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.

Space Coast Chapter Volunteers at Cocoa Beach Marathon

SpaceCoast-marathon-shoes SpaceCoast-marathon

By Angie Lewis, ’03

On Sunday, Oct. 25, members of the Space Coast UCF Alumni Chapter (above) manned water stations and cheered on runners in the Cocoa Beach Half Marathon. They also collected used running shoes — 104 pairs to be exact! — to be donated to local charities. SEE MORE PHOTOS


In addition, the UCF Alumni Association’s own Shawna Duane (below), administrative assistant to Executive Director Julie C. Stroh, ran the half marathon (her first one), finishing in 2:54.39, earning her a miniature “I Dream of Jeannie” bottle (since the series took place in Cocoa Beach). “Jeannie” herself, Barbara Eden, was even in attendance to congratulate the runners. Way to go, Shawna!

Shawna-marathon-running Shawna-marathon Shawna-marathon-BarbaraEden

Alumni Chapters/Clubs Participate in Knights Give Back 2015

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As part of this year’s Knights Give Back day of service, the Chicago UCF Alumni Chapter prepared and served dinner
to families staying at the Ronald McDonald House.

Since 2007, students, alumni, faculty and staff have served more than 22,000 hours at UCF’s annual day of service, Knights Give Back, making a lasting impact on the Central Florida community that will continue to grow, and saving Orlando nearly $600,000.

As part of Knights Give Back this year, many of our regional alumni chapters and clubs participated in service projects across the nation:

  • The Chicago UCF Alumni Chapter prepared and served dinner to local families staying at the Ronald McDonald House.
    PHOTOS
  • The Dallas/Ft. Worth UCF Alumni Club held a clothing and food drive benefiting The Bridge Homeless Recovery Center during its UCF at Tulane Watch Party.
    PHOTOS
  • The Denver UCF Alumni Chapter held a canned food drive to benefit the Denver Rescue Mission.
  • The Jacksonville UCF Alumni Club collected school supplies and non-perishable food items for the John E. Ford K-8 School and Ft. Caroline Elementary during its UCF at Tulane Watch Party.
    PHOTOS
  • The Ocala UCF Alumni Club held a children’s book drive, which benefited Kimberly’s Center for Child Protection, during its UCF at Tulane Watch Party.
  • The Palm Beach UCF Alumni Chapter collected items supporting the Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League during its UCF at Tulane Watch Party.
    PHOTOS
  • On Oct. 25, the Space Coast UCF Alumni Chapter will be cheering on runners, manning water stations and helping to collect new/used running shoes to donate to local nonprofits at the Cocoa Beach Half Marathon.
  • On Nov. 21, the Southeast Florida UCF Alumni Chapter will be sorting through food before it gets donated to local food pantries through Feeding South Florida.
  • The Tallahassee UCF Alumni Club collected non-perishable food items to benefit the Big Bend Homeless Coalition.
    PHOTO
  • The Volusia/Flagler UCF Alumni Club partnered with UCF Daytona to paint the PACE Center for Girls, which provides girls and young women an opportunity for a better future through education, counseling, training and advocacy.
  • The Washington D.C. Alumni Chapter sorted through food, donated by local farmers’ markets, for the Arlington Food Assistance Center, and helped organize bundles for local families.
    PHOTOS

In addition, the UCF College of Sciences Alumni Chapter helped the efforts of Pegasus Professor Linda Walters, Ph.D., to restore degraded shorelines and oyster reefs at the Indian River Lagoon.
PHOTOS/VIDEO

The UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management Alumni Chapter also helped out at the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando, a nonprofit animal shelter that takes in owner-relinquished pets. Through Pet Alliance, each animal is ensured to have a good quality of life and is provided with enrichment activities, socialization and exercise.
PHOTO

Plus, UCF Alumni Relations hosted a clean up at Orlando’s historic Greenwood Cemetery, where volunteers cleaned headstones, grave markers and memorials, removing debris, as well as doing some painting and landscaping.


