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.”

Dean’s Sendoff Surprise

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (April 20, 2017) – As the first member of her family born in America, Melonie Sexton ’07 was a first generation student at UCF when she received an email from Dean Alvin Wang about participating in a research project.

Before she graduated, Wang encouraged her to attend graduate school and continued to be her mentor, even when she moved to Tennessee to pursue a doctoral psychology program at Vanderbilt University.

Sexton, who now teaches at Valencia College, said over the last decade Wang has become more than a mentor to her. She considers him a friend.

So when she heard that the Burnett Honors College was honoring Wang’s service to the university with an endowed scholarship in his name, she knew immediately she wanted to contribute to it.

“He’s the first person outside of my family to tell me that I could actually do anything with my life. Your parents are supposed to say, ‘Yeah you’re going to be a doctor, a lawyer.’ But hearing it from a dean was the push I needed,” she said. “He deserves having a scholarship in his name. I think that’s what he embodies. It makes perfect sense to me.”

Wang announced in fall 2016 that he would be stepping down as dean by August 2017 to focus his time in the classroom as a psychology professor. At the time, the Burnett Honors College staff collaborated on the idea of a proper parting gift.

At Wednesday’s celebration of his tenure, the Burnett Honors College surprised him with the Alvin Y. Wang Endowed Scholarship, which has grown to nearly $38,000 in commitments and will support undergraduate research candidates in the honors college.

Of the 74 donors who contributed, 31 are alumni.

“This has been a great surprise. Thank you for making a gift like this to our students possible,” Wang said. “I always ask myself this question – how did someone like me, who aspired to become faculty and a professor, end up becoming a dean? The reason why I was able to stay in an administrative role for 16 years and enjoy it all the time was because of the people I was able to work with. It begins with my wonderful staff. It certainly includes the students. Meeting the talented, the interesting, the inquisitive student at Honors makes my day. It’s a very enriching, positive experience that I would never want to replace.”

Wang became a member of UCF’s faculty in 1987 and later joined the Burnett Honors College in fall 2001 as an associate dean. He served as interim dean for one year in 2005 before officially being named to the position in fall 2006.

Over the last 12 years under his leadership, the Burnett Honors College has flourished. In that time, 42 students have received national awards, including one Rhodes Scholar and 35 Fulbright Scholars.

In fall 2016, 289 National Merit Scholars were enrolled in the honors college, marking a university record and the second-most among Florida state universities that year.

Wang implemented the Burnett Honors College Medical Scholars Program, which reserves a spot for undergraduates in UCF’s College of Medicine provided that the students meet all the eligibility and performance criteria included in the program.

To enhance learning for honors students, he initiated international study abroad programs, developed service-learning opportunities and led highly successful philanthropic efforts to support new programs. In fact, three service learning trips to Nicaragua, South Africa and Mexico are slated for later this spring.

“I think Alvin would agree that the most important measures of success are the enriched academic experiences and support given to our nearly 5,500 university honors and honors in the majors student that have graduated while he’s been dean. Their dreams and accomplishments have been shaped in part by their time here at the honors college,” said Martin Dupuis, associate dean of the Burnett Honors College. “He supports everyone to excel at what they do. He established a very high professional standard by example, and those of us who have worked with him are better for it.”

Perhaps the most telling sign of his influence are those students, like Sexton, who have a pursued a path as educators themselves, following in his footsteps. Sexton said the biggest lesson she learned from him was to pay it forward.

“Be a role model and pay it forward. That’s what I try to live by,” she said. “If just one of my students said ‘Dr. Sexton said I can do it, and so I can,’ then I feel like I’ve truly paid it forward.”

Contributions are still being accepted for the Alvin Y. Wang Endowed Scholarship. Visit www.ucffoundation.org/alvinwang

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 ucffoundation.org.

From First Generation To Family Tradition

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By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (Dec. 8, 2016) – As a UCF Alumni board member, season ticket holder, Oviedo resident and occasional guest lecturer, Ryan Vescio ’02 visits UCF’s campus more than most. And when the assistant state attorney returns, his three children are frequently in tow.

