Once In A Generation

Samantha and mom Jodi_2
By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. — Samantha Ogden was sitting on a patio looking out at nature in her hometown of Sorrento, Florida, when she got the email. The email from UCF that stated she was graduating this summer with her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a minor in psychology.

“I closed my phone, and I cried,” she said. “Nobody in my family has gone on to higher education.”

Ogden is from a two-stoplight town on the outskirts of Mount Dora. The population from the 2010 Census was listed at 861.

“It’s the town everyone passes through to get gas,” she said.

Ogden came to UCF as a DirectConnect student from Lake-Sumter State College. Just before earning her associate’s degree, she was brought to UCF’s campus for the first time by a friend who was a Knight.

They walked from the education building to the Reflecting Pond, and Ogden thought they had covered campus and the tour was done.

“I was like, ‘This is it? Cool.’ He said, ‘Oh no. Come with me,’” she recalled. “We walked and we walked and we walked, and we stopped in front of COHPA (College of Health and Public Affairs). He said, ‘You see that down there? The Arena? There’s more. All of these are classrooms. And this is your college.’ I was so intimidated by it.”

Ogden had her heart set on a criminal justice degree ever since the fourth grade when her school held career week. She said it is an accomplishment in Sorrento to graduate from high school, let alone college.

Her mother, Jodi, was a driving force behind Ogden’s desire to achieve more.

Ogden took her mother to campus for the first time last week to pick up her gown and cap, which they decorated together with a ‘Country Bumpkin’ theme. It’s the nickname her co-workers gave her.

“She’s the only person I want going with me to do this,” Ogden said. “She has been so hard on me to complete it and do it. All she’s been talking about for the last year is me graduating. She should be here. She should get to enjoy it.”

Jodi was diagnosed with chronic Hepatitis C while Ogden was in school at UCF. She went through treatment for three months.

“I was stuck in bed, and she was always there. She continued school and we carried on,” Jodi said. “I’ve been a single mother for 18 years. I raised three kids. We all know how to pull together, work together.”

Ogden not only helped care for her mother and continued school, she started her own wallpaper company, Water Lilly Construction.

Ogden developed a deep interest in set design and carpentry in her spare time, which led to her professional endeavor. She plans to continue growing her business after graduation.

She said the biggest takeaway from her college experience was embracing the transformation that comes along with the journey.

“There’s a big world out there and this (college) is how you get there,” she said. “The purpose of the university is to expand your mind. Along with change comes friction and difficulty and dissonance in yourself. You’re going to feel discouraged or like it’s too much pressure. But every time things get really difficult, you have to remember that’s a sign that something is happening, something is changing, and you’re going to crest over that hill.”

Second Time Around

Kim Hardiman

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. — When Kim Hardiman first realized she needed to go back to school, she resisted. She already possessed bachelor’s and master’s degrees plus years of teaching experience on her resume.

Now with graduation day in sight and a second master’s degree under her belt, she views her decision to come to UCF as a blessing.

“As an older teacher, you think you know it all and you don’t,” she said. “The teachers here at UCF are the best I’ve ever had in my life. I value this master’s degree more than the first one I got.”

Hardiman was born in Hong Kong and was an orphan for the first five years of her life until a couple from New York adopted her. She said she was lucky that her parents wanted an older child.

“Most children in the orphanage, they end up working in the factories,” she said. “I was very blessed. Every adversity [I faced], there was a twist or a turn that something good happened over it.”

Her upbringing in New York introduced her to people from all cultures and backgrounds. As she got older and started traveling overseas to places like the Middle East, Thailand, South America and Europe, she grew to love those cultures even more.

“I just realized there is so much to learn. It’s not just from the textbook,” she said. “When you’re in another country and speaking to someone in another language, it comes alive.”

She studied art at Stony Brook University and earned her master’s in fine arts from Hunter College in the 1980s. She remained in New York, living as an artist and a dancer. She picked up traditional Chinese ribbon dancing to reconnect with her heritage.