Volunteers now have a new way to make an even greater impact, with a grants program called “Dollars for Doers,” in which some employers will honor your work as a volunteer by “matching” your efforts with a charitable donation of their own, often to the organization of your choice!
LEARN MORE

UCF Alumni Honors 2015 Jefferson Award Recipients

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Three of this year’s UCF Jefferson Award recipients included (left to right) Mark Blue, ’89, ’08, ’10, College Chapter Volunteer of the Year; Crystal Buit, ’06, Constituent Chapter Volunteer of the Year; and Matthew Ayala, ’11, Regional Club Volunteer of the Year.

On June 12, the UCF Jefferson Awards & Alumni Volunteer Reception celebrated its eighth year recognizing some of the UCF Alumni Association’s most active volunteers for their countless acts of generosity and numerous volunteer hours. Hosted by the UCF Community Volunteers Alumni Chapter, these awards focus on public service and the importance of giving back.

The event kickstarted the alumni association’s Chapter and Club Council Meeting weekend, during which alumni chapter and club volunteers from across the nation gathered to discuss plans for the upcoming year.

Todd Bowers, ’77, a graduate of the College of Business Administration, who serves on the college’s Dean’s Advisory Council, the UCF Athletics Association Board of Directors, the UCF Foundation Finance Committee and the UCF Inclusive Education Team, was the evening’s master of ceremonies. Anthony Jenkins, Ph.D., UCF’s senior associate vice president and dean of students, was also in attendance as a guest speaker for the festivities.

Congratulations to this year’s recipients:

Regional Chapter Volunteer of the Year—
Ivette Herald, ’04, Chicago UCF Alumni Chapter

Ivette has been chair of the Chicago UCF Alumni Chapter for the past four years. With her leadership, the chapter grew from 10 active members to nearly 50, and its Facebook page has increased to more than 400 followers.

“Our chapter’s mission is to create a home away from home for alumni, and I stress the importance of making those connections during every board meeting and through my actions,” she says. “It’s important that we make alumni feel welcome. I think that passion is what has helped our club evolve into a chapter in one year, and keeps alumni coming to our monthly events and watch parties.”

The other nominees included: Eric Braga, ’00, Space Coast UCF Alumni Chapter; Chris Brown, ’05, Tampa Bay UCF Alumni Chapter; Samantha Malone, ’04, Denver UCF Alumni Chapter; Thomas Marron, ’86, New York UCF Alumni Chapter; and Sara Singer, ’10, Southeast Florida UCF Alumni Chapter

Regional Club Volunteer of the Year—
Matthew Ayala, ’11, Southwest Florida UCF Alumni Club

Matthew just completed his third year as chair of the Southwest Florida UCF Alumni Club. Under his guidance, the club has seen a significant increase in its watch party attendance, as well as its Senior Sendoff event, after which other clubs now model their Senior Sendoffs.

“I look at this as a job,” he says. “Every day is another opportunity to enhance UCF’s brand, and I try to do something for the club each and every day.”

The other nominees included: Bakari Dowdell, ’14, Jacksonville UCF Alumni Club; and Becky Koziuk, ’03, Jacksonville UCF Alumni Club

Association Committee Volunteer of the Year—
Dan Ward, ’92, UCF Alumni Board of Directors/PR Committee

After serving a six-year term on the UCF Alumni Association Board of Directors, Dan returned this year to chair the public relations committee, developing strategies to increase awareness and relevance of the association and the Knights it serves.

“We’ve brought additional structure to the PR committee this year, and added a team of dedicated volunteers who give of their time and help us promote the association,” he says.

College Chapter Volunteer of the Year—
Mark Blue, ’89, ’08, ’10, UCF College of Engineering & Computer Science Alumni Chapter

Mark currently serves as vice chair of the UCF College of Engineering and Computer Science Alumni Chapter. Along with a fellow chapter member, he championed the college’s new Career Kickoff, which became a signature event for the chapter.

“I believe in direct engagement between students and alumni for the benefit of both,” he says. “As alumni, we can provide great insight, skills, training, guidance and contacts for the students. In return, the students infuse us with passion and energy for our university and our profession.”