Ella, 10, Sophia, 9, and Owen, 5, are big fans of tailgating. They debate the merits of their favorite basketball players. They recently got their wish granted to eat at Knightro’s with their dad. They periodically exchange hellos with President John C. Hitt and his wife, Martha, who know them by name thanks to Owen’s habit of running into their CFE Arena suite when he was 2.

To Ella, Sophia and Owen, the idea of college is nothing out of the ordinary – almost an expected path they will one day follow. The same cannot be said for Vescio, a first-generation college student.

“We never talked about college in my house. For my parents, it wasn’t a reality. You pick a job and you go and do your thing,” he said. “It’s incredible to watch that transition of how much one generation can really change the future of a family.”

The son of a hairdresser and auto mechanic, Vescio grew up in Melbourne in a double wide trailer on the grounds of an elementary school. His father was diagnosed with renal disease when Vescio was 10. The oldest of his siblings, he learned to grow up quickly.

He aspired to be a journalist, and thanks to a persistent teacher, he was granted access to cover his first NASA space shuttle launch at the age of 14 for a middle and high school newswire service he helped start. The news story he wrote landed on the front page of Florida Today’s Sunday edition, above the fold.

With the help of Florida Bright Futures Scholarship and Pell Grants, he made his dream of attending college a reality.

After a brief stint studying journalism at the University of South Carolina, he transferred to UCF to be closer to his ailing father. He also switched gears and took an interest in political science and law.

“I think about if I wasn’t as persistent as I was, if I didn’t want better, if I didn’t have the help of other people, I would have never had the experiences that I’ve been able to have,” he said. “Our university is a little different than the others around us, and I think that that’s nothing but positive. It’s exciting to watch traditions being built, but it’s equally as exciting to not have traditions hold us back. We can do anything, we can be anywhere, we can influence anything.”

He threw himself into college life, and his influence is still part of daily activity at UCF today. He was involved in the plans that led to the Recreation and Wellness Center being built. He also was there the day they came up with the idea to rope off the Pegasus on the floor of the Student Union.

“We never thought it would last,” he said with a laugh. “I get a kick around graduation when I see on social media the big deal about taking a graduation picture with the Pegasus. It really blows my mind.”

Vescio graduated with his bachelor’s in political science one year before his father passed away and says one of his proudest life moments is knowing that his father witnessed his son’s graduation day. He went on to law school at Nova Southeastern and is now director of modernization and assistant state attorney, Office of the State Attorney, 9th Judicial Circuit.

Vescio believes in his public service role and is fueled by fighting for the truth. Most of his work entails homicide and major crime cases. He believes it is an honor to serve as a voice for people who have suffered.

His life has come full circle now as a donor, supporting UCF Athletics, UCF Alumni and first-generation students.

“Being a Knight has given me the opportunity to go out and make a positive impact on our community,” he said. “The only limitation for Knights is our own self reservation.

Why I Give Back, by Ryan Vescio:

We owe it to future students to pay it forward and help them. To me, that’s everything from being involved on the alumni board, to showing up to events, to buying football tickets, to donating money that I have. Although I can’t write a $1 million check today, I know that my donation helps to fund a scholarship. To fund a program to go out and find students. It’s so important to be involved and engaged because there are so many high school students out there right now who think of college as this thing, but they can’t conceptualize it because it’s not a reality in their family or in their neighborhood or environment. That to me is the student that comes here and works even harder because it means so much to them. That’s the student who leaves here and becomes the research scientist, the filmmaker, the lawyer.

One in four students at UCF are the first in their family to attend college. To support first-generation students like Ryan Vescio, click here.

Life Below Zero

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By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (Nov. 4, 2016) — When Tracey Mertens ’92 was a hospitality management student at UCF in the early 1990s, she never envisioned a life where she would be professionally trained in night vision goggles usage. Or winter hazard protection.

Yet, today she lives in Kodiak, Alaska, well-educated in both thanks to her auxiliary public affairs specialist role with the U.S. Coast Guard. She has immersed herself within the team, learning anything she can, to better reflect the Coast Guard’s impact through her writing, photography and social media duties.

