Be sure to click the designation drop down and select UCF RESTORES)
5. A New Partnership for Rosen, Arts and Humanities
Gregory Elias, a Curacao-born lawyer and businessman, had never stepped foot on campus when he donated $5 million to establish the Gregory Elias Entertainment Management Program, a partnership between the Rosen College of Hospitality Management and College of Arts and Humanities.
Thanks to his generosity, nearly 200 students are pursuing an education they are passionate about, which aligns with Elias’ goals.
“It’s not about money, it’s about love,” he told them when he visited UCF for the first time in September. “If you don’t have the love for what you are doing, you cannot succeed and be happy.”
With an intensive new approach to exposure therapy, UCF clinicians and graduate students are finding remarkable success in helping veterans master traumatic memories. But the Department of Defense grant that funds their work runs out next year.
Just reading the labels on the rows of little jars seems like enough to trigger a traumatic memory: CORDITE, DIESEL FUEL, BURNING TRASH, BODY ODOR, GUNPOWDER, BURNT HAIR. And if it doesn’t, the carefully concocted scents inside — delivered to patients’ nostrils with precision fans while they “see” corresponding visuals inside high-tech headsets — almost certainly will.
But that’s exactly the idea behind this kind of exposure therapy — to deliberately return patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, via virtual reality, to the scenes and situations that haunt them. “If we do this repeatedly,” says UCF psychology professor Deborah Beidel, “say, ‘okay, take me through what happened to you,’ while the memory may remain, it loses its ability to elicit anxiety and allows them to once again function in the world.”
It’s by no means an easy process though. With virtual reality headsets, audio equipment, scent machines and even a pad underfoot to simulate the vibration of explosions, Beidel and her colleagues and graduate students can recreate with almost disturbing fidelity the exact traumatic events that patients remember. On occasion, the responses have been intense enough that patients have vomited during therapy.
Still, it works, as it did for Marine First Sergeant Doug Hester, who came to UCF RESTORES — an on-campus clinic for active duty personnel and veterans who developed PTSD as a result of serving in the Iraq and/or Afghanistan conflicts — struggling with anxiety and hypervigilance and growing steadily more isolated from his former life and the people in it.
After a 17-week program of virtual reality exposure therapy to address anxiety, combined with carefully designed group therapy to address anger, social isolation and depression, Hester says he’s back to his old self. “We got in there and addressed the issue,” he says, which was exactly what he wanted to do, instead of more traditional talk therapy or medication.
In fact, that combination of intense exposure therapy with targeted group therapy works for a remarkable number of patients. At the end of the treatment — either the 17-week program Hester did or an intensive, three-week program — more than 60 percent of patients no longer meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD.
The problem, to put it very simply, is there are too many Hesters and not enough Beidels. The $5 million Department of Defense grant that allowed Beidel to establish the clinic in 2011 only covers treatment of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, not those from other conflicts. Nor does it allow Beidel and her colleagues to treat other groups, like first responders, who actually suffer from PTSD at a higher rate than the military. “We turn away a lot of people,” she says.
Even among the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans that UCF RESTORES is funded to treat, the clinic is hardly able to scratch the surface of the overwhelming need for care. Patients — who are referred from all over the country by Veterans Administration personnel, private clinicians and on-base psychologists — go through treatment in groups of four to six at a time, which doesn’t do much to defray the long waits — sometimes over a year — for PTSD treatment from the VA.
The only realistic answer, of course, lies in exponentially increasing the number of clinicians trained in this new kind of treatment. “A lot of clinicians are afraid to do exposure therapy with people with combat-related PTSD,” says Beidel. “They don’t know how to do it, and they believe the myths. We have data to show that even in this intensive program, people don’t increase alcohol use, don’t become more suicidal. None of those things that people think should happen, happen.”
So, alongside treating as many patients as possible, another of Beidel’s primary objectives is training as many clinicians as possible. The way she sees it, her graduate students will leave campus and establish their own practices or clinics, or join the faculty at other universities, where they’ll not only treat more patients but also train more clinicians, who in turn will train more, creating a ripple effect that has the potential to make a real difference.
Additionally, Beidel hopes to bring postdoctoral fellows, medical students, practicing clinicians and others to the clinic to train them in the same interventions. The demand is already there, she says, just not the funding, since current grants don’t cover training.
That crucial Department of Defense grant runs out soon, and at the point, absent some additional funding source, Beidel and her colleagues will essentially shut the doors. They’ll continue their research, of course, and continue training graduate students, but there won’t be any more money to pay for the costs of treatment — equipment, supplies, and the licensed clinicians required to keep the doors open. “You can’t run a project with people with this level of emotional distress with graduate students,” Beidel says, “because they can’t be available for emergencies, they can’t take on the number of participants that are in need of treatment, they can’t keep a clinic open 40 hours a week, which is what we need.”
United States Army Col. Jeffrey Yarvis drew from decades of experience in military social work to describe the challenges faced by returning veterans during an information-packed and deeply personnel presentation at UCF.
Yarvis is a decorated officer, a published scholar with a doctorate and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. He currently serves as chief of the Department of Social Work at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center in Fort Hood, Texas.
Yarvis shared data and statistics on U.S. veteran populations, and he showed video clips to illustrate changes in attitudes toward soldiers who are traumatized or grieving. He spoke extensively about the impact of war-related stress on veterans and their families.
“About 80 percent of returning veterans will exhibit some changes in behavior,” Yarvis said. “Those who are deployed more than once have a greater chance of a clinical diagnosis.”
Some returning veterans experience symptoms commonly associated with traumatic stress, such as fear, anxiety, grief, depression and sleep disturbance. A smaller number exhibit Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which may include physical symptoms and always includes these symptoms: 1) re-experiencing trauma, such as nightmares and flashbacks; 2) avoidance, such as feelings of numbness and detachment; and 3) arousal, such as anger and hypervigilance.
“These are very complex issues for mental health care givers to negotiate,” Yarvis said. “It’s hard to quantitate these symptoms, and they manifest themselves differently in different people.”
Yarvis described his own behavioral changes when he returned home from deployment. He exhibited risky and aberrant behavior, became easily frustrated, and turned to alcohol to deal with his insomnia. Several participants said they found his candidness quite helpful.
“He spoke your language,” said UCF student Lyndon Ortiz, a senior in social work and U.S. Marines veteran who served in Iraq until he was injured.
Yarvis is encouraged to see military social work coming into its own as a profession. “I love that UCF has a military program,” he said, referring to UCF’s Graduate Certificate in Military Social Work program, which prepares master’s degree-level social workers to help veterans and their families.
Social work senior Kristopher Vite plans to enroll in the program while pursuing his master’s degree in social work at UCF. He is a U.S. Army veteran, and like Ortiz he served in Iraq until he was injured. Both Vite and Ortiz aim to become Licensed Clinical Social Workers so they can work with veterans like themselves.
U.S. Air Force veteran and UCF alumnus Charlie Antoni (B.S.W., ’95) is already on the front lines, working as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and palliative care coordinator for the Orlando VA Medical Center. He is educating local physicians and nurses, and he is developing networks of community support that he will help place at the new VA hospital in Lake Nona.
Also on the front lines is U.S. Army veteran Richard Whitten, who works as a peer-support specialist at the Daytona Beach Vet Center. “A lot of the homeless vets I meet have PTSD symptoms, but it’s hard to convince them to come in for help,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot today that I can take back with me.”
Yarvis concluded his nearly three-hour presentation by commending the participants. “What you are doing is incredibly important,” he said. “You are helping veterans grieve and return to their lives.”