The other nominees included: Tom Alexander, ’03, UCF Nicholson School of Communication Alumni Chapter; and Tiffany Carrion, ’08, UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management Alumni Chapter

Constituent Chapter Volunteer of the Year—
Crystal Buit, ’06, UCF Community Volunteers Chapter

This past year, Crystal served as chair of the UCF Community Volunteers Chapter. Like other volunteer leaders, she says she wanted the year to be a success and had a passion for outreach and engagement, being sure to personally connect with as many alumni as she could at each event, letting them know she was thankful for their participation and welcomed their future involvement.

“I hope I have positively impacted the association by creating opportunities for alumni to reconnect with one another, while reminding those in the community of UCF’s tremendous and generous alumni presence and base,” Crystal says.

The other nominee was: Justina Oldehoff, ’09, UCF Young Alumni Chapter 

Student Volunteer of the Year—
Jill Dutmers, 4EVER KNIGHTS Ambassador

Jill has been a 4EVER Knights Ambassador for the past three years. During her junior year, she served as secretary of the 4EK officer board. She also chaired Knights of Legend, 4EK’s annual networking event for students and alumni. This past year, she served as the student alumni association’s president.

“As an ambassador, I’m only required to work 50 hours’ worth of events,” Jill says. “Yet, I attend everything — every meeting, every event, every social gathering — regardless of whether I need the hours. It’s not that I don’t have coursework or law school applications or family obligations waiting for me at home. It’s just that I want to be the kind of outstanding leader who inspires those who follow through my actions rather than my words.”

The other nominee was: Mackenzie Chase, 4EVER KNIGHTS Ambassador 

In addition, three alumni were honored with Shining Armor Awards, recognizing their chivalry to the 4EVER KNIGHTS program and the 4EVER KNIGHTS Ambassadors by donating their time and talent to help 4EK succeed.

Those recipients were:

Peter Cranis, ’84, ’88

Mike Griffin, ’84

Tiffany Payne, ’97

Congrats to all!

VIEW EVENT PHOTO GALLERY

UCF Alumni Hosts 2015 Chapter & Club Council

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During the annual AlumKnights of the Roundtable: 2015 Chapter & Club Council, chapter and club chairs were presented with
framed photos of the Reflecting Pond as a token of thanks for all of their hard work and dedication to the UCF Alumni Association.

On Saturday, June 13, following the previous evening’s 8th Annual UCF Jefferson Awards & Alumni Volunteer Reception, nearly 60 regional, college and special interest chapter and club alumni volunteers — from Central Florida and across the nation — attended the UCF Alumni Association’s AlumKnights of the Roundtable: 2015 Chapter & Club Council at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center.

The morning began with a keynote address and Q&A by Anthony Jenkins, Ph.D., UCF’s senior associate vice president and dean of students.

Next, alumni staff presented this year’s Chapter & Club Awards, which included:

  • The College Chapter Challenge Award tasked college-based alumni chapters to engage in professional development activities within their chapters that add value to their degrees and make meaningful connections back to the university. This year’s winner hosted an evening to provide alumni with a tool that’s invaluable in the industry in which they work — customer service training, provided by best-selling author Tim Miles. Congratulations to the Rosen College of Hospitality Management Alumni Chapter!
  • The Regional Chapter/Club Challenge Award tasked regional chapters with executing events with a strong university connection — which isn’t always easy when you’re not in Orlando! However, this year’s winner impressed the selection committee by working on events with local businesses in their community, while also working with the UCF regional campus closest to them on their signature event, Starry Knights. Last year, Starry Knights raised more than $6,000 for scholarships and, after this year’s event in July, they will be one step closer to their goal of endowing their chapter’s scholarship. Congratulations to the Space Coast UCF Alumni Chapter!
  • The Constituent Chapter Challenge Award tasked special interest chapters with creating opportunities to create meaningful connections with our student population. Chapter volunteers participated as panelists for the 4EVER KNIGHTS Alumni Speaker Series and served as mentors in the 4EK Connect program. Their signature professional development conference, PRO CON, raised $8,000 this year and allowed the chapter to engage with students in various stages of the UCF experience. Congratulations to the UCF Young Alumni Chapter!
  • The Chapter or Club of the Year Award was presented to the overall chapter or club that covered all of the bases in not only event programming, but in communicating with alumni and building meaningful connections. The selection committee was impressed by the winning group, not only for their philanthropic events — participating in multiple events through the year in addition to UCF’s annual day of service, Knights Give Back — but also in the goals they set and how they reached them. They’ve grown their LinkedIn following from just 10 members to nearly 300, while becoming a chapter only two years ago. The judges were thoroughly impressed! Congratulations to the Denver UCF Alumni Chapter!