Merten credits UCF for giving her the foundation she needed to forge her own path to success that led her to opening her own seven-bedroom specialized rental property, managing a public relations and marketing firm and volunteering more than 4,500 volunteer hours over the last three years with the U.S. Coast Guard.

“It’s an exceptional school. You can tell the difference between someone who has had that good college foundation and who hasn’t,” said Mertens, one of the first recipients of the Harris Rosen Hospitality Management Scholarship. “Finding your place in the world has everything to do with using that experience at UCF to reach out, touch, talk to and traverse as many pieces as you can.”

Over the last two decades of her professional career, Mertens has accumulated an extensive list of varied experiences. She worked on a ranch in Wyoming. Trained with an equestrian center. Sampled many professional roles at Arabian Nights. Was part of the team that set up the dinner show attraction American Gladiators Orlando Live. Served as domestic violence counselor. Worked within child protective services. Owned a consulting company.

“I have a weirdo resume. It’s got parts and pieces on it that people go, ‘You did what?! How did you get there?’” she said.

Tracey Mertens '92 (photographer) on the job for the U.S. Coast Guard
Tracey Mertens ’92 (photographer) on the job for the U.S. Coast Guard

She did it by following her passions, and that’s the message she wants to make sure she passes on to other soon-to-be Rosen graduates. That’s why despite the 5,000-plus miles between Kodiak, Alaska, and Orlando, Mertens is a mentor with the college.

The mentor program launched in 2011 and has seen tremendous growth in recent years. Mertens and her mentee, Erinn Drury, are one of 165-and-counting matches within the program this year.

Their match seems dictated by fate. Drury can’t stop thinking about moving to Alaska after graduation.

Drury, a Satellite Beach native, was a freshman in 2013 when she attended a career fair for Rosen. There, she met a representative from Princess Cruises who served routes in Alaska. She was intrigued and proceeded to spend last May through October working at a lodge south of Denali.

She spent eight weeks of fall away from campus, juggling online classes with limited internet access and pulling off straight As by the end of the semester.

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Like her mentor, Erinn Drury wants to live in Alaska after graduating Rosen College of Hospitality Management.

“Never seeing mountains, never seeing snow, never experiencing the 22 hours of daylight or darkness, it was completely life-changing for me. When I left, I never stopped thinking of Alaska,” she said. “When you test the limits and get outside your comfort zone, it’s when happiness happens.”

When Drury applied for a mentor, she wasn’t sure who she would end up with. So she was thrilled that Mertens was someone she could relate to so easily. Their first phone conversation lasted two hours.

“I could hear in her voice the passion that she has,” Drury said. “How you get from UCF business hospitality to the Coast Guard is incredible. [She showed me] you don’t have to keep yourself within the boundaries of what the norm is. You can push yourself.”

In addition to running her PR business and award winning rental property, Guardian Landing, Mertens has been designated as the Kodiak Air Station’s official photographer and social media spokesperson.

Her photos have been published in various publications and even on the national U.S. Coast Guard Instagram’s account.

Her work to provide community awareness has been well received. She claimed second place in the national 2014 JOC Alex Haley Awards for Outstanding Individual Achievement, the Coast Guard’s highest recognition in public affairs. Additionally, she earned the national Coast Guard History Foundation 2013 Heritage Award for Individual Achievement.

Photo by Tracey Mertens '92
Photo by Tracey Mertens ’92

“The search and rescue team’s mission is such a nice, clean line of positive intent to serve humanity. I’m very honored to be a part of that,” she said.

As for Drury, she can’t wait to move to Alaska and start her own professional adventure. And she hopes to meet Mertens in person one day.

Salute to Steven Sotloff

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Adam Manno, the first scholarship recipient of the The Steven Sotloff Memorial Endowed Fund

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (Oct. 20, 2016) – Shirley and Art Sotloff believe that their son, Steven, found his true calling while he was a student at UCF from 2002-04.