Sept. 11, 2001, changed things for her. She used to ride the subway into the World Trade Center frequently and said she was supposed to perform a dance there the day of the attack. She didn’t feel well that morning and decided not to go.

The galleries that displayed her artwork shut down while the city began rebuilding. She felt she needed a change and eventually moved to Florida.

Her passion for interacting with the international community prompted her to return to school to pursue teaching. She completed her Teaching English as a Foreign Language graduate certificate at UCF in 2005 before spending the next decade at Embry Riddle Language Institute. She also served as Embry Riddle’s Asian Student Union advisor.

When teaching requirements changed, Hardiman needed to earn a second master’s degree if she wanted to continue her career. So she returned to UCF 11 years after earning her original certificate.

She juggled three classes a semester while also teaching two courses as a graduate assistant. Although she said it was a lot to handle, she excelled and was selected as the 2016 Sunshine State Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) of Florida Outstanding Educator Award.

“I value what I do with my education because now I can help other people. I want to ignite the passion [in them] to go back to school. Don’t ever say no to education,” she said. “That’s my message as an alumni. Take the risk. Try something new. Try a class you don’t know. Even work with teachers you hate because you learn the most from the teachers you had the hardest time with.”

Summer Graduate Makes It Count

Consuelo and daugter Yuri
Consuelo Rodriguez ’16 and daughter Yuridia

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. — Seven-year-old Yuridia Rodriguez sat next to her mother, Consuelo, and watched as her nickname Yuri was spelled out in gold stickers on a black graduation cap.

Her brother’s name, Alex, age 2, was placed down next.

“I just figured that since they’ve had to sacrifice also, I’m going to put my kids on here,” said Consuelo Rodriguez, an accounting graduate. “I’m going to put the Mexican and American flags. I’m going to put something UCF. A little bit of everything just to show what we’ve been through.”

Rodriguez, a resident of Lake County, started at UCF in 2005. When she had her daughter, she took time off but made it a priority to go back to school, even if it took her years to finish her degree.

She said she has taken one class a semester while still juggling a full-time job and taking care of her family. Rodriguez said there were times she was on campus until 3 a.m. studying or working on assignments and would then have to drive an hour home.

“I’ve been doing it more for them to show them that it’s possible and they can do it,” she said as she looked at Yuridia. “When they grow up and it’s their turn, they can see that I did it. They need to go above what I did.”

She hopes to attend graduate school to pursue a master’s degree in accounting. Her parents, husband, children and three siblings will all be in attendance to watch her cross the stage at CFE Arena on graduation day.

“It just feels awesome. I thought it was never going to finish,” she said. “Our family doesn’t have a lot of graduates. It means a lot to everybody.”

Dog Days of Summer Graduation

Amanda and Ridley
Amanda Overend ’16 and dog-in-training Ridley

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. — Amanda Overend takes pride in propagating what has become a life motto: “Help is a four-legged word.”

The Orlando native associates her college experience with volunteering – a passion she found five years ago.

Her most recent philanthropic endeavor has been helping raise puppies for Canine Companions for Independence, a non-profit organization that enhances the lives of people with disabilities by providing highly trained assistance dogs.

UCF is the first public university in Florida to have an agreement with the organization and allow dogs to be raised on campus. Overend has trained three dogs: Deacon, Asland and her current golden-lab mix, Ridley.

“It’s had a huge impact on me,” she said.

So much so that she included the dogs’ names on her cap and will have Ridley in the audience on graduation day along with her parents and best friend since middle school.

Overend said it took her 11 years to earn her bachelor’s degree in psychology. In finding her way, she moved across the country and back, and changed degree paths several times from web design to biology to marketing and nursing before finally landing on psychology.

“When I switched to psychology, I fell in love once I found classes that I actually enjoyed,” she said. “UCF is home. My aunt went here, and I actually felt a part of the school of psychology.”

Although she calls it a long journey, she values her experience at UCF and encourages others to use their time in college to explore who they are and what is important to them.

“It’s really not a race,” she said. “Just go at your own speed and find a degree that you truly feel passionate about. Not just one that is going to be easy.”