Chapter and club leaders then participated in breakout sessions on the alumni association’s strategic plan goals of communication, engagement, relevance and funding. After lunch, they continued with roundtable discussions on board management, social media, student engagement, professional development/career-focused events, and partnerships.

Before wrapping up the day-long conference with a catered happy hour and UCF Bookstore merchandise sales, attendees got to meet and participate in a Q&A with Mike Morsberger, the new vice president for alumni relations and development, and CEO of the foundation.

Thank you to all of our dedicated alumni volunteers! Go Knights! Charge On!

VIEW EVENT PHOTO GALLERY

Surfer Girl

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Michelle Mulak-Cheatham, ’14 | Fitness/Water Reporter, FLORIDA TODAY +
Owner/CEO, Ohana Oceanic Inc.

By Angie Lewis, ’03

“I was born for that,” exclaimed Michelle Mulak-Cheatham, ’14, after spotting a job for a fitness and water reporter for FLORIDA TODAY. “I knew the moment I was in the building for my interview that it felt like home. I wasn’t nervous, I was just ready.”

As the newspaper’s first fitness and water reporter, Mulak-Cheatham is a trailblazer, figuring out things as she goes.

“Every day is a new adventure,” she says. “I’m all over the place — surfing one day, mountain biking the next, and then learning how to ballroom dance on the next day. There’s a lot of variety in my day-to-day life, and it rocks!”

Before landing her dream position with the Space Coast’s daily news source, Mulak-Cheatham kept busy — first, as a gymnastics teacher, then as head of the kids’ fitness program for Health First, then as an adaptive and mainstream physical education and reading enrichment teacher at an elementary school, and, most recently, as the owner and CEO of Ohana, her own surfing, art and leadership program for kids.

“Come to think of it, this is the first time that I’ve worked with grown-ups in about a dozen years!” she says.

And, her newest job is the perfect fit for her active lifestyle. In fact, it was her love of surfing that drew her to Brevard County, where she now lives and regularly hangs 10 with her two sons, ages 13 and 9, and the love of her life, Steve. It was a move she made the day after she graduated from Boone High School in Orlando.

“From a young age, I have loved to move and challenge myself,” she explains. “I never, ever, ever stayed still … Being an athlete has always been a no-brainer. It makes me feel strong and powerful and capable.”

Surfin’ Q&A

Q. Most memorable experience on the job?
A. The first time my picture was on the front page of the Sunday paper and someone recognized me. They told me that they loved my writing and couldn’t wait to read more of it. That was like high-fiving the whole universe.

Q. What did you want to be when you grew up?
A. A teacher and a writer and a gymnast and an artist and mom and a mermaid

Q. How has your UCF degree helped you in your career?
A. Endlessly. The whole experience of interdisciplinary education is very real-world. It gave me a fair amount of knowledge in several areas, which helps you to feel confident in a variety of situations. The career prep was top-notch. Throughout my time at UCF, I really began to master the art of concise and charismatic communication. That’s a skill set that transcends any career path. It gave me a mega advantage. Taking classes in person is so important. It teaches you how to socialize as an adult with all kinds of people in all kinds of situations. It also gives you a reason to practice speaking up and presenting publicly.

Q. What has been your favorite surfing spot so far?
A. Southern Nicaragua is pretty fantastic. Costa Rica is so beautiful — it will take your breath away. Then again, I love the waves in front of my house. Wherever there are fun waves, that’s my favorite place at that moment.

Q. How do you channel your artistic inclination?
A. Paint. Draw. Doodle. Write. Dance. Sing. Make jewelry.

Q. Why are you such a music lover?
A. It speaks to me. It wakes me up and quiets me down. It connects me to the moment.

Q. Favorite band/artist?
A. There are too many. Right now, I’m loving Lake Street Dive, the Foo Fighters, anything with a fun ska sound. The answer to that really depends on my mood.