It’s that connection that prompted them to help create a scholarship in his name when Steven was killed after being taken hostage as a freelance journalist by terrorist group ISIS in 2014.

Recently, the Sotloffs visited campus to commemorate the first awarded scholarship from The Steven Sotloff Memorial Endowed Fund to senior Adam Manno.

“Knowing that our son’s name lives on, and that the endowment will touch the lives of students with similar interests as his own, truly touches our entire family,” Shirley said.

Manno is expected to graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in political science. He was born in the Dominican Republic but attended high school in South Florida, where he got his first taste of journalism while working for his school newspaper.

He chose UCF because it encompassed everything he was looking for: a big school in an interesting and vibrant city, a well-renowned journalism department and a financial aid offer “thanks to UCF’s vision of education for all.”

“That’s one thing I really love about the school – it makes sure everyone who wants an education can get one,” he said. “It’s been very good to me.”

Manno was a sophomore at the time of Sotloff’s tragic death. He attended the vigil that was held on campus a day after the news broke worldwide. Manno said it both saddened and mobilized him.

“I just want to write and shed light on the stories that deserve to be told,” he said. “Like Steven did.”

Before Steven died, he managed to smuggle out a letter to his parents. They said that he wrote of his desire to give back.

After his death, the Sotloffs helped start the fund, which provides scholarship support to UCF students majoring in journalism as well as funding for symposia, lectures and other programming to advance journalism and journalism education.

Manno was honored to be chosen as the first recipient and understands the significance it carries.

“This is a scholarship directly tied to someone’s sacrifice for my profession. He was a former UCF student out there pursuing his life’s work. That’s all he was doing, and that’s what led to his death. It means more to me than just the money,” Manno said. “It means that I have to work hard to prove myself worthy of it. It’s an incentive that comes with a big responsibility.”

The fund still has room for growth. The Nicholson family, benefactors of the Nicholson School of Communication, pledged to match every dollar given up to $25,000.

Sonja and Tony Nicholson have spent time getting to know the Sotloffs and didn’t hesitate to extend their heartfelt support.

“They want their son’s name to live on. We felt that was a very small gesture on our part. We can’t ease that pain for them, but we can help carry his name on,” she said. “We just feel like [giving back is] so important because it touches so many lives, and we care about the students.”

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Art (left) and Shirley (middle) Sotloff along with College of Sciences Dean Michael D. Johnson

Those interested in donating can do so by visiting: https://www.ucffoundation.org/sotloff.

While on campus, the Sotloffs told Steven’s story to a room of College of Sciences scholarship recipients and their donors. There were some tears and a nod to Steven’s presence, who they believed was looking down with gratitude.

“The years he spent here, he really enjoyed, especially the rugby team. That was his passion and his love,” Art said.

As the Sotloffs said their goodbyes, Shirley looked back and said quietly, “our hearts are here.”

#ThankADonor: Bonded By Chemistry

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By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (Oct. 13, 2016) – Fate, and a dash of chemistry, brought together two-time alumna Cynthia McCurry and current College of Sciences student Lauren Gandy.

McCurry has supported a scholarship for the College of Sciences since 2001. Students of various science majors have received the scholarship over the years, but until this fall, it had been awarded just once to a chemistry major.

So McCurry’s day was made when she found out Gandy, this year’s George and Geraldine McCurry Endowed Scholarship recipient, shared her interest in chemistry.

“I’m just so glad that there are students coming out of the school who are making a difference,” McCurry said. “I’m especially pleased that we are turning out sciences majors who are women.”

McCurry graduated in 1980 with her bachelor’s degree in chemistry before earning her master’s in industrial chemistry two years later.

Gandy is a double major in forensic biochemistry and French. She is also pursuing two minors in chemistry and biomedical sciences. She decided to attend UCF because of its forensic science program and plans on furthering her education in a biochemical doctoral program.

One day, she would like to work within a chemical preparedness center to support safety from chemical attacks for the Department of Defense and the military.

The two talked about this and more during their first meeting in an event organized by the College of Sciences that paired donors with their recipients.