Q. First concert you ever attended?
A. The Gin Blossoms at Albright College in Pennsylvania. I was maybe 11 or 12.

Q. Do you play an instrument?
A. Piano

Q. Besides surfing/working out, what’s your favorite thing to do while you travel?
A. Walk around and explore. Hike. Find a beautiful place to lie down and read, or just absorb the new space. Find the best place for a craft beer and a local meal.

Q. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
A. Deciding to take a step back from Ohana and move in a new direction

Q. What advice would you give to those who hate exercise but want to get fit?
A. Try new things. You will find something eventually that doesn’t feel like exercise. For me, that thing is dancing or surfing. Once you find the thing you enjoy, do it as often as you can. If you really hate exercise and won’t commit to doing it, you will never be fit. End of story. You can diet your way to thin, but you can’t diet your way to strong.

Q. Any other fitness/health advice you can share?
A. Don’t take your ability to move for granted. You never know when that ability might be taken away from you.

More Info

See a video of Michelle in action at FLORIDATODAY.com.

Mascot Marathon

Knightro and the Space Coast UCF Alumni Chapter join forces for a run in the sun

Although Knightro was light on his feet, he just wasn't as fast as Florida Tech's Pete the Panther,  who took first place in the Melbourne Music Marathon Weekend's Mascot Marathon.
Although Knightro was light on his feet, he just wasn’t as fast as Florida Tech’s Pete the Panther,
who took first place in the Melbourne Music Marathon Weekend’s Mascot Marathon.

On Saturday, Jan. 31, Knightro joined other mascots, including Eastern Florida State College’s Titan, the Brevard County Manatees’ Manny the Manatee, Astronaut High School’s War Eagle, and Dunkin’ Donuts’ Cuppy and Sprinkles, in a 262-foot run that took place before the start of the Florida Today 5K.

Although Florida Tech’s Pete the Panther took first place in the mascot race, all of the characters, including Knightro, and the UCF Cheerleaders, stayed to cheer on the 5K runners.

In addition, the Space Coast UCF Alumni Chapter hosted a tent for the day’s festivities, providing water and participant support to racers.

More Info

Read the Florida Today story, which includes more photos and videos from the race.

MascotMarathon
PHOTO: Melbourne Music Marathon Weekend

 

Surf’s Up!

Alumnus’ passion to hang 10 inspires him to keep an active lifestyle and pursue environmental change

Mitch Varnes, ’85 | President, Smooth Running

By Daniela Marin

The UCF Surf Club is one of the largest non-Greek organizations on campus today, but, nearly 30 years ago, it was the enthusiasm of eight young surfers who laid the foundation for what would become a hub for wave fanatics.

Mitch Varnes, ’85, was one of those students, and went on to co-found the club.

“I think co-founding the UCF Surf Team was probably my first entrepreneurial effort,” he says. “More than anything, it taught me to go out and make things happen.”

Since then, Varnes has additionally founded the Collegiate Surfing Association, the Sebastian Inlet Pro and the Ron Jon Beach ’N Boards Fest.

In efforts to engage his community in an active lifestyle, spur local economic growth and practice sustainability, Varnes currently holds a position as president of Smooth Running.

“I think people should only work at jobs that are fun and that they enjoy,” he says. “I know that sounds altruistic, but it can be done.”

Smooth Running is the producer of endurance events across East Central Florida. Some of these multi-sport events include the Publix Melbourne Music Marathon Weekend, the Ron Jon Cocoa Beach Triathlon and the Rocketman Florida Triathlon, the first privately coordinated sporting event to take place at the Kennedy Space Center.

“Creating events is something I really love to do, and I have formed this career so that I have the flexibility to travel when I want and to spend a lot of time with my children and my wife,” Varnes says.

In 2010, Varnes received the Champion Award from the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce for the economic impact of the Melbourne Music Marathon Weekend.

He additionally received the Entrepreneur of the Year award from Space Coast Magazine, proving his entrepreneurial initiatives while at UCF the first of many.

“I was truly honored to receive that award,” Varnes says. “There are lots of business owners and entrepreneurs here on the space coast so it was a humbling moment for a guy who puts on races, triathlons and surfing events.”

Varnes has been able to incorporate both his passion for surfing and mission for sustainability in the planning and execution of events, such as the Melbourne and Beaches Music Marathon Weekend, which achieved its goal of zero waste in 2012.

“I surround myself with lots of vibrant people in their 20s and 30s, and they have molded our events into among the most sustainable anywhere in the country,” he says.

Varnes and his team recycle everything from water bottles to paper plates and cups, and compost food scraps like orange rinds, banana peels, pizza crust and all else. In 2013, he received the Sustainability Award from Keep Brevard Beautiful.

“I used to think it would be too much work and effort to make sustainability a focus, but it is actually an easy thing once you make it part of your model,” he says. “Now it’s just something we do second nature.”

Contributing to the implementation of sustainable practices is a team of UCF students, which Varnes employs for almost all events. He additionally offers internships to UCF students, and continually speaks at the Devos School of Sports Management.

“It is really inspirational for me to see these students so excited and dedicated to our cause,” he says. “I am very proud of our school and its students.”

Such pride is exemplified by Varnes’ previous involvement in the Space Coast Alumni Board of Directors, on which he served as president for three years, and the Golden Knight’s Board of Directors, the fundraising arm of UCF Athletics.

On Aug. 30, Varnes followed the UCF football team to Dublin, Ireland for its Croke Park Classic game against Penn State. Varnes says that although he is not of Irish heritage, he and his family highly admire the country, and he bought the tickets as soon as they became available.

“We lost that game in the final seconds, but college football does not get any better than that game,” he says. “I think my favorite memory from that game was talking to the Irish people who were just as enthralled with American football and knew all about it. I also enjoyed meeting a couple from Germany who had become UCF fans and traveled to the game with no other connection to UCF.”

Ridin’ the Wave Q&A

Q. Describe a typical day at work.
A. There are few typical days for me, but they usually begin with getting up before daylight and always taking my kids to school. I then usually go back home, read, fish, surf, run or bike for a couple of hours and then head into the office by 10:30 a.m. I work six or eight hours a day, but, in the weeks running up to an event, things intensify quite a bit. It’s not unusual for us to work 20 hours straight during an event.

Q. What’s your favorite thing about your job?
A.The best part of my job is putting on events that make people and their families happy. People circle the dates of our races and train for them for months. It’s also very satisfying to see the local economic impact of what we do. Our events fill hotel rooms and restaurants all over the Space Coast.

Q. Upon co-founding the UCF Surf Team, did you find that it was a struggle to find fellow surfers or was there already the beginning of a community?
A. There was a core group of six or eight of us who actually showed up at every surf contest. We basically would go surf all day at Playalinda [Beach] and come home with a trophy! It’s very cool to see the UCF Surf Team nowadays, and I support them when I can.

Q. How often do you surf? How do you incorporate that into your professional life?
A. I surf as I have time or when there are waves. It sounds kind of crazy, but I actually surf more outside of Florida than at home. With work and our kids, it’s actually easier to get away and surf than it is to surf at home.

Q. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
A. I think I want to be a travel photographer and writer when I grow up.

Q. What advice would you give to a large group of people?
A. Follow your passion and do what makes you happy.

Q. How do you hope your career will transition/grow over the next five years?
A. I plan to still have a few sizable events and to continually fine tune and evolve them. I’m actually pretty comfortable and happy where I am, and just looking to keep things rolling.

Q. How did your education in journalism help get you to where you are today?
A. I’ve written and published hundreds of article and photos. Journalism teaches one discipline and the requirement to meet deadlines.

Q. What’s your favorite memory from your time at UCF?
A. My favorite memories of UCF were being part of what was then a pretty tight-knit school. I am not exaggerating to say that I may have known more students that I didn’t know at the school. Now, it has a massive student population, which is OK too.


More Info

Feeling inspired to volunteer your time for a worthy cause? Check out all of the alumni community service events happening during the eighth annual Knights Give Back on Saturday, Oct. 11.