“I was fortunate to receive a scholarship last year as well but I didn’t get a chance to meet the donor. I think this year has been changed in so many ways because I’ve been able to meet her and see that chemists are supporting chemists. Engineers are supporting engineers. Just continuing that legacy,” Gandy said. “It’s so wonderful knowing there are people out there who I can look up to and who are supporting students like me.”

McCurry and her siblings set up the George and Geraldine McCurry Endowed Scholarship in honor of their parents, who she said always pushed their children to invest their time in education. All three of the McCurry children received degrees from UCF.

“We never thought of not going to school,” McCurry said. “We wanted to do the scholarship in their name. They were so happy that UCF was built here in Orlando and that we were able to attend. I try to support the school the best that I can.”

It took McCurry and Gandy less than two hours and one shared meal to form an emotional connection. As they neared the end of their conversation, they both started to tear up.

“I’m just so honored that I was able to help you in some small way,” McCurry told Gandy.

Gandy paused for a moment and replied, heartfelt: “Words can’t really express it.”

 

In Her Own Words: How Scholarships Changed My Life

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Lisa Kauffman is a dual major (radio television; political science) in the College of Sciences and expects to graduate in December 2016. She is this year’s recipient of the Sonja Rose Nicholson Endowed Scholarship and the Margaret Gerow/Daniel J. May Communications Scholarship. She currently interns within the Orange County Government Communications Division and hopes to pursue a career in the field.

“I began my journey at UCF as an 18-year-old freshman. I was a pretty naïve kid who didn’t know what I wanted to study or what I wanted to do. I didn’t know what I was good at, and I wasn’t really confident in myself or my abilities. But I was excited to learn and I was ready for the adventure.

“It was a few years ago when I applied for scholarships through the College of Sciences. I remember the day when I was notified I received my first scholarship very clearly. It was one of the last days of final exams. I had just finished a three-hour exam and I was exhausted. I had way more caffeine than sleep in me at this point. I had my last exam just 30 minutes after this final was completed. I was dreading it. I was on my way to the exam and I decided to check my email. I opened it up and saw I was awarded a scholarship. I was elated. Suddenly all of my exhaustion lifted out of me, and I was motivated to ace that exam and finish the semester strong. That motivation, that inspiration didn’t leave me when I completed that exam. It didn’t leave me the next day or months. It stayed with me for years.

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Lisa Kauffman met the Lutheran Church Charities’ K-9 Comfort Dogs at her internship with the Orange County Government Communications Division

“Knowing that someone read over your degree audit and saw how hard you worked in your classes, or saw your resume or read about your passions and goals in the essay you wrote when you applied, and said, ‘This student has potential. I’m going to invest in this student,’ — that is one of the most inspiring and motivational moments for a student. By recognizing our potential, you’re helping us recognize the potential within ourselves. You give us motivation and the confidence in our abilities to pursue our passion.

“Through my past internships, campus involvement and confidence in my abilities, I am leaving UCF knowing the path I want to pursue. For me, my passion is political and government media and communications. I am currently interning at Orange County Government in the Communications Division. I know my journey wouldn’t have been the same if it wasn’t for my donors and the incredible support and inspiration they provided me with. As I said, I started college as a naïve freshman who was unsure of myself. I am leaving college as someone who recognizes my own potential and who is confident in my passion and my abilities. I will never lose that excitement to learn. I love UCF. I love going here. So thank you, donors. Thank you for investing in us and helping us recognize our own potential. I truly hope and plan to one day be in your seats and help students see their own potential.”

UCF Alumni Association Aids Students with Scholarships

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By Isabelle D’Antonio
Contributing Writer, Central Florida Future

The UCF Alumni Association collects thousands of dollars each year to give right back to students through its many scholarships.

Senior Erica Chu received the alumni association’s UCF Alumni Legacy Scholarship — a $1,500 award for outstanding students with parents who graduated from UCF — to make her dreams of attending UCF possible.

“I was ecstatic when I found out I won the scholarship,” the biomedical sciences major says. “Every little thing counts when you’re paying for college.”

Chu says receiving the scholarship has not only helped her financially, but has also increased her networking with alumni, including those who selected her to win the scholarship.

“It’s great to meet people who graduated from UCF, and are now so successful and want to give back,” she says. “That’s something I want to do when I graduate.”

The alumni association awards 25 scholarships annually, including scholarships from alumni chapters and clubs.

“Last year, we had a good year in our endowments, and we were able to increase the majority of the scholarships by $500,” explains Carla Cordoba, associate director of alumni and student relations.

In fact, in 2015, the alumni association awarded more than $55,000 in scholarships to UCF students.

Heather Junod, director of the UCF Fund, says there are many ways the alumni association receives the money to fund these scholarships.

The UCF Fund utilizes e-solicitation, direct mail, phone campaigns, faculty/staff campaigns and a student philanthropy program to reach out to potential donors. Staffers prefer more face-to-face solicitation rather than phone calls because it often garners better results. For example, the average donation is $86 on the phone, $270 for e-solicitation and $130 by mail, but face-to-face gifts are much larger — sometimes in the millions.

Junod says the UCF Fund asks every alumnus and alumna with up-to-date information to donate, which is more than 226,000 Knights. Of this, about 7,000 donate, or a little more than 3 percent of alumni.

“At our call center, students like to talk to alumni about donating to scholarships because the student callers are often on scholarships,” Junod explains.

To apply for alumni scholarships, students must fill out the applications on their myUCF account. If a student is eligible for an alumni scholarship, it will automatically appear in his/her scholarship listing. Most scholarships also require an essay, recommendation letter and activities summary.

“Scholarships aren’t going to come to you — you have to look for them,” Chu says. “The alumni association does a great job advertising the scholarships. People just have to take the next step and actually apply.”

She also says it is important for students to be themselves when writing application essays.

“They can tell in your writing if you’re being fake or lying,” she says. “Stand out and have a personal story that they can connect to.”

In Chu’s application, she wrote a personal essay about how UCF has opened so many doors for her father. She also described how the university has already given her innumerable opportunities, such as research and networking.

After the applications are submitted, the four-month-long reviewing process begins.

“We want to make sure we are being diligent in reading everything and paying attention because students took the time to submit their applications,” Cordoba says.

A team of student assistants first checks the applicants’ eligibility to make sure they meet all of the necessary criteria for the scholarship, and then the applicants are scored using a point system.

“For example, if you’re a member of a club, you get so many points. If you’re an officer, you get more points,” Cordoba explains. “Everybody gets the same formula applied to them across the board.”

Once the applicants have been rated, a selection committee of alumni, faculty and staff reviews the top five to 10 students. The committee then gives its recommendations and a staff committee selects the final winners.

Reaching out through email, postcards and banner advertisements, there’s been an increase in students who have been applying for the alumni association’s scholarships.

“We had more than 500 applications in 2015, which is a third more than we had the year before,” Cordoba says. “Students are taking advantage of the scholarships!”

However, with more applicants comes more competition.

“The caliber of students who are applying is amazing,” Cordoba says. “We’re choosing from the top echelon of students who are extremely involved with their university and in their communities.”

Alumni who wish to contribute can name a scholarship for $10,000, or they can endow a scholarship for $25,000, which gets invested and earns appreciation.

“The idea is to keep building the endowment so it lives on in perpetuity,” Cordoba says.

How to apply for UCF Alumni Association scholarships:

  1. Visit ucfalumni.com/scholarships. (The application window opens Feb. 1 and closes Feb. 28 each year.)
  2. Read all scholarship criteria and complete all required supporting documents.
  3. Log on to myUCF.
  4. Select “Student Self Service.”
  5. Click on “Scholarship Application” > “Home Page” > “Add New Scholarship.”
  6. Complete and submit application(s).

Questions?

Read the Scholarship FAQ, or contact Carla Cordoba at 407.823.3453.

This story appeared Dec. 4, 2015, in the Central Florida Future online. It has been updated and edited in accordance with AP and alumni association style guidelines. See original article.

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

CON-white-coat
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.